If you’ve ever flipped a large rock over to see what was underneath and encountered dark sludge, the movement of insects, and the stirring of your own fascination, then you know something about the project that Chelsea Biondolillo
undertakes in her debut essay collection, The Skinned Bird
(Kernpunkt Press, 2019). In it, Biondolillo peels away both her own, and her reader’s, tidy understandings of the self and the natural world, and reveals messy and difficult narratives, memories, and revelations. This is a book that makes connections between the writer’s personal and familial histories and biology, meteorology, anatomy, astronomy, and even pseudosciences like phrenology. In one essay, Biondolillo immerses her reader in a juxtaposition of the phases of birdsong acquisition with memories and questions about childhood and inherited heartbreak. In the title essay, Biondolillo details how to turn a dead bird into a scientific specimen. She instructs her reader, “When both wings are free from the body, gently peel the back skin from the muscle.” She then uses that same precision, that desire to handle and observe, to catalogue and examine her own relationship with her father.
Over the course of this collection a reader can expect wide range of forms on the page. Some essays are a series of richly detailed vignettes, others contain lists and scientific diagrams, others pair photographs with text, or even obscure the text with those images. The center of gravity of The Skinned Bird
is, however, a mind that is deeply interested in how we become who we are, what can we learn from the beauty and cruelty of our own lives and the world we live in, what it means to read and learn, and what are the consequences of loving something, be it a grandmother, a lover, or the songbird outside our window.
Christine G. Adams is the recipient of two Academy of American Poets Prizes, the runner-up for the 2018 Gulf Coast Prize in nonfiction, and the winner of the 2018 Prairie Schooner Summer Nonfiction Prize. She holds an MFA in poetry from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and is currently a PhD student in creative nonfiction at Ohio University. Her poetry and nonfiction can be found in
The Lily, The Washington Post, Grist, Best New Poets, and
Prairie Schooner, among others.