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Celebrating World Poetry Day with a World of Wonders

In honor of appreciating women in March and World Poetry Day happening on the 21st, I’ve decided to write a book review for one of my favorite poets, Aimee Nezhukumatathil.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is an English professor at the University of Mississippi. She graduated from Ohio State University with a Bachelor’s degree in English and a Master’s in poetry and creative nonfiction. She is also an editor in the Orion magazine and has written four books, one of which was a chapbook co-written with Ross Gay. 

My love for her poetry was when I read one of the reviews posted on her website, simply titled, “Lucky Fish”. What made me want to read this was a line in her second paragraph:

“You could say that this charming and buoyant book is ‘about’ a lot of things—finding a home, love—but really, these poems point toward the importance of attentiveness as a path to joy, however fragile.”

Katrina Vandenberg, “Lucky Fish”

Because of this line, I decided to read if these poems simply were “about” something, or if it did lead to a joyous path. Luckily, it was the latter.

A Journey with No Map

Published in 2011, Lucky Fish brings a new perspective on the world around us. These poems are given different narrators; whether it is a parrot, a dead person, or even Nezhukumatathil herself, each poem has its own voice and perspective on planet earth. Some of these poems gave an interesting perspective on the different ideas that lead to happiness or resolution. For example, in “Birth Geographic” Nezhukumatathil writes about her unplanned C-section. The beginning of this poem describes childbirth by saying, “When you give birth, there is no map”. There are “do’s” and “don’ts” obviously, but parenthood is very confusing and terrifying. She even questions this when she asks, “How do you know where to visit?” entailing that there are many places to look to for guidance, but finding the right place can be tricky.

Aimee in “Ah-mer-i-kah”

Not only does Nezhukumatathil express fear and happiness in Lucky Fish, but she also does in her latest book. World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments (2020) explores the difficulty and beauty of being a woman of color. Nezhukumatathil is of Filipina and Malayali Indian descent and was taught at a young age to not love her heritage. She explains this in “Peacock,” where a racist elementary school teacher said she shouldn’t draw a peacock for a drawing contest because it was the national bird of India:

Some of us will have to start over and draw American animals. We live in Ah-mer-i-kah!…Aimee, looks like you need a do-over! 

“Peacock,” World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments (2020)

This is a common theme in World of Wonders: not being treated like an American because of your skin color. And I think many Americans can relate to this. Nezhukumatathil even says that she’s seen many peacocks in the San Diego zoo and suburban Miami. This implies that these peacocks are just as American as other animals. And much like other races and ethnicities, we’re just as American as you.

Lucky Fish and World of Wonders can be found on her website. Be sure to check them out as well as her other collections.