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.
Yangtze Baiji Expedition Log
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.
Controlled flow areas— no sightings.
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.
Decoy gyres— no sightings.
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.
Beatrice 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.