Aimee Nezhukumatathil imitates bird calls between the lines of poetry and lyric essays. 

On Wednesday, April 20, poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil shared her works for National Poetry Month at the Dali Museum’s Avant-Garden. Admission was free for Eckerd students through the Dalí’s website. St. Petersburg Poet Laureate and former Eckerd Professor of Creative Writing Helen Pruitt Wallace, introduced Nezhukumatathil.  

“Aimee reminds us we can never know how or why we hear a humming on the soft Earth. That tenderness still lingers in the air,” Wallace said. 

Nezhukumatathil read several poems and essays. Several selections were taken from “World of Wonders,” a collection of lyric essays about nature. She is a self-proclaimed nerd, boasting that she has more science books than literary works in her bookcase. Her knowledge of animals, in particular, helped her craft poems and lyric essays. 

In her poem “In Praise of My Manicure,” she incorporates the beauty of the artificial and the natural, comparing her fingers and nails to starfish and snakes. Nezhukumatathil also read “Penguin Valentine,” a love poem as represented by parent penguins, taking inspiration from “March of the Penguins,” an Oscar-winning documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman. 

Nezhukumatathil also read “Brown Pelican,” bringing to light the environmental threat of the synthetic insecticide DDT in the pelican’s prey. The last poem Nezhukumatathil shared was “Invitation,” a poem that inspired the title for her poem collection “Oceanic.” The poems provide insight to nature, but also call for curiosity towards the world surrounding us. 

“Who knows what will happen next?” Nezhukumatathil said. “And if you still want to look up, I hope you see the dark sky as oceanic — boundless, limitless — like all the shades of blue revealed in a glacier. Listen how this planet spins with so much fin, wing and fur.”

Nezhukumatathil shifted from poetry readings to sharing snippets of her lyric essays. She opened with “Chocolate,” taken from her upcoming book focusing on a variety of food items. Her lyric essay was written during the first month of the pandemic, when she found out how much she craved chocolate while online shopping. 

From her recently-published book “World of Wonders,” Nezhukumatathil read a lyric essay about the potoo bird, a nocturnal avian animal from Central and South America that camouflages impressively in the daylight. She mimicked the call of the bird between paragraphs, adding a sense of life to her words. 

When asked about the decision to switch from pure poetry to the hybrid form of lyric essays, Nezhukumatathil said, “There were times where I wanted to break the lines and others when I wanted to let the sentences uncurl like a fern.” 

Students Ava Schlottman, sophomore in communications, and Anna Randall, first-year in theater and communications, came to the event because they are in a creative writing class with Gloria Muñoz, visiting assistant professor of creative writing, who helped organize the event. 

“A lot of the lines really stuck out,” Schlottman said. “I will definitely carry them in the future about how I apply my poetry.” 

Several students asked for advice on how to craft poetry that encapsulated nature and heritage. 

“I enjoyed hearing about how she went about writing her poetry,” Randall said. “And the connections she made between poetry and prose.”

More than a dozen Eckerd students came to the museum to celebrate poetry. A shuttle was arranged for those without transportation. Nezhukumatathil came to Eckerd at 3 p.m. to host a guest lecture with several classes. She herself is a professor of English and creative writing at the University of Mississippi.  

“[Eckerd students] are so whip-smart, so warm. These are students who have a passion for the written word and for the outdoors,” Nezhukumatathil said. “Usually I have to kind of get students excited about poetry or the outdoors but they came with built-in enthusiasm.”

Nezhukumatathil recalled personal experiences in nature, such as hiking and finding various species of birds, incorporating the flavors of food and the emotions shared with family in all her works. 

“Mother nature is the best poet,” Nezhukumatathil said. “I’m just trying to take notes.”

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