At the very end of the last century, in 1999 to be exact, the English Department decided to enhance its already robust contemporary poetry curriculum by creating the Westminster Poetry Series. Every year, the department invites a major poet to visit Westminster for two or three days, either in the winter or the spring. The entire school studies books of poems by the visiting poet, guaranteeing an especially knowledgeable audience, something all of the visiting poets have appreciated. A generous grant from former trustee Maureen Ford-Goldfarb and her daughter Kirsten Ford ’00 funds the series.
Because of the enormous success of Ross Gay’s visit in March 2020, the English Department turned to his good friend and collaborator Aimee Nezhukumatathil as its choice for 2020-2021’s visiting poet. (Gay and Nezhukumatathil coauthored an epistolary nature chapbook called “Lace & Pyrite” in 2014.) It was actually a pretty easy choice to make since Ms. Nezhukumatathil had previously been the Westminster Poet for 2011-2012, and the department knew how good her poetry is and what a charismatic reader and teacher she is.
Nezhukumatathil remembered her visit to Westminster fondly, too, and quickly agreed to be the 21st Westminster Poet in early March of 2021. As luck would have it, the poet was in the process of completing a book of short essays, part nature writing, part memoir, which the school chose as an all-school reading selection for 2020-2021. The book, “World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments,” which will be released in early fall of 2020, will be taught in every English class prior to Nezhukumatathil’s visit to campus.
Nezhukumatathil is the author of four books of poems: “Miracle Fruit” (2003), “At the Drive-In Volcano” (2007), “Lucky Fish” (2011), and “Oceanic” (2018), as well as two chapbooks. “Miracle Fruit” won the Tupelo Press Prize and the Global Filipino Literary Award in Poetry, “At the Drive-In Volcano” won the Balcones Poetry Prize, and “Oceanic” won the 2019 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Prize for Poetry. Nezhukumatathil is currently a professor of English in the University of Mississippi’s M.F.A. program.
All four Forms will study the poems in “Oceanic” before Nezhukumatathil comes to campus in March. Teachers will augment poems from that book with selections from Nezhukumatathil’s earlier books of poetry. Shannon Nakai writes in her Tupelo Press review of “Oceanic”: “In ‘Oceanic,’ her fourth collection of poetry, Aimee Nezhukumatathil writes a series of love letters to the world and its inhabitants. From intimate psalms of love to her husband — whose love wields electricity as they descend the Swiss Alps — to poems addressed to starfish, turtles and the Northern Lights, the ‘you’ in each poem is as fluid and varied as the structures she uses to encapsulate all subjects.”
Crystal Stone writes in “Flyway”: “Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s ‘Oceanic’ creates a sometimes coastal, sometimes aquatic world where she and the nature she preserves converge. . . . She’s opened the sky, the ocean, the sun, the land and the heart. . . . We’re standing there with her ready to hear the ocean’s ethereal and earthy sounds from the seashell of words she offers.”
And Nick Ripatrazone in his review of “Oceanic” in “The Millions” states: “There are so many reasons to return to Nezhukumatathil’s poems — her affinity for the natural world, her ability to write a love poem that truly works, her humor that surprises and salves — and ‘Oceanic’ reminds me of yet another: how she can offer readers so many routes within a single poem . . . . Nezhukumatathil’s poems will remind you (as did Gerard Manley Hopkins and Elizabeth Bishop) that wonder is a gift, and great words can get us there.”
Below are a few of Nezhukumatathils poems and some links to relevant websites for more information about Nezhukumatathil.