Let Not-Knowing Push You Somewhere New

Urvashi Bahuguna interviews poet Chen Chen

Urvashi Bahuguna: The back of your book lists the categories POETRY / ASIAN AMERICAN / LGBTQ. How do you respond to being referred to as an Asian American poet or a queer poet?

Chen Chen: I embrace these labels because I think it’s important to be specific about the experiences and histories from which I’m writing. I want to question the supposed universality of work that doesn’t label itself by specific identity markers. Why doesn’t work about middle class white people in suburbia announce itself as such? Like: POETRY / MIDDLE CLASS WHITE PEOPLE / SUBURBIA / A LOT OF OBSERVATIONS ABOUT BIRDS PROBABLY. But that kind of writing typically just gets categorized as poetry, plain poetry. The assumption is that work like mine operates within a narrower landscape. But I want to show how expansive and messy and strange writing out of or in response to these particular categories can be.