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Eye Level

Jenny Xie
For years now, I’ve been using the wrong palette.
Each year with its itchy blue, as the bruise of solitude reaches its expiration date.
Planes and buses, guesthouse to guesthouse.
I’ve gotten to where I am by dint of my poor eyesight,
my overreactive motion sickness.
9 p.m., Hanoi’s Old Quarter: duck porridge and plum wine.
            Voices outside the door come to a soft boil.
—from “Phnom Penh Diptych: Dry Season”
Jenny Xie’s award-winning debut, 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.”

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Winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, selected by Juan Felipe Herrera

About the Author

Jenny  Xie
Credit: Teresa Mathew
Jenny Xie is the author of Nowhere to Arrive, recipient of the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Prize, and her poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, the New Republic, Poetry, Tin House, and elsewhere. She lives in New York and teaches at New York University. Eye Level is her most recent collection.
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Upcoming Events

Sally Wen Mao and Jenny Xie reading at the New York Public Library

New York Public Library - Stephen A. Schwarzman Building in New York, NYview map
Sponsored by the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. Location: Berger Forum, Room 227. Please register for this free event.

Jenny Xie reading at Fordham University as part of Poets Out Loud

Fordham University - Lincoln Center Campus in New York, NYview map
Reading with Joshua Bell. Location: 12th Floor Lounge.


  • “The poems in [Xie’s] crystalline debut . . . are ever alert to the complex relationship between geography and the self.”—The New York Times Book Review
  • “Xie’s poems take us on a journey to new places . . . in such vivid detail that you'll feel as if you really traveled, as well as to new questions about immigration, identity, and loneliness.”—BuzzFeed
  • “Xie’s work is just a thing of pure, piercing beauty.”—Nylon
  • “In Eye Level, Jenny Xie fashions a crystalline travelogue of restlessness. . . . Her delight in paradox reveals, like a rain shower, a world washed clean of habitual perception.”—Judges' Citation for the National Book Award in Poetry
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