“Poem in Noisy Mouthfuls” – Chen Chen

Image: Gnikolay the Gnome, posted at Flickr by rumolay under a Creative Commons License.

Sometimes, there’s razing the heteronormative superstructures of the world. Other times, there are handfuls of salty, hot popcorn, eaten with a wide mouth. Do the two cancel each other out, on a queer ballot?

I love the irreverent interrogation of Chen Chen’s “Poem in Noisy Mouthfuls”, in which junk food juxtaposes unwilling migration, and italicized conversations run to both sombre and pugnacious ends. The poem gives itself breathing room, even if all the space is uncomfortable, made of constraints and saturated fats. The poem’s speaker asks us, or themselves, “& don’t we need to get lost? Lost, dizzy, stubbly, warm, stumbling, / whoa—that’s what it felt like, 17, kissing a boy for the first time.”

It’s rare to find the kind of narrative that feels stumbled-upon, self-referential without being deferential, without the apology of its own internal monologues, asides and Hamletian pickings at the fourth wall. And surely a poem can do this, break its own nervous, kinetic quickstep of rhythm (wherein the break becomes absorbed into the rhythm) to laugh, to pick its own scab, to shit (one of my favourite Chen Chen poems is about shitting) without abnegating any sense of its own beauty.

What’s beauty, to a poem, to a queer poem? I love the quickwitted honesty in these lines, the vinegary awareness, the way that structurally, the poem peppers itself with questions, with ampersands linking “boys & heat, scruff & sweet”. This is the poem holding itself by its own scruff, wriggling a little on the hook of all these questions, no definite pronouncements but the hunger for popcorn, for a boy’s mouth, for the confidence of one’s own maw, needing the salt and the slick. I come back to this space for its queer activation, for all the ways it says I stuff myself, never satisfied, never salted enough.

Read “Poem in Noisy Mouthfuls” here.
Chen Chen’s first full-length collection of poems, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilitieswas published in 2017 by BOA Editions.

This is the second installment of Here for the Unicorn Blood, a Queer POC Poetry Reader which runs from June 1 – June 30. Historically, June commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Riots, heralded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States. #PrideMonth’s global significance, its unabashed celebration of queerness, its marshalling of non-heteronormative joy, resistance and tenacity, motivates this close reading series, which specifically engages the work of POC Queer Poets, in international space. People of colour have been vital to queerness before queerness had a name: this is one way to witness that, to embed my reading practice in it, and to raise my brown, queer fist in yes. 

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