"every mighty beast"

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These notes are part of my “read 100 poetry books in 12-ish months” effort. Far from an official review, they represent first impressions and provide some context for what I brought to the reading of the text.

26 of 100: Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil (2018, Copper Canyon Press)

Quick, personal thoughts:

  • It’s so easy now (spoken from the vantage point of a contentious political climate in the U.S. and from the utter devastation we continue to cause on our planet) to imagine that the only writing that could possibly carry weight is writing that challenges systems like government and capitalism. But Oceanic is a good reminder that it’s okay to write about love. (And honestly, what’s a better counter to greed than affection?) As Aimee Nezhukumatathil says in an interview in BookPage, the poems are her way of “following environmentalist Rachel Carson’s belief that the more attention we pay to the natural world around us, the less appetite we have for destruction.”
  • Also on that note, she tells Tin House, “I want readers to really sit, really think about words and beauty and what brings you joy and wonder and how you can also reflect on past hurts but use that as a strength in facing the future, especially when there are little ones like my son who are looking to me and my husband and others for how to interact in this wild and disappointing and confusing and buoyant world.”
  • The natural world is so carefully woven into these poems that the collection is a good reminder that we are not separate from the skies and oceans. We are part of one another.
  • I want to return to this book to study the “self portrait” poems more closely. Very often with persona poems, I’m too distracted by the device/set-up that I can’t get lost in the language/effect. But the persona poems in this makes the cloak invisible, and I’m curious how it’s achieved.

Lines I want to remember:

  • “this waterprayer / rising like a host / of paper lanterns in the inky evening.”
  • “Sometimes it is possible to still embrace / the wildness of home, even if the lone window / in your room only blooms snow and more snow.”
  • “There are not enough jam jars to can this summer sky.”
  • “When I say flower I mean how her song // blooms in the cicada-electric Mississippi night. When I say / pink I mean nectar I mean a long kiss good and sweet.”
  • “fear that you / have not fully accepted all the many hard / and wondrous ways you are loved”
  • “I hope you see / the dark sky as oceanic, boundless, limitless–like all / the shades of blue revealed in a glacier. Let’s listen / how this planet hums with so much wing, fur, and fin.”
  • “You can never know / where or why you hear / a humming on this soft earth.”
  • “Sometimes if you put an ear / to the dark slash between my hip bones, you can hear / a soft hum. Pretend it’s a skit of bees in late spring.”
  • “my heart // slamming in my chest, against my shirt”
  • “desire is the cool water sloshed / into a trough at dawn. How all the horses amble over / to get that first fresh drink.”
  • “how you feel after tumbling / like sea stars on the ocean floor over each other. / A night where it doesn’t matter // which are arms or which are legs / or what radiates and how– / only your centers stuck together.”
  • “Every thicket has / a secret and / every mighty beast / has a soft underside.”

What others have said:

  • from Tupelo Quarterly: “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 ascend 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.”
  • from Tin House: “Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s new collection, Oceanic, is a generous, romantic, and ambitious look at the different stages of life, and how we experience the love and wonder that lead us to become more fully realized and compassionate as we grow each decade.”
  • from The Brooklyn Rail: “Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s recent collection of poetry, Oceanic, can be described in many ways, as a book about nature, about living in the world, about a sense of places, or places, but rereading the book, I can’t help but feel that most of the poems are love poems. From considering this to exploring that to writing found poetry about one star reviews of the Great Wall of China and The Taj Mahal, it is a book that is fully aware of the complications and problems of the world, but tries to find joy, seek connection, and explore wonder.”

Where some of the poems from this collection live online:

Have you read this collection? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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