“In New York, the subways have advertisements about St. Petersburg. The palm trees, the blue water…now that I’m here, I kinda don’t want to go back.”
So opened Jenny Xie at her poetry reading on April 10 at the St. Petersburg College Gibbs Music Center. Xie read excerpts from her book “Eye Level” to SPC students, faculty, and staff, intermingled with stories from her own childhood.
Living in Two Worlds
Xie, winner of the 2017 Walt Whitman Award administered by the Academy of American Poets, was born in China but moved to the US when she was four and grew up in New Jersey. At the reading, she recounted stories of growing up as an immigrant. She talked about the strangeness of visiting a family in China she could hardly remember, an immigrant network searching garage sales on the weekends, and her own travelling abroad in her 20s through Cambodia and Hong Kong. Her poetry reflects on many of these situations, and her unique viewpoint as an immigrant herself. She said she wanted to speak on “calling up people through our perception of them…and being called upon by their perception of us.”
Expression of the Soul
Xie read five poems from her book “Eye Level.” Many lines spoke of self-identity, a theme Xie said was a struggle when she lived abroad.
“When your environment changes,” she said, “it reflects in who you are.”
Her poems have themes of family bonds, too. She spoke of folk remedies in one poem – all taught by her mother — and one she learns from.
“People always come up saying they’ve heard those, or tell me of remedies they’ve heard growing up,” she said with a smile. “Most remedies are about keeping the body invulnerable…so many cultures have ways to do that.”
After the talk, Xie opened up the floor for questions. When asked how she started writing poetry, she mentioned having trouble with her attention span as a child. She said that because poetry relates fragment and fractures, it weaves together language to make sense, whether or not it was structured with “proper” English.
“You didn’t need pages upon pages,” she said with a laugh. “I like how it didn’t have to be perfect. There’s a certain wildness to it.
Xie’s unique viewpoint made for an hour of visual travel. The audience rode with her through time and space, carried along by her words into a place they’ll never know. The poems themselves wove pieces of history into a tapestry of images displayed in a genealogy.