“Poetry asks us to speak differently and it asks us to listen differently,” said Jenny Xie, an award-winning poet and educator who visited Milton as a Bingham visiting writer. “Partly because when you’re listening to a poem, you’re paying attention to the semantic content—what the words mean and what they point to—but at the same time, you’re tuned into the sonic qualities, to the poem’s music.”
To reach a creative place from which to write, Xie said she often needs to immerse herself in others’ voices, by reading or listening to music. Doing so helps her to leave the linear and task-oriented demands of daily life. Much of the language of daily life is transactional, and poetry is a counter force that asks for heightened listening, she said.
Xie read several poems and explained their context; she shared one, “Unit of Measure,” that she wrote in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, “when time took on a different texture.” Xie also said the Today series by Japanese artist On Kawara inspired her. Kawara created thousands of paintings of dates, each taking on the date convention of the places he worked. Xie described seeing Kawara’s work in a Guggenheim retrospective shortly after the artist died.
“Would you believe me if I told you I cried looking at these paintings?” she said. “They seem so monotonous, so boring in some sense, but you stand in front of them, and you think about all that a day could hold across the world, in a life… You look up into the atrium of the museum and see all these days accumulated into a life. I found it sublime, and I was measurably moved by how quickly a life can pass, and how much a day can contain.”
“I’m not sure why I’m drawn to (something) unless I investigate it in writing. I always tell my students, ‘Write because you have a question that remains unanswered. Write because there’s some mystery left in some experience for you.’”
– Jenny Xie
She also shared work about her early life in China and her family’s immigration to the United States. Mining memories for new and deeply emotional truths helps her create, Xie said.
“I’m not sure why I’m drawn to (something) unless I investigate it in writing,” she said. “I always tell my students, ‘Write because you have a question that remains unanswered. Write because there’s some mystery left in some experience for you.’”
Xie’s 2018 collection Eye Level was a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN Open Book Award, and it received the Walt Whitman Award of the American Academy of Poets and the Holmes National Poetry Prize from Princeton University. Last year, she was awarded the Vilcek Prize in Creative Promise. She is a faculty member at Bard College and has previously taught at Princeton and New York University.
The Bingham Endowment Fund for Creative Writing was established in 1987 to benefit Milton’s creative writing program. The fund brings prominent authors to campus. Recent Bingham visiting writers include Lauren Groff, Gregory Pardlo, Kamila Shamsie, Jamaica Kincaid, and Paul Yoon.