Focal Point (Paperback)
Winner of the 2020 Steel Toe Books Poetry Award, Focal Point is a scientist's unofficial dissertation, a daughter's faithful correspondence, and a coming-of-age story. Written largely while Jenny Qi was a young Ph.D. student conducting cancer research after her beloved mother's death from cancer, the collection turns to "all the rituals of all the faiths," invoking Western and Eastern mythology and history, metaphors from cell biology, and even Jimi Hendrix, as Qi searches for a container to hold grief. The opening poem of this debut collection primes us to consider all definitions of the titular "focal point," as the speaker evaluates this moment of early loss beneath a literal and metaphoric microscope. Here, the past and future converge, but from here, what does divergence look like? What can a scientific mind do except interrogate and attempt to measure the unknown and immeasurable? These poems, at once tender and suffused with wry humor, diverse in form and scope, go on to navigate illness, early relationships, racism, climate change, mass shootings, and the COVID-19 pandemic, unflinching in the face of death and the darker side of human nature. At its core, Focal Point is an uncompromising interrogation of how to be alive in the world, always loving something that has been or is in the process of being lost.