I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party is an amusing, deeply relevant poem that speaks on modern families, communication and understanding, or lack thereof.
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Summary of I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party
The poem begins with the speaker telling the reader that he sent out an invitation for his parents to have dinner with his boyfriend. Although they know he’s gay, they seem to have trouble with it. The dinner does not go perfectly, but there are moments of hope in amongst the forced smiles and awkward exchanges. Chen’s speaker emphasizes the orchestral-like control he must exert over his family to keep things from getting out of control. The poem ends with an emphasis on the optimistic heart his boyfriend possesses.
You can read the full poem here.
Poetic Techniques in I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party
‘I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party’ by Chen Chen is a forty-eight line poem that’s divided into unrhymed couplets. These couplets vary in length and make use of a variety of poetic techniques. These include enjambment, alliteration, and repetition. The latter, repetition is the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone or phrase within a poem. In the case of I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party, the speaker repeats all of these. There are multiple references to Home Alone, as well as uses of italics, and words such as “boyfriend,” “family,” “smile” and “RSVP”.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For instance, “more motherly” in line twenty-nine.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. Instances of enjambment appear throughout the poem, but a few instances include the transition between lines six and seven as well as that which exists between lines fourteen and fifteen.
Analysis of I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party
In the first lines of ‘I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party,’ the speaker begins by referring to the invitation referenced in the title. It was with this invitation that he told his parents that he was gay “for the seventeenth time”. In order to really emphasize how many times he’s gone through this, he adds that it was the fourth time he’d done it in writing. From just this first couplet a lot can be intuited about the relationship the speaker has with his parents. It seems as though they’ve been unable to accept that their son is gay and he keeps having to assert himself.
Chen makes use of anaphora through the repetition of the phrase “In the invitation” in the third line. Here, he tells the reader that he put a picture of his boyfriend in the card and reminded his parents that they’ve met him two times previously. It’s clear from the next lines the this is an important dinner for the speaker. He wants it to go better than the previous where his parents only spoke when they wanted him to “pass the / whatever”.
The speaker asserts in the next line that his parents are going to ask his boyfriend questions and “enjoy dinner”. They also, he says, should “be enjoyable” and make sure the boyfriend feels comfortable. The next two phrases make use of repetition in the sending and receiving of the RSVP note. Anaphora is again used as the next three lines begin with “They”. It is very formal and unemotional. The parents come in and their son encourages them to ask the boyfriend how work is going.
The thirteenth line of ‘I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party’ is the first time the speaker references the movie Home Alone, but not the last. He refers to the young child in the movies and how he had to take care of himself and the house while “incompetent burglars” watched “from the outside”. The poet uses the word “orchestrating” in the thirteenth line. This shows how complicated the whole affair is, as well as how much he cares that it goes well.
Despite the strangeness of the setup, the boyfriend is receptive. He responds “in his chipper way”. They are both making the best of it. The eighteenth line takes the reader back into the action at the table with the speaker passing his father ‘a bowl of fish ball soup”. The next words, leading down to the ninetieth line are in italics meaning that they’re either spoken or of need of emphasis. In this case, it appears to be both. The poet wanted to comment on the food, as a comforting thing to eat, but also make use of the situation and show a bit of stress through the emphasis.
In the next lines of ‘I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party’ the speaker goes on to describe his mother’s reactions. She is trying, at least somewhat to smile normally. But it turns into what he recognizes as her “Sitting with Her Son’s Boyfriend / Who Is a Boy Smile”. This entire phrase is humorous in its repetition and obviousness. It reflects what she’s thinking and her inability to get over her son’s sexuality. His smile is also a reflection of his thoughts. The next line is stilted, another stage direction “Everyone eats soup”.
The mother ruins the moment in the next two lines as she turns to speak to her son in their common language, Mandarin. She asks him if the boyfriend is coming for thanksgiving, implying that she’d rather he didn’t. She explains how her “good friend” is going to be there and “wouldn’t like / this’.
Despite his best efforts, it seems as though the speaker can’t quite get his mother to accept his partner. He again references Home Alone.
As the lines continue, the speaker’s father takes out a copy of the newspaper, a direct violation of the new “security blankets” rule the son put in the card. He’s hiding behind it, trying to relieve some of the embarrassment and discomfort he feels.
With another reference to Home Alone the son explains how he’s not a child, nor is he alone. He’s also not the one who needs to “learn”. There is an interruption in this line when the boyfriend tries to make small talk. He asks the mother “what’s in the recipe again”. He does this easily, as if “they have always / talked”.
The final six lines of ‘I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party’ outline something of the boyfriend’s character and why the speaker cares for him. When he speaks to the mother, he does so so as if he has no idea what she’s like or what the entire family is like. The son expresses his family life as a movie similar to “a nonlinear slapstick meets / slasher flick meets psychological / pit”. The poem concludes with the repetition of the words “Remind me”. This is what lasts from the meal and sticks in the speaker’s mind. His boyfriend’s chipper, optimistic attitude in the face of those who are incapable of being either.