By Allen Boyer
The Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters has honored “Oceanic,” a collection of poems by Aimee Nezhukumatathil of Oxford, with its 2019 award for poetry.
Professor Nezhukumatathil teaches at the University of Mississippi, in the English Department’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. When “Oceanic” was published, HottyToddy.com interviewed her.
“In “Oceanic” I investigate forms of love as diverse and abundant as the ocean itself,” Nezhukumatathil said. “This book still aims to celebrate joy and wonderment of the natural world and desire like my previous collections, but this one is a more thorough registry of the earth’s wonderful and terrible magic.”
In a fall 2018 interview—after her work was selected for the Best American Poetry anthology—Professor Nezhukumatathil noted that she was “so thrilled to be part of a dynamic literary community here in Oxford.” She continued:
“These are collections that I looked to when I was an undergrad to get a taste for what was being hailed as important and interesting work being published from each year. I’m especially pleased to say for the first time in my listed biography for this anthology that I live and teach in Mississippi, since traditionally many of the poets who get usually get selected are from the East or West Coast.”
A reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle emphasized the fascination of Nezhukumatathil’s verse with the natural world:
“Sensual and vivid, [Nezhukumatathil’s] poems invite us deep into the water, where ‘colors humans have / not yet named glow in caves made from black coral and clamshell.’ Her images are lush with eroticism, always close to the body and its experience of wonder. She blurs the line between human and animal, casting herself (and her beloved) variously as a scallop, a whale shark, a penguin, a starfish. Such marvelous acts of transformation reshape us as we read.”
Nezhukumatathil is also the author of three previous poetry collections: “Lucky Fish” (2011), “At the Drive-In Volcano” (2007) and “Miracle Fruit” (2003), all from Tupelo Press. She also has written “World of Wonder” (2019, Milkwood), a forthcoming book of illustrated nature essays, and collaborated with Ross Gay on “Lace & Pyrite,” a recent chapbook of nature poems.
Nezhukumatathil was the 2016-17 Grisham Writer-in-Residence and is poetry editor of Orion magazine. Her other honors include a Pushcart Prize and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She lives in Oxford with her husband and sons.
The MIAL awards, first presented in 1980, are made in seven categories: Fiction, Non-fiction, Visual Art, Musical Composition (Concert), Musical Composition (Popular), Photography, and Poetry. The Institute’s awards are conferred through a juried competition, one of a kind in the state.