Thursday, April 11, 2019

30 Great Poems for April, Day 11: “I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party” by Chen Chen

Read “I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party” on the Academy of American Poets site here.

I think this was my favorite poem of 2018. What drew me in first was the humor; this poem had me at “can you pass the / whatever,” and continues right through “the conversation starters I slip them” and the deeply incompetent burglars, and on down, all these sweet jokes. What makes it work so well is Chen’s voice, which to me sounds as if he’s sitting in a coffee shop, telling this story to a friend. It’s full of distraction and misdirection; it’s this chatty friend telling this funny story, milking it for laughs, but when you think about it, it’s actually mortifying. And it’s obviously one of many similar episodes (“for the seventeenth time”), a continuum of awkwardness and outright pain.

On my first couple of readings, the image that stuck in my mind was the fish ball soup, that picture of four people sitting and eating soup—I can practically hear the clanking spoons and polite slurping and silence. But when I came back to this poem later, I was surprised to see the Home Alone references; they hadn’t made an impression on me the first few times through, probably because I’m not of that generation. But those pop-culture references perfectly place this poem in time and give you a ballpark for the speaker’s age. And they swirl together with the mentions of Thanksgiving and the Boston Globe to form a very American pastiche.

This is a poem I love to read out loud, a seriocomic monologue that begs for a little dramatic inflection. But really, folks, it’s all a delivery system for that amazing last line—and particularly the word “our.” What a payoff. That line actually, physically gives me chills every time I read it.

[All through April, I'm featuring a favorite poem every day, along with a link where you can read it. Some are classics, some are newer, but each one is the kind of poem that I read, love, and immediately want to tell all my friends about. What better to time to share them than National Poetry Month?]

No comments:

Post a Comment