Acclaimed Chinese American Poet
National Book Award Finalist
Walt Whitman Poetry Award-winner
- An Evening with Jenny Xie
“How many lives have been lived inside Jenny Xie’s brief life? I’m guessing the number is staggering, as is the wisdom I find in her remarkable debut. She renders the world with such lyric precision, such a quiet hugeness of spirit, such fresh astonishment. Already I am certain Xie’s is one of the voices that will help me, quite simply, to live.” –Tracy K. Smith
“For a poet so capable of taking readers on far-flung journeys to places like Corfu, Cambodia, and New York, Xie is perhaps most remarkable for her ability to take readers deeper inside themselves than they have ever been. Xie’s work is just a thing of pure, piercing beauty.” – NYLON
“A magician of perspective and scale.” – The New Yorker
Jenny Xie was born in Hefei, China, and raised in New Jersey. She is the author of Eye Level (Graywolf Press, 2018), which was selected by Juan Felipe Herrera for the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets. Eye Level received the Holmes National Poetry Prize from Princeton University, and was named a finalist for the National Book Award and a PEN Open Book Award, and longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. Her chapbook, Nowhere to Arrive, won the Drinking Gourd Prize, and was published by Northwestern University Press.
About Xie’s debut poetry collection, Eye Level, the former U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera writes: “We go places; we enter multiple terrains of seeing; we cross cultural borders of time, voices, locations—of consciousness. Then—we notice we are in a trembling stillness with all beings and all things. Jenny Xie’s Eye Level is a timely collection of beauty, clarity, and expansive humanity.”
Xie holds degrees from Princeton University and NYU, and has received grants and support from Kundiman, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Elizabeth George Foundation, and Poets & Writers. Her work appears in Poetry, The New York Times Magazine, and Tin House, among other publications.
She has taught creative writing at NYU and Princeton University, and currently lives in New York.
Jenny Xie is the author of Eye Level (Graywolf Press, 2018), finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry and the PEN Open Book Award, and recipient of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets and the Holmes National Poetry Prize from Princeton University. Her work has appeared in Poetry, New York Times Magazine, and Tin House, among other publications, and she has been supported by fellowships and grants from Kundiman, Civitella Ranieri Foundation, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and Poets & Writers. She lives in New York.
Jenny Xie’s award-winning Eye Level takes us far and near, to Phnom Penh, Corfu, Hanoi, New York, and elsewhere, as we travel closer and closer to the acutely felt solitude that centers this searching, moving collection. Animated by a restless inner questioning, these poems meditate on the forces that moor the self and set it in motion, from immigration to travel to estranging losses and departures. The sensual worlds here―colors, smells, tastes, and changing landscapes―bring to life questions about the self as seer and the self as seen. As Xie writes, “Me? I’m just here in my traveler’s clothes, trying on each passing town for size.” Her taut, elusive poems exult in a life simultaneously crowded and quiet, caught in between things and places, and never quite entirely at home. Xie is a poet of extraordinary perception―both to the tangible world and to “all that is untouchable as far as the eye can reach.”
NOWHERE TO ARRIVE
Nowhere to Arrive takes as its subjects the whiplash of travel, the shuttling between disparate places and climes, and an unremitting sense of dislocation. These poems court the tension between the familiar and the foreign, between the self as distinct and the self as illusory. They look plainly at the startling strangeness of varied landscapes and mindscapes, and interrogate a state of unrootedness—one thrown into relief by the speaker’s years abroad in Southeast Asia. At the chapbook’s center are two long poems, titled “Phnom Penh Diptych: Wet Season” and “Phnom Penh Diptych: Dry Season,” that examine the escapist narratives that draw tourists and expatriates to Cambodia, and the speaker’s own privileged positioning. On a formal level, the poems in Nowhere to Arrive make room for the unsaid and that which cannot be articulated. Here, we have a vocabulary of silence alongside stark imagistic juxtapositions, poems that celebrate compression and the force of paratactic constructions. Attentiveness and concentration emerge as virtues, as the speaker surveys the vast territory of the present with a wakeful gaze.
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TO BE A GOOD BUDDHIST IS ENSNAREMENT
The Zen priest says I am everything I am not.
In order to stop resisting, I must not attempt to stop resisting.
I must believe there is no need to believe in thoughts.
Oblivious to appetites that appear to be exits, and also entrances.
What is there to hoard when the worldly realm has no permanent vacancies?
Ten years I’ve taken to this mind fasting.
My shadow these days is bare.
It drives a stranger, a good fool.
Nothing can surprise.
Clarity is just questioning having eaten its fill.