September 1, 2021

Aunt Bird is an aston­ish­ing, hybrid poet­ry of wit­ness that observes and tes­ti­fies to social, polit­i­cal, and his­tor­i­cal real­i­ties through the recov­ery of one life silenced by the past. With­in these pages, poet Yer­ra Sug­ar­man con­fronts the Holo­caust as it was expe­ri­enced by a young Jew­ish woman: the author’s twen­ty-three-year-old aunt, Feiga Maler, whom Sug­ar­man nev­er knew, and who died in the Kraków Ghet­to in Ger­man-occu­pied Poland in 1942. In lyric poems, prose poems, and lyric essays, Aunt Bird com­bines doc­u­men­tary poet­ics with sur­re­al­ism: sourc­ing from the tes­ti­mo­ni­als of her kin who sur­vived, as well as offi­cial Nazi doc­u­ments about Feiga Maler, these poems imag­ine Sugarman’s rela­tion­ship with her deceased aunt and thus recre­ate her life. Braid­ing spec­u­la­tion, pri­ma­ry sources, and the cul­tur­al knowl­edge-base of post-mem­o­ry, Aunt Bird seeks what Eavan Boland calls a hab­it­able grief,” ele­giz­ing the par­tic­u­lar loss of one woman while hon­or­ing who Feiga was, or might have been, and rec­og­niz­ing the time we have now.

Discussion Questions

Yer­ra Sugarman’s Aunt Bird is at once an exquis­ite­ly craft­ed, ele­giac book of doc­u­men­ta­tion and a feat of empath­ic imag­i­na­tion. In these lyric poems, Sug­ar­man brings her twen­ty-three-year-old aunt — Feiga Maler, whom Sug­ar­man nev­er knew, and who died in the Kraków Ghet­to — back to life, reimag­in­ing her world in Nazi-occu­pied Poland in 1942, and art­ful­ly out­lin­ing the impact her aunt’s mem­o­ry had on her own world­view and psy­che. Aunt Bird makes the inter­gen­er­a­tional trau­ma of the Holo­caust real and acces­si­ble to both Jew­ish and non-Jew­ish read­ers, and is a nec­es­sary book in a time of ris­ing anti­semitism and Holo­caust denial. To imag­ine no one com­plete­ly van­ish­es is to believe a per­son does not endure only as a body,” writes Sug­ar­man, and these rhyth­mic laments become a yizkor-bukh for one woman — an aston­ish­ing act of reparation.