Poetry: Beatrice Szymkowiak, winner of the 2017 Omnidawn Broadside Poetry Prize

This month, we feature the winning poem of the 2017 Omnidawn Single Poem Broadside Poetry contest, selected by Craig Santos Perez. The winning broadside will be published by Omnidawn in conjunction with Lisa Rappoport of Littoral Press in summer 2018.

The title, “Yangtze Baiji Expedition Log,” drew me in while also sending me to the internet to search “Baiji,” which I learned is a certain kind of endangered dolphin whose habitat in China has been polluted. The poem takes the form of a log, but it also subverts expectations by utilizing poetic and surprising language. The innovative form, along with the striking imagery and evocative narrative, kept me engaged throughout as I, as the reader, became immersed in the search for the Baiji. This powerful eco-poem ultimately draws attention to how humans attempt to understand the “event” of extinction.

—Craig Santos Perez, judge

Yangtze Baiji Expedition Log
            November-December 2006

Entry 1
Upstream: Miocene Sea to Three Gorges Dam. Two research vessels after a click         a whistle,
in shallows      dredged of long hours probing     lavish mud      for subsistence.                Optical
instruments blind with high-efficiency       concrete— the existence of which is not to be proven.

Entries 2-8
Controlled flow areas— no sightings.

Entry 9
Downstream: survey by echo-           location, in counter-               current eddies.            Passive
sonar                            —acoustic confluence—                            propellors rotating       forward
to ship back                                                                                                                        and forth
                                                                                                            subsistence for the milllions.

Entries 10-23
Decoy gyres— no sightings.

Entry 24
Downstream: delta shaped     teeth hang         on to hooks,   nets,     traps,       sandbanks gnawed
into. Channels             improve traffic.                                                          How much for a tooth
                                                                       from the mouth

Entries 25 to 41
Against flow again— no sightings.

Entry 42 (last entry)
Upstream: long lone   relict snout      rummages        twenty million year mud           for elliptical
blowholes       exhaling carbon dioxide         and waste,       until exhaustion begets             turbid

August 2007: one businessman in Tongling City saw            a big white animal.              It might
have been one.             He swore        he saw one:     he filmed it.         He swore                 it was
one— extinction                      was a difficult event                                                          to detect.

2-Beatrice Szymkowiak 26x34-72dpi-RGBBeatrice Szymkowiak is a French­-American author. Exploratory and experimental, her poetry investigates the new environmental trajectory of the anthropocene. Her poems have been published in magazines including the Berkeley Poetry Review and Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review. Red Zone, a first chapbook, is forthcoming in Fall 2018. Beatrice graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts in May 2017. She currently lives and teaches in Portland, OR.