The Natural Bridge Three-Part Interview #5 – Author Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Jim Schley

Laura E. Davis

How’d you get to be, you know, the way you are?

I read plenty. I daydream plenty. I watch birds and fish plenty. I moved around the country plenty. I hurt lots. I love lots.

In my version of the world D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths would be a perpetual New York Times bestseller, The Sound of Music would win Best Picture at the Academy Awards (I mean, it would win year after year, because really, how can you beat romance, dancing, singing, and brown paper packages wrapped up in string?!) and Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky” would play at least once a day (during mandatory naps) from every radio in the world.

Do you practice any other form of art? If so, how does it inform or inspire your writing? If not, which medium do you dream of taking up someday?

I used to paint, but right now I’d have to say practicing the art of flower gardening and keeping my backyard a haven for birds. I live in western NY, famous for its heaps and heaps of snow in the winter, but from the moment the first crocus and snowdrops push through the mulch and snow until the last mum has crumpled brown in November, I tend my flower gardens. I grew up with patience for soil and stars from my parents. We inherit teeth and bone. Beetle and mineral. When bees come singing in late spring, I wonder what are the lyrics to their toothless songs? And I love exploring who we are when the gardens wake up from their long slumber.

Once upon a time you were unpublished and largely unrecognized. What have you learned in the years since then that makes the act of writing easier . . . or harder?

Ha. I’m mostly still unrecognized outside the world of poetry, which is, you know, a pretty big world (though a JetBlue ticket agent once recognized me in Miami, so that was a fun surprise — Hi, JetBlue Ticket Agent from Miami who helped me book a complicated flight for my mother)! But besides friendly banter about poems, I didn’t get any upgrades or free drink coupons out of it (Boo, JetBlue Ticket Agent from Miami).

I get invited to speak to more colleges and high schools these days, but the reality is that the hard and exhilarating work of writing is still thankfully there — it’s not easier OR harder, it just IS. I still have to find ways to get a few hours to myself and to my notebooks or in front of the computer and write and revise and revise some more. I have two toddlers who love to help me in the garden, or more accurately — play in the sprinklers and then once in while they get it in their minds to help me pull a single weed. My husband (also a writer and English professor) is usually found grilling some delectable array of meats. There is nowhere else on this planet I’d rather be than in my backyard gardens with my family in the summer. And yet. And yet. The poems and essays keep peeking around the clematis-covered arbor and winking at me. So sneaky and flirty!

What qualities in fiction or poetry do you value above all others? Do you think your readers value the same qualities?

I want to be surprised by language in some way. People drive to the lake to ask questions of the lake. I don’t need my questions answered — in fact, I prefer it when they aren’t. But I want to feel like I’ve traveled a bit from the chair where I am sitting. I want to leave a book feeling slightly electrocuted. I hope to be always grateful for books and paper and ink. And for having a mouth that can read a favorite passage aloud and can kiss and sigh. I hope readers do too.