Poets & Writers

WORLD of WONDERS

I was introduced to Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s work on a long drive from New Jersey to Maine, while tagging along with my friend Patrick Rosal, who was joining Adrian Blevins, Tyehimba Jess, and Gibson Fay-LeBlanc for a reading for From the Fishouse, the wonderful online audio archive of emerging poets started by Camille T. Dungy and Matt O’Donnell. Patrick had a stack of books with him—this was 2005, I think—and one of them was Aimee’s first book, Miracle Fruit (Tupelo Press, 2003). Needless to say I loved it. A couple of years later, spring 2007, Indiana Review editor Abdel Shakur and I invited Aimee, along with Patrick and Tyehimba and Aracelis Girmay, out to read at Indiana University, where I teach, for what was maybe—no, what was definitely—the best reading ever. I know, I know, there have been a lot of those. But this was one of them. We sang Billy Ocean. Everyone in the Waldron theater in Bloomington, Indiana, sang Billy Fucking Ocean. “Suddenly,” I’m pretty sure it was. Like I said: best reading ever.

Aimee and I became fast friends after that, writing (actual) letters, sharing work, the whole thing. In 2007 her second book, At the Drive-In Volcano, was published by Tupelo Press, and in 2011 we shared a book party at Cave Canem for her third book, Lucky Fish (Tupelo Press), and my second, Bringing the Shovel Down (University of Pittsburgh Press). Not too long after that we collaborated on a chapbook of epistolary poems about our gardens called Lace and Pyrite: Letters From Two Gardens (Organic Weapon Arts, 2014). I can remember in those poems feeling like, goddamn, it is not easy keeping up! Aimee’s images, her beautiful music, her capacity for metaphor: It was a little intimidating. I was definitely learning how to write better poems by being in her company like this. I was also, and more crucially, being schooled in openness, in ardor, in wonder. And I was being schooled in the ways the discipline and practice of wonder deepens my capacity to love what I already love and expands the horizons of what I might. I don’t know if I knew it then, but going back to read that chapbook, I see it plain as day. She was showing me a way to make the work that I have come to make.

Aimee has been cultivating the practice of wonder for her whole writing career, which now includes four books of poems: Oceanic was published in 2018 by Copper Canyon Press. Her new book, the essay collection World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments, will be published in September by Milkweed Editions. World of Wonders, kind of like Aimee, is flabbergasted, gobsmacked, and astonished with glee by all kinds of creatures and phenomena, all kinds of kin, from flamingos to catalpas, from monsoons to corpse flowers, from dancing frogs to

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