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Jenny Xie

Jenny Xie was born in Hefei, China, and raised in New Jersey. She holds degrees from Princeton University and New York University’s creative writing program, and has received fellowships and support from Kundiman, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Elizabeth George Foundation, and Poets & Writers.

Her debut poetry collection, Eye Level, was selected by Juan Felipe Herrera as the winner of the 2017 Walt Whitman Award, given by the Academy of American Poets, and was published by Graywolf Press in 2018. Eye Level is also a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry in 2018.

About Eye Level Herrera writes:

‘Between Hanoi and Sapa’ this collection begins and continues with its ‘frugal mouth’ that ‘spends the only foreign words it owns.’ This knowing ‘travels’ in a spiral-shaped wisdom. 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 is the recipient of the 2016 Drinking Gourd Chapbook Prize for Nowhere to Arrive, and her poems appear in The New Republic, Tin House, Harvard Review, The Literary Review, Narrative, and elsewhere.

She lives in Brooklyn and teaches at New York University.

By This Poet

8

Letters to Du Fu

I paid a visit to the province of a past year        aided by a pot of wine
self-contempt erects a wide frame        almost anyone can pass through

So unruly are my needs        who would own up to it
Only a fool would try to imitate the arrow        before letting go the bow

Du Fu, do not attempt this journeying        with a whip of effort
to speed up your travel        step backward into the broad forgetting

They say too much brooding        elongates the mind
Everywhere one lands        the train arrives at the depot early or late

Fruitless to try and compare        your searching lines
with the rain’s heavy lather        I’ll take instead the shaved surface of the moon

We are wiped of age first thing in the morning        sleep is a light wash
and don’t we know it        we are wrung and wrung

Square Cells

The screens plant bulbs
of tension inward, but hit no nerves.

River of speechless current.
My gaze faces the screen, laps up

blue-eyed policemen in bloom
and a fat fog fanning out by the inch

across cities in eastern China.
Refresh for a politician yawning

wolfish monosyllables.
In the bed of pixels, I can make out

truth and fiction taking turns,
one imitating the other.

My window faces stone and glass.
My screen faces my face.

The clean square cells of this city
contain so many faces.

Each brightened by a fear
which makes them commonplace.

Inwardly

The lightest realizations arrive in restraint—
so the old masters tell us.

Not unlike the tug at the end of a line.
 

We have language for what is within reach
but not the mutable form behind it.

Or else, why write.
 

I’m sick of peering at the ego.
No, my ego’s tired of peering at me

It’s she who awakens me into being.

So it goes: the seer mistaken for the seen.