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Eye Level: Poems

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  929 ratings  ·  149 reviews
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 t ...more
Paperback, 80 pages
Published April 3rd 2018 by Graywolf Press
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Average rating 4.16  · 
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 ·  929 ratings  ·  149 reviews

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Nov 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Ilse by: Ken
I’ve grown lean from eating only the past.
(From Corfu)


Two years ago, I ventured into a year project of reading one woman author for every letter of the alphabet. Unsurprisingly it was quite a challenge to find a suitable book for the ‘X’, so when Jenny Xie’s debut poetry collection Eye Level popped up in the feed thanks to a friend reading the collection, it came as heaven-sent.


Never mind the distances traveled, the companion
she made of herself. The threadbare twenties not
to be unde
Jun 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, 2018, recs
A pensive first collection of poems, Eye Level reflects upon the self in motion: Jenny Xie questions in her expansive work what it means to enter and exit the boundaries of a place. 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. Xie on occassion includes a precise prose poem, though. The collection spans a wide range of the globe—Phnom Penh, Corfu, Hanoi, New Y ...more
Apr 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommended to 7jane by: Kris
(I will write a review soon, forgot to bring my notes with me to my parents', my only place of computer haha. But yes, it was great ::) )

At present, on this sleeper train, there's nowhere to arrive.
Me? I'm just here in my traveler's clothes, trying on each passing town for size.

So. This was a great read, and I felt there was just the right amount of poems, even if the book itself is slim. The poems talk about complex relationships between geography and self, being here and wanting there, and the
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
In this National Book Award finalist, the theme that connects many of the poems is eyes, vision, insight. Xie is into space, too, making the choice of a white cover appropriate because the eyes will meet lots of pages where white space dwarves words. Thrifty, that. Like many of the ancient Chinese poems that inspired Xie.

As might be expected in any collection, some of the poems work better than others. Also, readers sensitive too it might classify some pieces as too much self and ego (as in nave
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites-2019
Tore my fucking life apart

reread March 19, 2020

This book has a lot of poems about isolation, it would be a good one to read it you're social distancing!

Her words are magic. She believes in the literariness of literature, and I love her for that.

This book combines western and eastern literary theory, it is a fascinating rumination on the self and how we are situated in familial lines. She talks about finding the ever-changing answers "lower than eye-level"
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
Sep 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This NBA longlisted poetry collection explores the inner life and connections to people and places. The author seems to struggle with the way language is often unable to bridge the gap between the self and the outside world. Multiple poems detail observations, as if from a great distance, of various locations - Corfu, Phnom Penh, etc. Others explore failed attempts to use language for connection.
Mar 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommended to Rebecca by: Meghan O'Rourke
(Longlisted for the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize.) Xie, who was born in Hefei, China and grew up in New Jersey, now teaches at New York University. Her poems focus on the sense of displacement that goes hand in hand with immigration or just everyday travel, and on familial and evolutionary inheritance.

The opening sequence of poems is set in Vietnam, Cambodia and Corfu, with heat and rain as common experiences that also enter into the imagery: “See, counting’s hard in half-
May 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think I’ve found my new favorite poetry book.

I’ve never read a collection quite like this. It has an almost fragmentary, stream of consciousness feeling to it, yet simultaneously feels so developed, a well of possibility and interpretation sunk into each poem.

While some of her poems rhymed, even those that didn’t had a beautifully poetic, flowing nature. Jenny Xie truly understands how to make works flow from one to another, thinking through how they feel in the mouth and the mind. None of the
Peycho Kanev
Sep 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry

Between Hanoi and Sapa there are clean slabs of rice fields
and no two brick houses in a row.
I mean, no three—
See, counting’s hard in half-sleep, and the rain pulls a sheet
over the sugar palms and their untroubled leaves.
Hours ago, I crossed a motorbike with a hog strapped to its seat,
the size of a date pit from a distance.
Can this solitude be rootless, unhooked from the ground?
No matter. The mind resides both inside and out.
It can think itself and think itself into existence.
I sponge off
Inga Pizāne
Dec 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
"Men and women came and went.
The city was dry, and then it wasn't.
I knelt to the passing time."

Man ļoti patika. Paldies autorei.
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jenny Xie's spare accuracy of expression was really engaging to me from the start. The first poem in the book, Rootless, is just the beginning of a book filled with poems about traveling or living in other countries, being an immigrant, or descriptions of the dislocated foreign traveler.

Two back-to-back poems toward the beginning of the book are my favorites, Phnom Penh Diptych: Wet Season and Phnom Penh Diptych: Dry Season. There were many lines that brought to mind my experience living 7 years
Feb 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Echoing Tracy K. Smith's voice - I'm certain Xie's voice is one that will help me, quite simply, to live.

Review to come.
Dragon Tran
Aug 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
A blessing and a miracle. One of the best chapbooks of poetry I've read, if not the very best. I recognized in Eye Level so much that I've long dreamed of expressing, and not a single word is wasted or out of place. Xie has captured, in flawless sensory as well as psychological detail, the animating force of my life, the essence of what it is to be a femme-presenting Asian-American person moving through the world in search of oneself.
Apr 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poc-poets, poetry
Ooof. There is so much to think about in these poems, philosophically and otherwise. Jenny Xie packs a whole lot into mostly small stanzas, and I really like how she builds them into long, sprawling poems that use space in an interesting way. Would love to read this again.
Hannah Warren
Mar 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
To say I'm mesmerized by Jenny Xie's debut collection is an understatement. I don't often finish reading a book only to immediately return to the first page, but that's exactly what I've done here.

Eye Level is succinct. Tangible. Electric. Xie explores landscapes with scrutiny, including the landscape of the body. Find the spare mouth, the throat of summer, the warmed-over bones of January, teeth bright with holes, a disembodied eye. This collection explores what it means to want to escape a pl
Apr 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
5 stars

Yes, 5. There isn't a single bad poem here. I was truly blown away by this collection.

The standout theme for me was the tension between inner and outer self. Xie writes sublimely about geography and the banality of place, but devotes just as much attention to the mental landscape. The reader sees Hanoi, Corfu, and many other locales through her eyes, and sees her loneliness beside them as a tangible presence. “What atrophies without the tending of a gaze? The visible object is constituted
Potluck Mittal
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
Sigh. I'm so bad at poetry.
There were definitely a few lines, a few stanzas I found beautiful. But honestly I went through most of the poems in Eye Level wondering what they were about.

Actually, reading some of the reviews here has been helpful and illuminating. I wish there was a Genius for poems.
Diana  Marie Denza
Mar 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Jenny Xie shines in this brilliant, pensive, meditative collection. Each poem challenges the reader to question their perspectives on time, place, and the self. Xie writes of her travels, particularly about feeling out of place in various cultures and locations. As an immigrant to the United States, she shares how difficult and "ill-fitting" assimilation is. Xie also imparts wisdom that she learned from Buddhist practices, including living in the present, while acknowledging that it is no easy f ...more
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I would refer you to Michael's great review of this collection. My friend who is a poet gave me this book, which makes it even more wonderful. The poems create an atmosphere of movement and solitude without creating a contained self. I am not sure about some of the poems that feel like travelogues. Some poems are jaw dropping in their emotional intensity, interiority that envelops the reader, and, of course, beauty.

A few couplets to entice you from the last two poems in the collection:

from "Ongo
Jun 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
At the surface, Jenny Xie’s EYE LEVEL seems like a poetic travelogue. (Many of her pieces focus on her experiences abroad.) But Xie, who was born in China and raised in the U.S., goes much deeper than that. Her poems touch not just on geography, culture, and immigration, but also on solitude, identity, and belonging – or, rather, the lack of feeling like you belong. Her “poetic voice” is spare and nuanced, yet thrumming with aptly chosen sensory details so that the reader’s mental picture of eac ...more
Xie took me on a visual journey through her poems. There is a flow, a kind of "bounce", to the sparse yet direct style of "Eye Level". I found myself enjoying the first half more than the second, but that is largely because I loved the way Xie wrote about the city, about people and culture and the issue of belonging. She drew me into her poems and I found it very easy to visualize and get lost in the sensations the poems conjured. This was less the case in the second half, which felt more like m ...more
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jennie Xie’s debut operates in achingly pleasurable dualities— the solitary and the universal, the stranger and the heart, the tender and the stark. In poems that take us from Sapa to Corfu to Hefei, we find ourselves at once traversing the globe and "tunneling inward." It is a collection of landscapes, both geographical and psychological— and Eye Level explores what it means to pass through them, never quite settling. Even while she speaks of aloneness, of “endless conversations with no listene ...more
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Quiet reflections on living and being in the moment. Lines like, “Desire makes beggars out of each and every one of us” and “I wake up one morning to find beauty suspect” and “It’s not easy to measure your life in debts” remind me of my favorite word artist Jenny Holtzer.

“She had trained herself to look for answers at eye level,
But they were lower, they were changing all the time.”

Alienation, isolation, estrangement and "vision" are the center of Jenny Xie’s work here and the poem's come to you
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
What do we see at eye level? This question encapsulates the myriad perspectives Jenny Xie critiques in this NBA nominee collection. “Harvest the eyes from the ocular cavities. / Complete in themselves: / a pair of gloves with their own meridians.” These lines from my favorite poem, “Visual Orders,” center the collection. Xie echos Emerson’s transparent eyeball and Jacques Lacan’s mirror images as ways to know oneself. The poet quotes Lacan: “I see only from one point, but in my existence I am lo ...more
Aug 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm not sure if there's actually a great way to review a poetry book! I loved the imagery conveyed by Xie's work, and enjoyed learning some new words. One thing that did keep it from a 5-star rating for me were the stanzas and poems that were more like paragraphs than traditional line-stanzas. I did like some of her creative spacing within the lines. Maybe I'll try to get out of my traditional poetry mindset.
Oct 30, 2018 rated it liked it

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.
Poem From: Jenny Xie. “Eye Level.”
Dec 27, 2018 rated it liked it
I found the poems—other than “Visual Orders”—rather inert: neither didactic nor opaque, neither sensuous nor intellectual, neither difficult nor chatty.
Emily Polson
"She had trained herself to look for answers at eye level,
but they were lower, they were changing all the time."

I love these poems. Xie writes about perception/being perceived during her time traveling and as an expat. The particulars of these poems create a vivid reading experience that reflected Xie's physical surroundings, but also turned the mirror back on her own emotional landscape. I saw so much of my own experiences in these pages, and I know this is a collection I'll return
Eye Level is a collection of poems that contemplate and explore the nuances of Xie's world. Much like other poets of color with immigrant backgrounds, Xie touches on the topic of belonging, moving across borders, as well as the relationship and duties to one's family. She takes care in the way she constructs her poems and choice in words by noticing distinct details—and dare I say, at eye level—that capture still images of personal ties to places such as Vietnam and New York, fragments of her li ...more
Jan 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, 2019
An outstanding debut poetry collection that, as the title suggests, is a lot about seeing and perception. Her words often transport to places she has been in terms of geography or personal history. Highly recommended.
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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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