Set the Garden on Fire // Chen Chen

This is the story of how a man is made up of everything from the cleaver his mother wields in the kitchen to the wonder pulled down from an evening a 13 year old spends draped in the arms of tree under the stars, running shoes laced for a proper leaving. It’s about identity and becoming, and the pain and the beauty in growing up a boy desiring other boys, the son caught between a father’s image and complicated, gorgeously messy reality, and the straddling of at least two cultures & citizenship. Even in the sharper moments, blade-edged and unflinching, this book remains somehow tender. (Porkbelly Press, 2015) //  available from our shop

The chapbook measures about 5.25 x 5 inches. Its cover is printed via inkjet on Epson matte photo paper. Each book is handbound & trimmed.

An excerpt from “Tell me a Story of Deep Delight:”
Tell Me a Story of Deep Delight (excerpt), Chen Chen

Tell Me a Story of Deep Delight (excerpt), Chen Chen

An excerpt from the poem at the center of the chap:
The Tale of the Heart & the Knife (excerpt), Chen Chen

The Tale of the Heart & the Knife (excerpt), Chen Chen

About the poet:

Chen Chen holds a BA from Hampshire College and an MFA from Syracuse University, where he was a University Fellow. He has also received fellowships from Kundiman and the Saltonstall Foundation. New work has appeared/is forthcoming in Poetry, Narrative, The Massachusetts Review, Crab Orchard Review, and The Best American Poetry 2015, among others. Chen is the winner of the Matt Clark Editors’ Choice Award, from New Delta Review, and the Joyce Carol Oates Award, selected by Ishion Hutchinson. A 2015 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships, he is currently a PhD candidate in English & Creative Writing at Texas Tech University and lives in Lubbock, TX with his partner, Jeff Gilbert. Visit him at

About the cover artist:

Nicci splits her time between exploring, telling tales, and painting girls with inky tattoos. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with a pack of roomies & rescue animals specializing in troublemaking and joy. | @damnredshoes |

What others are saying about this work:

“Chen Chen has made his poems partly out of anger and partly out of wonder. The wonder comes from the celebration of the beloved and expanding notions of desire. Chen has the intellectual discernment to identify the disparities and rifts and indignities in citizenship and identity. In his chapbook Set the Garden on Fire, he has brought these ideas together with, well, incendiary effect.”

–Bruce Smith, author of Devotions


“The Tale of the Heart & the Knife” by Chen Chen, from Set the Garden on Fire, was nominated for a Pushcart in 2015 by us. He also rec’d a couple of other Pushcart noms!

Reviews & Interviews
  • Reviewed by Toby Altman via Entropy.
  • Reviewed by Linda Ashok via The Rumpus.
  • Interview with Chen Chen by Jee Yoon Lee via Writing Like an Asian.
  • Interview at Lantern Review Blog.
Other books by this poet

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions, Ltd, 2017)**
Kissing the Sphinx (Two of Cups Press, 2016)

** full length collection, winner of the 15th annual A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. forthcoming