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Author: Béatrice Szymkowiak

Publisher: The University of Utah Press (2023)

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.

“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

“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

"With the human caused extinction of at least 469 known species of birds, Béatrice 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