Interview With Aimee Nezhukumatathil

I wrote in a journal all through junior high and high school. I wouldn't call them diary entries, but I sure wouldn't call them poems either. They were mostly scraps of observations about what was around me. The type of cactus I saw that day walking home from the bus stop, the fields of soybean I saw at sunset on a road trip with my family, crushes I had on various boys who ignored me, etc. Another piece to my development in language and in writing is that I came to poetry relatively late compared to most of my peers. I never knew there were living poets until my junior year of college. I started out, as many children of doctors do, as pre-med, majoring in chemistry. I’m glad I switched to English, but I still have a deep love of the language of the sciences, the musicality of the names of flora and fauna . . . Even various elements and molecules have a music to their names, so I think that might hopefully carry over into my writing.

 

What advice do you wish you had gotten as a teen?

 

To pick something to study that would make you feel like a student for the rest of your life and not focus on money, job prospects, etc--at least, don't make those things the deciding factor in what you want to study in college. Actually, I rec'd this advice later in college, but it sure would have been nice to hear it say, in junior high.

 

Tell us about a time when you were brave, or bravery was required

of you, or you saw someone else being brave.

 

I moved around a lot as a kid/teen. Starting a new school with my younger sister and knowing we were one of a few or the only brown girls most of our peers had ever seen required lots of bravery. We got stared at a lot. A LOT. Even talking to someone new and opening yourself up to the possibility of a shared smile or friendship is brave, so I thank and salute all the hundreds of little girls and boys who welcomed us and befriended us in tiny towns and large suburbs with open arms, when they themselves were exposed to racism and ignorance from their own parents. These boys and girls (who are now grown, many of them parents now) rewrote the script they were given. I love visiting elementary and junior/senior high schools now and I try to always be sure to say hello to the quiet ones. And I encourage others to do the same. A simple smile and hello can make a profound difference in their day, their life. I know this from first-hand experience.

 

How do you start a poem? Give us a window into your process.

 

I always start with an image, not a topic. I never know what my poem will be “about,” until much much later in the revision process. With a very few exceptions, the voice in my poems is quite similar to my own speaking voice and so I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised to know that my reading for 'pleasure' usually involves science and nature books, field guides, natural history collections, etc. So I suppose some of the vibrant language from those types of texts sometimes invades my daily speech, and thus, my writing.

 

What is your motto for getting through the tough times

 

I believe in a higher power and at my weakest, I draw upon my faith that even though I may not understand the struggle/heartbreak/pain, I have big faith that someone is looking out for me, unconditionally, and that others on this earth need and want me to be the best person I can be. There is so much on this planet that I still want to do and see with my time here on earth, so that is a huge motivation for me, in both small and really large ways. Find what you love. Ask for help when you need it.