A Form of Work We'd Rather Not Do Alone Chen Chen, Poetics of Relationality, and the Intersubjective Lyric I

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Olivia Stowell

Abstract





Over the past several decades, both poets and poetry scholars have contested both the political efficacy and the underwriting assumptions of the confessional lyric subject. Examining Chen Chen’s debut collection When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, this paper argues that Chen's poetry offers at least one potential elsewhere beyond the universalizing white lyric subject. By viewing Chen’s work through the lens of Kandice Chuh’s illiberal humanities, Brian Glavey’s scholarship on poetic relatability, relationality, and intersubjectivity, and Claudia Rankine’s discussions of the political dimensions of the lyric I, the further possibilities for the lyric subject that Chen makes space for come clearly into view. Through its reformulation of lyric subjecthood around alternative identities, queer, relational intersubjectivity, and deployment of lyric address, Chen’s When I Grow Up creates a limited yet intersubjective lyric I, moving beyond a universalizing white lyric subject who is “overheard” toward a specific, autobiographical, marginalized lyric subject that expands the poetic space into one that is conversational and collective.





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English