By Tova Fleming
Last spring, I had the pleasure of sitting in a jam-packed café in downtown Sacramento to celebrate the release of Kristin George Bagdanov’s debut collection of poems, Fossils in the Making. The room was filled with poets, zinesters, musicians, and friends cheering on the fifteen performers. The poetry covered a wide range of approaches and topics: wildly comical choose-your-own-adventure narratives, gnomes and “witchiness,” radishes that outshine butterflies, and Indiana nights. There were drafts of break-up poems and poems about echoes and the apocalyptic imagination. Each performer was impressively and uniquely skilled at their craft.
Kristin describes Fossils in the Making as “a collection of poems that want to be bodies and bodies that want to be poems. This desire is never fulfilled, and the gap between language and world worries and shapes each poem. Fossils in the Making presents poems as feedback loops, wagers, and proofs that register and reflect upon the nature of ecological crisis. They are always in the making and never made. Together these poems echo word and world, becoming and being. This book ushers forward a powerful and engaged new voice dedicated to unraveling the logic of poetry as an act of making in a world that is being unmade.”
Responses to Fossils in the Making have been positive. Evelyn Reilly writes of the collection, “these poems contemplate a world ‘unmade in our image’ with a lyric urgency that is both spiritual and environmental.” George Bagdanov has also been recognized by The Georgia Review and The Cincinnati Review. Gabrielle Hovendon writes, for The Georgia Review,
Kristin George Bagdanov’s debut collection ponders questions of ecology and the body, or what she calls the “world as it uncreates / itself: creature / of its own making.” Ontological quandaries of being, consuming, and having all appear alongside trash gyres, fossil fuels, and food chains; a contrapuntal poem and an internal acrostic accompany lyric poems about birth and toxic chemicals. Taken as a whole, Fossils in the Making speaks to our current ecological disaster and human life therein.
The final poem, fittingly named “echo / o” turns on its internal sounds; “o” is, after all, the symbol for Oxygen, the gyre’s center, the mark of invocation. The invocation is to anyone—or anything—that is listening. Bagdanov encourages us to make our attempts but also recognize that these attempts are folded within other bodies, that we both carry and are carried by the gyre’s currents. And if our making is an undoing, then perhaps our undoing will be our making too.
In the beginning, it was her creative writing that really began to reveal the cross-pollination between literature and the environment. She found words for her the ecopoetic and ecocritical practices while completing her MFA at Colorado State University and knew then that she wanted to move toward critical works, particularly ecocriticism. And she did.
Currently a PhD candidate at the University of Davis, California, the focus in her dissertation is nuclear. She laughed as she told me the initial catalyst for the collection was from a Ginsberg poem, “Plutonian Ode,” that “nobody likes.” Her work examines the intersection of different forms of nuclear power, ecology, politics, and poetry.
Kristin George Bagdanov is not just a scholar and writer; she has a unique capacity to bring a community of artists together in a distinct and refreshing way. When I sat down with Kristin, she told me about the writer’s workshops and subsequent community she had pulled together upon her arrival at the University of California, Davis, in 2015. And Kristin is thrilled to have served as the graduate coordinator for ASLE and to have helped with the organization of the 2019 ASLE conference. If you attended the “Cultural Crawl,” a diverse assemblage of readings that took place throughout the small bicycle-friendly downtown during the 2019 ASLE conference, you have Kristin to thank!
You can learn more about Kristin George Bagdanov and her work at her website.