A pensive first collection of poems, Eye Level reflects upon the self in motion: Brooklyn-based poet Jenny Xie questions in her expansive work what it means to enter and exit the boundaries of a place.
Published in April 2018 by Graywolf Press, Jenny Xie’s debut collection centers on the relation of movement to interiority, considering the ways in which migration, travel, and wayfaring estrange the self from its surroundings and foster new ways of seeing the world at eye level. The forty-one poems of Eye Level span a wide range of the globe—Phnom Penh, Corfu, Hanoi, New York, and beyond—as well as subjects—urban life, family history, migration, belonging, and more. The shifting settings and topics of Xie’s poems compel readers to join the poet in constant movement; together, author and audience eschew the complacency and predictability of stasis, and they instead explore the ways in which defamiliarization can sharpen attention and lead to increased insight about an environment. Unsurprisingly, images of movement and enclosure, extension and contraction, characterize the collection, which consists mostly of a mix of swift lyrics and long poems made up of many terse sections. The dynamic imagery not only foregrounds flux within each poem but also makes Xie’s work as a whole radiate warmth and determination. The poet’s language consistently is uncluttered and musical, her prosody candid and touching, and Eye Level easily ranks among the best collections I’ve read this year.
Some of the collection’s best poems can be found online: Poets.org featured “Naturalization” last August, while Poetry published “Metamorphosis” in November 2017. Other selected work, some of it not included within Eye Level, can be found on Xie’s website. Xie has received the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets and the Holmes National Poetry Prize from Princeton University, and she has published one previous chapbook, Nowhere to Arrive, with Northwestern University Press in 2017. She teaches at NYU, lives in New York, and tweets @jennymxie.