April 11, 2018

Life aquatic

By Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Review by
Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil is a poetry collection rooted in the imagery of a fading natural world.
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People often look to poetry as a space for beauty, where it can be enshrined, explored and celebrated. Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil is a collection rooted in the imagery of a fading natural world, wielding lyrical language to break down the barrier between ourselves and what we consider nature. 

Nezhukumatathil’s fourth book of poetry and first from Copper Canyon Press, Oceanic dowses our most human concerns (love, longing, grief, family) in a torrent of nature-oriented metaphors. “Nature” is a broad category, encompassing scallops, elephants, pumpkins and the northern lights, but as the title suggests, Nezhukumatathil tends to focus her contemplation on marine life and aquatic vistas. Overall, the subject matter is broad, from one-star internet reviews of the Taj Mahal to odes for those who “plunged over Niagara Falls with the hope of surviving.” 

With a book so invested in nature, one might expect a flood of gorgeous imagery. Here, Oceanic delivers; these poems are lush and dreamy, with “a blue jack mackerel / arranging itself into an orb of dazzle” and “dolphins leaping / into commas / for this waterprayer / rising like a host / of paper lanterns/ in the inky evening.” The emotion evoked is one of contentedness and appreciation.

But these poems don’t scan as pastorals with only calm waters and soft sentiments. Oceanic brings forth the harder ideas buried in these subjects. “Two Moths” renders the experience of a victim of sex trafficking who “will rim / the waterline of her eyes with kohl pencil” until they resemble “two popinjay moths.” In “The Body,” we learn of the plight of the sea stars in the Pacific, how something causes them to “rip themselves apart, / twist their arms in gummy knots.” The urgency in these poems adds necessary depth to an otherwise pastel-tinged collection.

But what really stitches Oceanic together is Nezhukumatathil’s musical voice. These poems feel crystal clear in their logic and construction, walking carefully from the metaphoric and imagistic to something more transcendent and strange, reminding us that we are linked to the natural world in deep and surprising ways. 


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Aimee Nezhukumatathil for Oceanic.

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By Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Copper Canyon Press
ISBN 9781556595264

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