New Yale Younger Poet’s Works Combine ‘Sharp Wit’ and ‘Austere Beauty’
Yale Law School graduate Ken Chen, currently executive director of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, has won the 2009 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition.
The Yale Series of Younger Poets is the longest-running poetry prize and is considered one of the most prestigious. Every year, Yale University Press receives more than 600 manuscripts from young poets competing for the honor. Chen’s winning manuscript, “Juvenilia,” was published by Yale Press this month.
For the seventh year, former U.S. poet laureate Louise Glück served as the judge for the competition. She praised Chen’s manuscript for its “delicious knowingness and sly collusive irony,” claiming, “The miracle of this book is the degree to which Ken Chen manages to be exhilaratingly modern (anti-catharsis, anti-epiphany) while at the same time never losing his attachment to voice, and the implicit claims of voice: these are poems of intense feeling; they have isolated and dramatized the profound dilemma of the adult’s relation to childhood in poems of riveting intelligence and sharp wit and austere beauty.”
Chen’s work has been published or recognized in “Best American Essays 2006,” “Best American Essays 2007” and The Boston Review of Books. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
The annual Yale Series of Younger Poets competition is open to any American under the age of 40 who has not yet published a book of poetry. Since its inception in 1919, the series has published the first books of poetry by such talents as Muriel Rukeyser, Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery and Robert Haas. The 2004 prizewinner, “Crush” by Richard Siken, was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award.
Below is an excerpt from the poem “Long Distance Love — Can It Work?” from “Juvenilia.”
I am not lonely. I am too far
from the world — in fact, nearly a foot separates
the mind from the heart, these two meats already resting
on the flower-inlaid porcelain dinner plate.
That mumbling you hear — Pudomt Lahdom Bubum! —
is my heart singing its intimate song, that coughing red crumb!
Slippery in your hands, my heart shudders like a gasping fish.
You have such beautiful hands.
The medieval Chinese figured the heart as the organ of the mind,
which would mean that there was no distance
and reminds me —
I discovered today the antidote to temptation.
Not restraint but narrow distances.
(Oh I see where this is going.)
So I’d rather not know you, I told myself. This was a convenient
decision. We’d been separated a year.
Why do you always joke around when you feel vulnerable?
© 2010 by Ken Chen