Jenny Xie’s Work is Poetry on the Eye Level

In Eye Level, Middlesex County poet Jenny Xie's first book of poetry, questions the bonds of seeing and perspective and confronts issues of travel and observing others as an outsider.

Poet Jenny Xie.
Poet Jenny Xie.
Photo courtesy of Graywolf Press

When poet Jenny Xie was living in Cambodia earlier this decade, she sensed that locals were paying her increased attention.

“Being a foreigner and an outsider drew others’ eyes to me,” says Xie, a 2008 Princeton graduate. “I was interested in the complexities of the gaze.”

The experience inspired the initial poems Xie, now 31,included in her first book of poetry, Eye Level, due April 3 from Graywolf Press. The collection earned the Academy of American Poets’ Walt Whitman Award, which honors a first-time author.

Xie, who emigrated from China as a child, animates her poems with experiences from her life. Yet she is not interested in disclosing personal stories in her work. “I’m not aiming to replicate memories,” she says. “I am drawn to what energizes my mind, and I often write into questions or ideas that I’m thinking through.”

In Eye Level, Xie questions the bonds of seeing and perspective and confronts issues of travel and observing others as an outsider. These themes connect the range of forms she employs, including contemporary prose poetry and the classical Japanese haibun and zuihitsu styles.

Xie says her Middlesex County roots influenced her to write poetry. She recalls attending free writing classes taught by Joe Weil, a poet from Elizabeth, as well as the now-defunded Governor’s School of the Arts at the College of New Jersey.

“I was fortunate in that there was a dynamic poetry community in New Jersey,” says Xie. “There were festivals and workshops, and many of them were open to young, emerging writers.”

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