At the Drive-In Volcano
by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
— Vince Gotera, North American Review
— Vince Gotera, North American Review
Reading through a volume of Nezhukumatathil’s poems is like grabbing onto the trapeze bar at a circus of the senses: one moment your hand brushes the skin of a sand shark in a touchpool, the next you’re dodging serpent heads and anti-feminist barbs at the Medusa’s Hair Salon, sampling deadly Fugu fish at an unlicensed sushi restaurant, or stealing a kiss from Judas in your community church’s production of the Passion Play.
The $1,000 Balcones Poetry Prize for 2007 was awarded to At the Drive-in Volcano. The prize recognizes an outstanding book of poetry published during the year.
The judges praised Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s “tight, economical poems that contain just the right amount of darkness and elegance,” poems that are “extravagant and accessible,” “fresh and funny, congenial and sharp,” and said that she has “heeded Pound’s call to make it new.”
The judges for the 2007 prize were Carrie Fountain, a poet, critic and professor at Austin Community College; Elisabeth McKetta, poet, PhD candidate at the University of Texas, publisher of Farfelu and a professor at Austin Community College; and Scott Pierce, poet and publisher of Effing Press.’
We could pull a large number of complimentary quotes from Howard Miller’s review of At the Drive-In Volcano for Avatar Review. But we know you’re busy people, so we’ll skip to the end: “Aimee Nezhukumatathil is a talented young poet, and At The Drive-In Volcano is a fine collection of her work that’s worth the investment for anyone who enjoys skillful-crafted poetry.”‘
What can you say against a review that ends with “We can go on and on singing the praises for Aimee Nezhukumatathil, but even as a greedy boy we realize we don’t have space enough for avid gluttony, that is, for terrific poetry.” Simply put, Alfred A. Yuson, a reviewer for the The Philippine Star, the world’s largest-distribution English-language Filipino newspaper, loves At the Drive-In Volcano.’
From the author of the award-winning book of poems, Miracle Fruit, comes the eagerly anticipated second collection, At the Drive-In Volcano. In this new and imaginative follow–up, Aimee Nezhukumatathil examines the full circle journey of desire, loss, and ultimately, an exuberant love—traveling around a world brimming with wild and delicious offerings such as iced waterfalls, jackfruit, and pistol shrimp. From the tropical landscapes of the Caribbean, India, and the Philippines to the deep winters of western New York and mild autumns of Ohio, the natural world Nezhukumatathil describes is dark but also lovely—so full of enchantment and magic. Here, worms glow in the dark, lizards speak, the most delicious soup in the world turns out to be deadly, and a woman eats soil as if it were candy. Her trademark charm, verve and wit remain elemental and a delight to behold, even in the face of a crumbling relationship. These poems confront delicate subjects of love and loss with an exacting exuberance and elegance not hardly seen in a writer so young.
Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s poems are as ripe, funny and fresh as a precious friendship. They’re the fullness of days, deliciously woven of heart and verve, rich with sources and elements — animals, insects, sugar, cardamom, legends, countries, relatives, soaps, fruits — taste and touch. I love the nubby layerings of lines, luscious textures and constructions. Aimee writes with a deep resonance of spirit and sight. She’s scared of nothing. She knows that many worlds may live in one house. Poems like these revive our souls. Read them, then say her glorious name over and over again like a charm of syllables — it’s a poem of its own.
— Naomi Shihab Nye
Winner of the 2007 Balcones Poetry Prize
Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of Lucky Fish (2011). Her previous books are At the Drive-In Volcano (2007), winner of the Balcones Prize, and Miracle Fruit (2003), winner of the Tupelo Press Prize, the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award in poetry, and the Global Filipino Award. Her poetry and essays have been widely anthologized and have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Black Warrior Review, FIELD, Mid-American Review, and Tin House.
Aimee was awarded a 2009 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, has twice served as a faculty member at the Kundiman retreat for Asian-American writers and has given readings and workshops from Amsterdam to San Francisco. She is associate professor of English at State University of New York-Fredonia, where she is a recipient of the campus-wide Hagan Young Scholar Award and the SUNY Chancellor’s Medal for Scholarly and Creative Activities. She lives with her husband and two young sons.
The 2007 Balcones Poetry Prize was awarded for At the Drive-in Volcano.
Pushcart Prize (2008) for “Love in the Orangery”
Glasgow Prize and the Asian-American Literary Award Finalist (2004)
ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award in Poetry (2003) for Miracle Fruit
Second Annual Tupelo Press Poetry Contest Judge’s Prize for Miracle Fruit (2001)
James Boatwright III Prize for Poetry (2001)
WHEN WEAVER ANTS CUT (A VALENTINE)
I love the dance of every one helping.
Each ant chews and chews a bit of juicyleaf
and stands on his back four legs to raise
the leaf shape up high above his head.
The congo line—a honey shimmer of bodies
rushing to bring the cut leaf home. For twelve
years, the ruler of Garwara, India was a jackal.
All the laughing in that town cannot
compare to what you have brought
into my home: a filament of light inside
a dark jellyfish bell. It’s this dance of ants
down a tree, around a stubborn frog—I want
to dance with you—how brave the line,
how tiny the step, a hundred green valentines.