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Inside Walker’s Visiting Writer Seminar: Discussing the Poetry of Aimee Nezhukumatathil

By Lindsay Hodgman

On Thursday afternoons, students in The Ethel Walker School Visiting Writer Seminar gather around their classroom tables to discuss the poetry of Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Today, Bre Bogle ’18 reads aloud “Corpse Flower” to her peers.

Ms. Hodgman, their English teacher, asks, “What is the word that appears most frequently in this poem?”

Maggie Ashley ’18 scans her copy of Lucky Fish and responds, “‘Name’ and ‘named.'”

“Right,” Ms. Hodgman continues. “So, why are these words repeated throughout the poem?”

Students launch into a discussion about the implications of naming. It labels. It implies ownership. It establishes a power dynamic. One student mentions colonialism. Garet Wierdsma ’18 is quick to draw a connection between the flower and the speaker of the poem. Another student comments on the fact that the poem begins with the word “And.” The class then teases out biblical allusions in “Corpse Flower.”

Aimee Nezhukumatathil

At this point in the semester, students are no longer disconcerted by ambiguity in poetry. They see that there is no single meaning behind a poem. This only heightens the wonder and the joy of discovery when Katharine Tian ’18 unearths an irony: The flower does not want to be named and yet the very title of the poem, “Corpse Flower,” defies that wish. Will we, by speaking this name aloud, also be eaten?

The Visiting Writer Seminar is a special initiative course in Walker’s English Department that introduces students to a living writer — both through that writer’s works and through that writer’s visit to the school. This semester, students in the VWS have immersed themselves in the poetry of Aimee Nezhukumatathil, reading and discussing three of her collections of poetry, At the Drive-In Volcano, Lucky Fish and Oceanic, in preparation for her upcoming visit. Oceanic was released on April 10, 2018, and students in the VWS will be among the first to study and speak with her about her latest collection. Nezhukumatathil will visit Walker’s on May 10-11, 2018 to teach master classes, to address our student body, and to read her poetry to community members and friends of Walker’s.

Even though students in the VWS now accept and appreciate ambiguity, certain curiosities linger… They can’t wait to ask her, Why do you mention missing girls throughout section one of At the Drive-In Volcano? How do you read white space (functional white) in your poetry? And, are all the break-ups in your poems real? We’ll find out in just a few weeks.