I’ve been following Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s career since her first book, and her latest, Oceanic (released this April from Copper Canyon Press), is her strongest, most confident writing yet ... I believe she channeled her energy during that time into this powerful volume packed with intimate details of the creatures of the earth, as well as the passions of the speaker’s (and presumably the writer’s) life ... Nezhukumatathil has always been a skilled observer of nature, celebrating the natural world for its wonders and unique characters ... While Nezhukumatathil engages with dark themes in this book, she isn’t afraid to spend time on small moments of beauty and humor ... From sea stars to elephant tigers, from her children and husband to the speaker’s own scars, Oceanic conveys a rare sense of awe and unsentimental passion for the earth, its creatures, and the universe.
Aimee Nezhukumatathil sings an ode to earth and sea in her stunning fourth collection, Oceanic (Copper Canyon; $17). Sensual and vivid, her poems invite us deep into the water ... 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.
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 sets out a simple, yet profound, argument about our relations with the natural world: the more we feel the ocean’s embrace, the sooner we sense its particular 'hum' everywhere ... A review of Oceanic would be incomplete without brief mention of Nezhukumatathil’s deft touch with various poetic forms, from the haibun to the ghazal ... This is an important work, both for its poetic merits and for its incisive capture of the increasingly precarious nature of life, both human and nonhuman, on this planet.
... from the poetic structures that cultivate dazzling settings to the metaphors that brim with possibility, Oceanic is an opportunity to view our world and our existence in ways that, perhaps, we hadn’t previously thought possible ... My encounter with those sea creatures inspired me to learn more, not unlike Oceanic, which reawakens my curiosity for a world that still holds so many undiscovered wonders.
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 ... With a book so invested in nature, one might expect a flood of gorgeous imagery. Here, Oceanic delivers; these poems are lush and dreamy ... 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.
Touching upon familiar themes of identity and placement that recall her earlier works, Nezhukumatathil invites the world to see 'the dark sky as oceanic, boundless, limitless' ... She gathers the vast geographies of the world together in a collective theater, as her poems sweep across Singapore, the Philippines, China, India, Switzerland, and the United States. Her found poems manifest the clumsy misunderstandings in cross-cultural encounters and the beauty of each place in its sense of wonder.
Her poems invoke a sense of connectedness with similar animal species ... while also reminding readers of what there is to glean even from wildly different creatures ... Nezhukumatathil weaves meditations on parenting and family-making among her lavishly rendered evocations of flora and fauna ... The collection’s mix of free and formal poems strikes different moods, but throughout Nezhukumatathil’s voice is consistent in its awe.