Hi friends, it’s been a BUSY pub month. Thank you to everyone who has bought my book, attended one of my events, read with me, shared one of my posts, or otherwise supported me through this crazy time. Here are some updates from the last month, upcoming events, and recordings of past events ICYMI.
For Full Stop, my longtime friend Kelly Swope wrote an expansive and thoughtful review that made me feel so seen: “Focal Point, like the Greek epics it frequently references, is… an inner odyssey through illness and loss that imparts the difficult lesson that to live is to grieve.”
From Vitni Review: “If contemporary grief writing can be characterized as an ongoing conversation concerning tradition, memory, and death, then Focal Point is among the strongest examples of poets writing on those topics today, and one of the most intriguing poetic debuts in recent years.”
Focal Point was featured in this roundup in the Washington Independent Review of Books
I started a Mailchimp newsletter last month and will use that to send (very occasional) event updates directly to your inbox. Here’s the first one with an option to subscribe if you’re interested. I’ll probably send out another email in January to announce my spring 2022 events. If you follow this blog, you can also get these monthly-ish updates in your inbox.
Dear friends, I’m excited (but also, because I’m me, utterly panicked) to announce that we are four days from the official Focal Point release date, and I’ve got lots of updates coming your way, including how to enter the preorder giveaway, signing up for my newly launched newsletter, the Focal Pointfall tour schedule, and a peek at early reviews & features.
I started a Mailchimp newsletter and will use that to send (very occasional) event updates directly to your inbox. Here’s the first one as well as an option to subscribe if you’re interested!
Here are my 2021 fall events! All are virtual unless otherwise noted; there are two in-person events in San Francisco. They are subject to change, so please check my events page and follow me on Instagram for the latest updates and links to sign up for the events.
Below, I am including links to register for my first few October events, including two in-person events in San Francisco at Yerba Buena Gardens (10/17) and Green Apple Books on the Park (10/22):
ICYMI, here’s a link to watch my very fun reading and conversation with Susan Nguyen and Roy Guzmán in celebration of Susan’s book Dear Diaspora, which was released September 1st. Huge shoutout to Susan for your support and for being such an inspiration as you’ve navigated your book launch.
Features & early reviews
Frontier Poetry featured Postcards from the Living” in their August roundup of Exceptional Poetry
Focal Point was featured by the bookstagram account @asianauthorsbookclub, who described it as “a debut poetry collection that will dazzle your mind and twist your heart.”
Novelist A.H. Kim featuredFocal Point in her delightful Little Free Libraries Instagram project
In Mochi Mag, written by Tria Chang, a side by side interview with Kat Chow, author of Seeing Ghosts, a memoir that is also about losing her mother as a young person
A thoughtful review by Rooted & Written alumna Rebecca Samuelson, who took a poetry workshop I led: “Jenny Qi tackles [grief] with a ferocious grace in her new collection…. Focal Point provides a starting point to a journey that will never end but will inevitably change the trajectory of your life.”
That’s all for now! Hope to see you at one of my upcoming events this month!
Please save the date for my launch event for Focal Point, hosted by The Booksmith, one of my favorite bookstores! I’ll be reading with my dear dear friends Francesca Bell and Mariya Zilberman. October 13th at 6pm PT, more info to come.
Please check out my events page for all upcoming events. I’ll share another update when I finalize my fall tour schedule.
Publications & features:
“This is an instagram poem,” a brand new poem not in Focal Point, was published in issue 52 of The Racket. Read it here.
“Jenny Qi’s Focal Point examines the intersections brought together by a dying loved one…. Her poems are stories of deep and incisive searching. Qi’s style and emotion fill her poetry with relatability as the reader understands, expands as the reader wonders. Yet grief makes the heart a kaleidoscope and there is an opportunity to look within for the beyond. As with a frozen pond, or smoke escaping, Qi describes how the heart both expands and contracts with emotional and scientific proof.”—Sara Paye at the Sierra Nevada Review
“Focal Point is an attentive study of the human condition—it has immortalized, sculpted something out of a plethora of loss.”—Handwritten & Co.
Onto #SeptWomenPoets, at a time when women’s voices are needed more than ever. Follow along with my Instagram stories or on Twitter, & I’ll also post a roundup of those at the end of the month/beginning of next.
Dear friends, it’s been a busy month, and I wanted to share some updates!
On Friday, August 27th at 6pm PST, I’ll be reading with my friend Preeti at KSW Presents Preeti Vangani with Jenny Qi. The event is fully virtual. Click on the link to learn more and sign up to read with us!
Publications & features:
Frontier Poetry’s Jose Hernandez Diazfeatured my poem “What Grows in the Desert” in their roundup of “exceptional poetry from around the web.” This poem appears in my forthcoming collection Focal Point, and you can read the full poem at SWWIM here.
Focal Point is once again the #1 New Release in Asian American Poetry on Amazon. Thanks to everyone for supporting!
Earlier in the month, I received my physical books and made an unboxing video (and quite possibly my first video ever), which you can watch here.
I’ve unveiled all of my blurbs, and you can read all of these kind and generous words on my social media or my book page. You can also navigate to my book page to find pre-order links & other information about Focal Point.
I made a graphic (see below) on how to support authors, based on a post by Tin House friend and fellow debut poet Susan Nguyen, author of Dear Diaspora. Feel free to use this, but please credit both of us. Here is Susan’s original, prettier post!
I’ve been doing the Sealey Challengethis year and reading one collection of poems each day in August. Follow along with my Instagram stories or on Twitter, & I’ll also probably post a roundup of all of the books I’ve read at the end of the month!
Friends! I’m so excited to finally share my book cover, designed by my brilliant friend Hilary Steinberg. I also have a book page here, and pre-order is available through Steel Toe Books and elsewhere (all links are available on the book page).
Some backstory on this cover: I took the photo in Mammoth Lakes, CA last summer, before I found out that my book would be published. What makes this cover extra meaningful for me is that Hilary is one of my oldest friends and one of so few people remaining in my life who remembers my mother. It’s so special to me that I was able to work with her on this.
Though I have continued to not update this blog, I have been tracking every day since COVID-induced shelter-in-place started in San Francisco. Today is Day 215. It’s the third day of another heatwave, temperatures up to 95 degrees. I don’t remember it ever being this hot in San Francisco for this many days in a year. Granted, this is in part because I used to live in the Sunset, closer to the cooling ocean breeze, but it is without a doubt also due to climate change. When I moved here a decade ago, I yearned for summer days like this, but now they fill me with a deep sorrow.
Here are some updates and things I’ve been up to this year, in part for whomever follows this blog and in part for me to mark the passage of time in a year when time feels so altered:
At the beginning of this year, I started a new remote job. It has been a tough year and a steep learning curve, but I’m getting used to it and like the people. I still struggle with my science and writer identities.
Right after starting aforementioned new job and before the pandemic, I participated in Tin House’s Winter Workshop. It felt like a dream then. It feels even more like a dream now.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I worried it would be terrible, but did not anticipate how terrible it would actually become. The first few months, I was burned out – from work, from grad school (STILL), even from writing – and aside from the terror of the circumstances, I was okay with slowing down. I read a lot of books, including a lot of not-very-literary, probably problematic, purely escapist fiction, and I saw no one, did no readings, and became so isolated I didn’t know how to become a part of society again.
This summer, I was sort of forced out of my cocoon by fellowships and workshops, and it has been challenging and necessary and ultimately quite rewarding. I started my stint as a Grotto Fellow, completed IWL and wrote about the weirdness of my reemergence into society for KSW, started doing readings again in August. (You can watch one of them here.)
On day 90, I moved to a new apartment, and in this larger apartment I finally have a little separate writing nook, from which I am typing this update.
The wildfires in California and all of the West have been the worst in history. On day 177, the sky was orange.
My poetry manuscript has been a finalist for two book prizes this year, the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry and another that I’m not sure I’m allowed to disclose yet.
Today, day 215, I taught/facilitated my first-ever poetry workshop for Rooted and Written. Zoom is weird, and teaching is weird, but I think it went well. So wild that this time last year, I was a participant. Wilder still that this time three years ago I had just finished my PhD, had not yet started my first real-person job, and I was just starting to be more involved in the literary world and knew absolutely nothing.
My grandmother is dying of kidney failure. She’s 95, and she never really accepted the limitations of old age. I think on some level she has been ready to let go for some time. I’m not really ready to say more than that.
There is so much to grieve, so much to be grateful for, this year and in this life. So difficult to hold them side by side. This is all I have in me for now. Be well, friends.
I have been blogging on and off for 16 years. Before settling on this WordPress site, I cycled through Xanga, Livejournal, Tumblr, and Blogger, among other blogging platforms. Reading and writing have always been my window into the greater world & my way of finding community.
The first poem I remember writing was a persona poem in response to a piece in National Geographic about forced prostitution in India. I don’t have that poem anymore, but I will never forget the photo of women in cages. As I approached adolescence, I became outspoken about the war in Iraq, LGBT rights, and other injustices. As a young adult, which is more recent than I’d like to acknowledge, I wrote painfully honest and sometimes cringe-worthy blogs about gender, culture, mental health, and of course, my personal trials and tribulations. That was a freedom that I didn’t yet appreciate—to write with such honesty about controversial and sensitive topics without fear or even any sort of self-consciousness.
Of course, it helped that my blogs were largely anonymous, though I didn’t try to hide who I was—I’ve never been particularly adept at maintaining a long-term parallel persona. I relied on blogging throughout my late teens and early 20s to deal with my embarrassing and overwhelming emotions and, most of all, my intense grief and isolation when my mother died. As an anonymous nobody, I could send it all out into the void of the Internet, and sometimes strangers reached back and sent a bit of comfort and encouragement.
Some years ago, one of my completely unpolished writing exercises (another persona poem) went low-key viral on Tumblr, and that was my first encounter with trolling and what we now call cancel culture. It took me by complete surprise, because I wasn’t and continue to be not at all famous, and no one actually read that blog. Afterward, I erased or made private any identifying information, and I became a little spooked by the idea of writing publicly at all.
But I was also ashamed that it had happened and ashamed of being affected by other people’s criticism and ashamed of not being a more private person, and I’d spent so much of my life trying to seem tough and hide my shame that it took me years to admit any of this, even to my partner.
Not too long after this incident, still in my early 20s (read: brain not yet fully developed), I published my first pieces in truly public outlets. I was able to brush off the few negative comments I received in response to my essays, since in general anyone criticizing someone mourning their dead mom comes across as a total troll. I later also received some criticism on this blog that I, as a person living in America, would dwell at all on my family’s cultural background and the complexities of my life straddling these cultures. While I didn’t take any of this criticism too personally, I did feel less safe in my online spaces.
Between these consequences of publishing, the grief-turned-depression that worsened midway through grad school and seemed invisible to everyone else, and trying to build and maintain some sort of professional persona after graduating, I stopped updating or writing very much at all for the last few years.
In retrospect, it’s astonishing that I, anonymous or not, managed to bumble along the Internet for over 10 years without encountering trolls. For that, I’m truly grateful. I can’t imagine what that does to a teenager or younger person or frankly, what a greater level of public vitriol would do to someone at any age. I’m thinking, in particular, of an incident last year, in which a YA writer was criticized so harshly for some detail in her book that she withdrew the book and changed the ending. What made this situation even more frustrating was that she was a young author of color being torn down in what was possibly the greatest moment of her life by other young writers of color. And then, she was criticized by yet more people for not having the gumption to stand up to the people criticizing her. I won’t get into all of it, but what a lack of empathy all around and what a mess that whole thing was.
Anyway, TL;DR I needed some time away. In this last year, I finally feel that I’ve emerged from the fog, I’ve started to find my way in the local literary community and build my creative life, I’m moving on in my non-literary professional life, and it’s about to be a new decade. I’m resolving to continue building on this new life, to write more prose again, to work on letting the light in instead of burying my tiny bits of shame until they grow into something insurmountable.
Yesterday, I spent over two hours injecting cancer cells into mice, looking through a glass barrier in full, identity-erasing protective gear. As I did this, I listened to a Longform interview with Wesley Yang, of “Paper Tigers” fame. When the Longform hosts introduced him, they noted how unique he is among their interviewees in his convoluted path through journalism and writing in general.
As Yang describes it, when he initially became a journalist, he was not super set on that path or particularly ambitious. He just wasn’t good at anything else. What lingers with me most is the few minutes when he said that he was just always lost, still is lost.
Today, I went to the Asian Art Museum for its 50th anniversary celebration. There was an exhibit on the use and symbolism of gold throughout the ages. The placards noted its association with prosperity, divinity, and immortality. As I read this, I thought what strange creatures we humans are, to desire immortality with such fervor. What drives us to construct tombs containing thousands of warriors, to build pyramids on the bones of the unfortunates, to create and collect records of civilizations? Continue reading “Immortality, lost and not quite found”
My essay is out in The New York Times, and in the process, I got to talk to Daniel Jones on the phone, after years of reading his words and edits. Since then, I have been on the receiving end of so much love from friends, acquaintances, and kind strangers. That has filled at least a few dreary days in lab with light.Continue reading “Love and light at the end of the tunnel”