B/RDS endeavors to dismantle discourses that create an artificial distinction between nature and humanity through a subversive erasure of an iconic work of natural history: John James Audubon’s Birds of America (1827-1838). This process of erasure considers the text of Birds of America as an archival cage. The author selectively erases words from the textual cage to reveal its ambiguity and the complex relationship between humanity and the other-than-human world. As the cage disappears, leaving a space for scarce, lyrical poems, birds break free, their voices inextricably entangled with ours.
Prose poems written in the author’s own words and prompted by the erasure process are also interspersed throughout the collection. These migratory poems, like ripples, trace the link between past and present and reveal the human-nature disconnect at the root cause of environmental and social problems, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
Along its five movements, B/RDS also explores how we can reimagine our relationship to environment through language within new frameworks of interconnectedness. Thus, as the collection resists the distinction between nature and culture on which traditional nature poetry relies, it also acts as an ecopoetic manifesto. It suggests that a critical, lyrical poetry could contribute to ecological awareness by singing humanity back within nature.
Béatrice Szymkowiak is a French-American writer and scholar. She graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts in 2017, and obtained a PhD in English/Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee in 2022. She is the author of RED ZONE (Finishing Line Press, 2018), a poetry chapbook, as well as the winner of the 2017 Omnidawn Single Poem Broadside Contest. Her work also has appeared in Terrain.org, Portland Review, OmniVerse, Southern Humanities Review, and many others.
Praise and Reviews:
“B/RDS is a spellbinding immersion into a disappeared world and brand-new language. Through attention to sound, image, syntax, and diction, Szymkowiak creates a new experience of poetry, of history, and of the natural world. A masterful conversation unfolds in these pages that stitches together past and present, human and non-human, loss and survival. B/RDS is a re-seeing, and a restoration. It is not ‘grim auguries, neither convenient evil. Only four wings unstitched from the sky.’”
—Kyce Bello, author of Refugia
“In Béatrice Szymkowiak’s stellar debut B/RDS, poems 'murmur through shattered glass' as they quiver, perch, breed, and 'hatch from blades of grass.' I’m in awe of this work, the way it sings and moves, freed from the cage of time and attempted erasure. A critical collection that reminds us that we 'cannot conceive a single wing / passing over a meadow towards the earth, / that trembles.’”
–Sherwin Bitsui, author of Dissolve
"With the human caused extinction of at least 469 known species of birds, Beatrice Szymkowiak’s highly inventive B/RDS critiques the ecologically ruinous discourses of natural history with its nature/culture divide. With the understanding that J. J. Audubon killed and then contorted the birds he captured in paintings—'their so tender necks /…the sickle of sorrow'—Szymkowiak’s lyrical erasure of his Birds of America reveals and ultimately dismantles what she calls “an archival cage,” so birds might escape, their voices becoming emmeshed with our own: 'Who is what is who? Fe/male, dirt, b/rd, d/earth. You & I &, &, &. Us.' In Szymkowiak’s hands, language is deconstructed and reinvented with such acute attention and care that every word, like another living being, transforms us, the collection serving a vision of interconnectedness that resists, at every turn, human exploitation of the rest of the natural world."
—Brenda Cárdenas, author of Trace and Boomerang
“Where other poets often content themselves with imagining and describing catastrophe, in this collection apocalypse resounds at the level of language itself. There are skyscapes and there are nests, breathtakingly contingent conjunctions of softness and structure. This book will stay with you, will teach you to see flickering outlines in the shadows, to hear the echo of wingbeats in the desolate breezes.”
—Monica Youn, author of Blackacre
"In this profound collection, Béatrice Szymkowiak has conjured lyric and erasure poems to cross the vast distance of extinction and re-animate the spectral birds archived in J. J. Audubon’s iconic 19th century ornithological text, Birds of America. Read these poems aloud: you will hear the cage of silence slit open and the ardent voices of thousands upon thousands of winged throats will migrate from the horizon. And when they plunge towards you, the earth will tremble with song."
—Craig Santos Perez