Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of Miracle Fruit (2003), winner of the ForeWord Magazine Poetry Book of the Year and the Global Filipino Literary Award; At the Drive-In Volcano (2007), winner of the Balcones Prize; and Lucky Fish (2011). Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, FIELD, and American Poetry Review. Her honors and awards include a Pushcart Prize and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is professor of English at SUNY-Fredonia and lives in berry country in western New York with her husband and sons.
LG: You have written in “A Globe Is Just an Asterisk…”:
I spun and spun
that globe and traced my fingers along
the nubby Himalayas, the Andes — measured
with the span of my thumb and forefinger
and the bar scale that showed how many miles
per inch. I tried to pinch the widest part
of the Pacific Ocean, the distance between me
and India, me and the Philippines….
Reading these lines, I feel such a kinship around maps and the “want” of places where I’m not. What do you think it is that fascinates us about maps, globes, Google Earth, the names of places…all of the ways we try to represent the world? What do you think that the desire to try to keep space, quantify it, connect to it is about?
AN: I think at some point in our lives we want to feel like we belong to something, to someone, to some place. Google Earth freaks me out, actually. I know I can basically zoom into the front yard of the house I lived in suburban Phoenix—the very house where I sat and studied that globe. I can see the saplings, now huge trees that my younger sister and I planted, that the new owners ripped up my mother’s gorgeous rose hedge. But that’s a displacement too. I moved around lots when I was young and we were one of the few Asian American families in our neighborhoods, so I know the concept of being “home” is one that I keep returning to in my writing, but there is no easy answer. For me, the more technology involved in mapping where we’ve been, what we’ve yet to see makes me even more melancholy, not less. That globe is long gone and lost to a yard sale, but I just bought my sons one last Christmas, the 2014 version of the same globe and I love to see them spin it and plan and scheme over it. They don’t seem to be carrying the weight of the world (pardon the pun) on their little kid shoulders when they explore and ask questions. And for that I’m so grateful.
LG: The titles of these poems put together language that is ordinary with what seems a rarer or the special thing: “At the Drive-In Volcano” and “Corpse Flower,” for instance. … The poems seem to include this kind of language throughout where at one moment there is a lawn boiling over with birds—what seems a magical real moment—to sitting in your parents’ home listening to Kenny Rogers’ songs while looking at a globe. I love the springboard of the special moment catapulting you through memory and imagination back into what might seem an ordinary one. Can you talk about this shuttling of language and imagery? It seems to me to refute what might be seen as “exotic.” Also, in terms of place and poetry, your language always seems to be traveling. Can you speak to this?
AN: Thank you so much—I love that you think I refute what might be called ‘exotic.’ That word drives me absolutely batty and is such a telling word, no? That just because someone hadn’t seen or eaten or smelled something him or herself that I must be by default, the weird one, the Other. When really, I bit my tongue for so many years by not saying to people (no matter how good their intentions), Well I think YOU are “exotic” for never ever trying lumpia before!
LG: I am curious as to how you define “home.” It is a word and concept that comes up in your poems alongside travel. I read in an earlier interview that you moved five times in your childhood. How has both your writing life and your family life had an impact on your notion of “home”?
AN: I locate myself with contemporary poets who find themselves at home in a world in which the boundary between the local and the global has increasingly been blurred. I’m so grateful for spaces like Kundiman where poets are re-shaping the landscape of contemporary poetry. I know I would have felt less alone as a teen if I had known about the poems of say—Patrick Rosal, Joseph O. Legaspi, Cathy Linh Che, or Ocean Vuong. It’s a wrestling, if you will, with a shift from a specific locale to ‘elsewhereness.’ It is my hope that a reader of my poems can be situated without being rooted—able to travel without getting lost.
Photo By: Alan Grinberg