Jenny Xie

American poet

Jenny Xie is a Chinese-American poet and teacher. She is also the recipient of the 2017 Walt Whitman award of the Academy of American Poets.

Jenny Xie (2019)


  • My initial impulse is to say that the poems aren’t “about” me, but that response plays into the faulty assumption that poems whose primary aim might be self-disclosure or testimony are somehow less aesthetically rigorous or energizing. I don’t buy that, really. At the same time, the “I” in these poems, while they might share autobiographical details with the person that wrote them, aren’t “about” me insofar as the speakers are fashioned, dramatized, contextually bound. I invoke them and write into them to better serve the poems and their modes, registers, and textures. Many of the poems take up self-interrogation, but I’m not interested in getting the plot details exactly right. The self is a fiction.
  • Reading is migratory, an act of transport, from one life to another, one mind to another. Just like geographic travel, reading involves estrangement that comes with the process of dislocating from a familiar context. I gather energy from this kind of movement, this estranging and unsettling, and I welcome it precisely because it’s conducive to examination, interrogation, reordering. Travel, imaginative or physical, can sharpen perception and force a measuring of distance and difference.
  • Speaking and writing in English carried with it the anxiety of being betrayed by one’s usage mistakes and lack of fluency; this was no doubt reinforced by the linking of academic success to facility with speech and writing. At the same time that I began learning English, my Mandarin slowed in development, because I wasn’t using it outside of the domestic sphere. To this day, even though I enrolled in a year of intensive Mandarin study in college, my Mandarin is quite stunted. I’ve lost most of the ability to read and write in it, sadly.
  • I try to distance myself from systems of literary production and strains of thought that place primacy on publishing and publishing quickly. Ironically, one way to keep myself going is to surrender completely to the fear that I won’t write again, and try to access some recessed zone where any need or ambition to write poems, or to write for others’ eyes, falls away. Once I’ve been emptied of those needs, I find I can allow myself to be filled once more. Reading invigorating work, putting myself in the presence of formidable voices and minds, or submerging myself in slow films usually helps, too.
  • I’m interested in teasing out the moral complications in travel, but I’m not claiming any moral authority on the subject. Traveling, and the estrangement that comes with it — both physical and mental — can be deeply meaningful in many regards. That’s certainly been true for me. Being unsettled and departing from the familiar encourages a certain kind of attention and awakening of curiosity that helps us reach outside of our own skins, and in doing so, makes us consider not only what is unfamiliar to us in our surroundings, but what is unfamiliar to us in ourselves.
  • I consider myself a Buddhist practitioner, but still a beginner, even though I’ve been meditating on and off for many years now. When I was growing up, no one in my household was religious. I’d always been curious about religion, probably because it was bound up for me with questions about how to live as a person when you’re granted such a brief stretch of time. I remember picking up a Buddhist book during my senior year of high school, when it was dawning on me that I would soon experience a new level of autonomy.
  • Buddhist philosophy made so much sense to me when I encountered it. It also upended so much of my thinking — about the self, about suffering, about the mental barriers I’d drawn up my whole life. I can’t understate the freedom that comes — at any age, but especially at that young age — with understanding there is no need to chase after anything, that one innately contains a vast understanding and wisdom. The freedom and balm of knowing that the root of so much suffering is also an illusion: You are not separate from any other thing.
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