The Sealey Challenge: Eye Level

a white hand holds Jenny Xie's EYE LEVEL in front of a wash of gold and green, sun seeping around the edges.
Eye Level

Jenny Xie’s Eye Level is a tender voyager, a traveling companion to the world and also to the depths of interiority, the places we rarely look.

Xie moves through a wide variety of styles in Eye Level, from concrete poetry to prose poetry, from defined verses to freestyle. She chooses carefully: I’m not sure any of the poems in the collection would work in any other form.

We travel the world alongside Xie, from the city in China where she was born to this new country, from Vietnam deep into Xie herself—and, along the way, into ourselves, too, because you can’t read her travels into the depths of herself without going along for the ride. We are different, and we are the same, and Xie points to the sameness and teh difference in the last stanzas of “Square Cells”: “Today the clean square cells of this city / contain so many faces. // Each brightened by a fear / which makes them commonplace.” It’s a beautiful image, and a powerful one. The cells of the image, which often hang out, as the poem makes clear, on computers and tablets, are rendered even more powerful by this time of pandemic, when so many of us retain connections to the outer world thanks to the pixels on our own device screens.

We are all different, and all the same, and though I’ve never been to Vietnam, nor to China, nor indeed to any country but my own, save few brief trips into Canada, I can recognize the loneliness and the questing and the wondering Xie paints throughout Eye Level. Word and form choices create worlds so real you feel as if you can touch them. You’ve probably been there yourself, at one point or another, whether half-asleep on the subway or lost and lonely among the throngs of the world.

Xie travels the world, bringing us along with her, but even as she goes she turns inward, looking at the self. She even points to the vast interiority in “Long Nights”: “Traveling and traveling, / but so much interior / unpicked over by the eyes. // Nothing is as far as here.” It’s an aching, strange, tender pair of verses, as beautiful as the rest of Eye Level, speaking to what we have read—and, I think, to what must be read again.