Jenny Qi on Paying Attention
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
In this episode, Mitzi talks to Jenny Qi about her new poetry collection, Focal Point.
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From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: You are a cancer cellular biologist, and you have spent your professional career in the sciences. You also have this part of you that is focused on the humanities and writing poetry. I’m curious about paying attention. Poetry is so much about paying attention to the world around you and the cellular level of things that you study in science and the amount of attention you pay to the world you live in, in front of your eyes, I’m curious about that relationship.
Jenni Qi: I think those are very closely tied together. I feel like a lot of people do find it curious that I’m in the sciences and the arts. And I’ve been asked a few times, what is the relationship between those, and I honestly think research and poetry are so similar at the core, and it’s really a false dichotomy that they should be separated. Both of these things are ultimately about curiosity. Like, how does the universe work? How do emotions work? Like what is happening underneath surface levels? And so, I think my scientific training has also helped hone my ability to pay attention to things and I think, yeah, that is what all of this is about is ultimately the spirit of curiosity and inquiry.
Jenny Qi is the author of Focal Point, winner of the 2020 Steel Toe Books Poetry Prize and a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize. Her essays and poems have been published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, ZYZZYVA and elsewhere. Jenny Qi received her Ph.D. in Biomedical Science (Cancer Biology) from UCSF.