Eye Level
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.”

Eye Level Details

TitleEye Level
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseApr 3rd, 2018
PublisherGraywolf Press
ISBN-139781555978020
Rating
GenrePoetry, Contemporary

Eye Level Review

  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog.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, My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog.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 York, and beyond—as well as subject matter—urban life, family history, migration, belonging, and more. Throughout these poems, whatever their form might be, the poet's language consistently is uncluttered and musical, her prosody candid and touching. A few favorite poems included "Naturalization," "Square Cells," and "Invisible Relations."
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  • 7jane
    January 1, 1970
    (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 (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 atmosphere and beauty of all these poems is almost possible to sense.This book was an award-winner and a finalist in another award. The poems vary in looks, and are spread sparsely - but no too much - on pages. Some are clearly of times spent traveling, or just have their places named (like Phnom Penh, Vietnam, Corfu, and New York's Chinatown), some are just 'home' back garden. Seasons also vary, pictures are either brief or long (longish) chains.Wooden spirit houses on the road to Kampot spray-painted gold, capaciousenough for a pot of incense, a rice bowl, and one can of Fanta.I see all those weathers, vehicles, details, movements, atmospheres of seasons, objects, sounds, thoughts, speeds (and lack of), eating, family pasts & beliefs, practicing Zen, fishbones here and there...This read is beautiful, and you want more of it. Time to reread, then?
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  • Joseph Spuckler
    January 1, 1970
    Winner of the Walt Whitman Award
  • Ken
    January 1, 1970
    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 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 navel-gazing). Where that line goes, though, is debatable at best, as much of lyric poetry troubles itself with the troubled self, the only question being: Will it interest readers who will see themselves in the poet?Still, you allow. Sustaining great poetry brings Atlas to mind and makes one bend a mile in his shoulders. A poem I enjoyed will give you a taste of Xie's style:"Melancholia"The black dog approaches?I pry open the crooked jaw.Inside?A heady odor, elemental.And then?I sing through my life again.How so?Slow and fast, fast and slow.What follows?Time, the oil of it.What direction?Solitude throws me off the scent.And what lies ahead?Even the future recoils, long as it is.What points the finger?All of my eye's mistakes.And what were they?Level.Ah. Notice the collection's title, peering through the sadness at the end? And how the question-answer, question-answer, rocks you gently? Kind of like life, when you feel under siege by melancholia.If you like the poem above, I've shared another from this collection on on my website. And if you like that one, too, you probably should make this part of your 2019 manifest.
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  • Rebecca
    January 1, 1970
    (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 (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-sleep, and the rain pulls a sheet // over the sugar palms and their untroubled leaves” and “The riled heat reaches the river shoal before it reaches the dark.” The tragic and the trivial get mixed up in ordinary sightseeing:The tourists curate vacation stories,days summed up in a few lines.Killing fields tour, Sambo the elephantin clotted street traffic,dusky-complexioned children hesitant in their approach.Seeing and being seen are a primary concern, with the “eye” of the title deliberately echoing the “I” that narrates most of the poems. I actually wondered if there was a bit too much first person in the book, which always complicates the question of whether the narrator equals the poet. One tends to assume that the story of a father going to study in the USA and the wife following, giving up her work as a doctor for a dining hall job, is autobiographical. The same goes for the experiences in “Naturalization” and “Exile.”The metaphors Xie uses for places are particularly striking, often likening a city/country to a garment or a person’s appearance: “Seeing the collars of this city open / I wish for higher meaning and its histrionics to cease,” “The new country is ill fitting, lined / with cheap polyester, soiled at the sleeves,” and “Here’s to this new country: / bald and without center.”The poet contemplates what she has absorbed from her family line and upbringing, and remembers the sting of feeling left behind when a romance ends:I thought I owned my worries, but here I was only pulled along by the needleof genetics, by my mother’s tendency to pry at openings in her life.Love’s laws are simple. The leaving take the lead.The left-for takes a knife to the knots of narrative.Those last two lines are a good example of the collection’s reliance on alliteration, which, along with repetition, is used much more often than end rhymes and internal or slant rhymes. Speaking of which, this was my favorite pair of lines:Slant rhyme of current thinkingand past thinking.Meanwhile, my single favorite poem was “Hardwired,” about the tendency to dwell on the negative.Though I didn’t always connect with Xie’s style – it can be slightly detached and formal in a way that is almost at odds with the fairly personal subject matter, and there were some pronouncements that seemed to me not as profound as they intended to be (it may well be that her work would be best read aloud) – there were occasional lines and images that pulled me up short and made me think, Yes, she gets it. What it’s like to be from one place but live in another; what it’s like to be fond but also fearful of the ways in which you resemble your parents. I expect this to be a strong contender for the Dylan Thomas Prize shortlist, which will be announced on April 2nd. The winner is then announced on May 16th.Originally published, with images, on my blog, Bookish Beck.
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  • Jerrie (redwritinghood)
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Iris
    January 1, 1970
    Tore my fucking life apart
  • Peycho Kanev
    January 1, 1970
    ROOTLESSBetween Hanoi and Sapa there are clean slabs of rice fieldsand no two brick houses in a row.I mean, no three—See, counting’s hard in half-sleep, and the rain pulls a sheetover 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 ROOTLESSBetween Hanoi and Sapa there are clean slabs of rice fieldsand no two brick houses in a row.I mean, no three—See, counting’s hard in half-sleep, and the rain pulls a sheetover 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 the eyes, no worse for wear.My frugal mouth spends the only foreign words it owns.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.TO BE A GOOD BUDDHIST IS ENSNAREMENTThe Zen priest says I am everything I am not.In order to stop resisting, I must not attempt to stop resisting.I must believe there is no need to believe in thoughts.Oblivious to appetites that appear to be exits, and also entrances.What is there to hoard when the worldly realm has no permanent vacancies?Ten years I’ve taken to this mind fasting.My shadow these days is bare.It drives a stranger, a good fool.Nothing can surprise.Clarity is just questioning having eaten its fill.
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  • Inga Pizāne
    January 1, 1970
    "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.
  • Vipassana
    January 1, 1970
    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.
  • Darrin
    January 1, 1970
    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 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 in South Korea...the discovery that it is just...different...not what one is used to or different ways of doing things. The experience of weather, in this case, semi-tropical rains that happen daily, and for a good portion of the year...the hectic busy activity of a city that never turns the lights out and never seems to sleep. Here is a line...Fixtures: slack lips of suitcases, lukewarm showers up to three times in a day. Mosquito bites on the arms and thighs, patterned like pips on dice.An hour before midnight, the corners of the city begin to peel.Alley of sex workers, tinny folk songs pushed through speakers.Karaoke bars bracketed by vendors hawking salted crickets.How do eyes and ears keep pace?I remember having this very same thought in the first year I lived in Busan, Korea....bright neon from Karaoke bars, cars everywhere, street vendors called pojangmachas hawking exotic foods from the nearby ocean that I would have never thought were edible.I found myself wondering how much of what she writes is autobiographical. The experience of living or traveling abroad is a common theme throughout many of the poems, but so is immigrant experience. Her brief bio on Goodreads notes that she was born in Hefei, China but was raised in New Jersey...thinking about this I found this poem particularly poignant...NATURALIZATIONHis tongue shorn, father confusessnacks for snakes, kitchen for chicken.It is 1992. Weekends, we paw at cheap silverware at yard sales. I am told by motherto keep our telephone number close,my beaded coin purse closer. I do this.The years are slow to pass, heavy footed.Because the visits are frequent, we memorizeshame's numbing stench. I nurse nosebleeds, run up and down stairways, chew the wind.Such were the times. All of us nearsighted.Grandmother prays for fortuneto keep us around and on a short leash.The new country is ill fitting, lined with cheap polyester, soiled at the sleevesThe last two lines...This is one of several very good poetry books I have read this year. Jenny Xie's poetry in particular was readily accessible and spoke to me because of the common experience of having lived and traveled abroad for more than just a vacation. There is an economy of language, many poems with two-line stanzas that succinctly spelled out the narrative of each poem.And the cover....yes, I know books are about what's inside but I was so drawn to the cover when I first pulled it off the shelf, I knew I would like this little volume from the start.
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  • Samantha
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Potluck Mittal
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Dragon Tran
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Tiffany
    January 1, 1970
    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.
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  • Logan
    January 1, 1970
    INWARDLYThe 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 reachbut 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.”
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  • Andrew
    January 1, 1970
    I found the poems—other than “Visual Orders”—rather inert: neither didactic nor opaque, neither sensuous nor intellectual, neither difficult nor chatty.
  • janet
    January 1, 1970
    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 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 "Ongoing""She had trained herself to look for answers at eye level, but they were lower, they were changing all the time."from "Long Nights""So poor is this seasonthe ground steals color from the tree-shadows.". . . "If there is a partition betweenthe outer and inner worlds,how is it that some water in me churnsbetween the mountain ranges?How is it we are absorbed so easilyby the ground-"
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  • Emily Polson
    January 1, 1970
    "She had trained herself to look for answers at eye level,but they were lower, they were changing all the time."-Ongoing 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 to "She had trained herself to look for answers at eye level,but they were lower, they were changing all the time."-Ongoing 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 to again and again--in short, I felt seen, and I hope I have done justice in my observation.A few favorites:-Epistle-Old Wives Tales on Which I Was Fed-Solitude Study-Naturalization-Invisible Relations-Bildungsroman-Hardwired-Ongoing
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  • Glenda
    January 1, 1970
    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 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 looked at from all sides,” an idea she both challenges and reinforces in paradoxical ways, depending on the vantage point of the speaker, depending on the “eye level” in the collection’s title.
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  • Shaun
    January 1, 1970
    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 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 as viewed from the poet's inner and exterior "eye." Read at a slow pace and enjoy the tasty literary words and imagery rolling off the pages and turning in your mind. In short, so well worth the time.
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  • James
    January 1, 1970
    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.
  • Brett Dupré
    January 1, 1970
    Unrivaled mysterious long poems.
  • Dearwassily
    January 1, 1970
    "It just so happens that I write lines that men leave well aloneThis flat blaze of furysimplifies me.I'll leave tomorrowtraversing the side roadsLet everyone seeno one paid my way."
  • Susie Qu
    January 1, 1970
    Did I choose this short poetry collection just to make my goodreads reading challenge more manageable during this final push? I won’t deny it.But it was a pleasant experience nevertheless
  • Chris
    January 1, 1970
    Wow, this is good. “Pages that steadied her. Books that prowled her/until the hard daybreak, and for months after.”This is one of those books that will be prowling me in the months to come.
  • Michelle
    January 1, 1970
    If you’re looking for modern poetry that is actually good, check out this phenomenal collection by Jenny Xie. Her poetry is exquisite and possess emotional & artistic depth.I was seriously mesmerized by Eye Level, so so good!
  • Margaryta
    January 1, 1970
    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 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 meditations or internal musings, like the speaker was going on an internal journey and bringing the reader with them. "Eye Level" is a wonderful surprise and a beautiful debut, one that wins its reader over with how unguarded it is. Reading it feels like you're having a conversation - with the poems, with the speaker, with the poet, and with yourself.
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  • Diana Marie Denza
    January 1, 1970
    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 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 feat to let go of the weight of the past. Throughout the collection, she observes different cultures, people, and locations while pondering the self and its connection to it all. While I don't believe I will fully grasp this work until giving it several more reads, Xie's honest ponderings about life, loneliness, and even mental health issues like depression were searing and life-changing. They made me feel not alone. Favorite poems: Naturalization, Visual Orders, and Ongoing (but you should certainly read the entire collection)
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  • Christian
    January 1, 1970
    The first half, a kind of travelogue of both the exterior and interior world, hooked me, but the second half absolutely captured me. If you enjoy poetry, please try this book! Only 76 pages, it is well worth your time. I have to resist quoting from it here, there are so many great lines, but I’ll leave you with: “Clarity is just questioning having eaten its fill.”
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