The Pteropoetics of Birdstrike

Jacob Smith

In his book, Air and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Movement, Gaston Bachelard explores “the life of aerial images” and asserts that “metaphors of height, elevation, depth, sinking, and the fall are the axiomatic metaphors par excellence” (Bachelard 2011: 8, 10). In a chapter on the “poetics of wings,” Bachelard claims that the flight of birds is a source of “primordial beauty” and, mobilizing the Greek word for wings or feathers (“ptero”), he refers to the “pteropsychology” of the aerial imagination, which he finds in poetic references to birds and aerial spirits (Bachelard 2011: 66, 71).


Bachelard’s book provides a conceptual framework for “The Pteropoetics of Birdstrike,” a work of multimedia scholarship that consists of this essay and a twenty-five minute audio piece. I have adapted Bachelard’s concept to suit my own concerns, given that I am interested in pteropoetry rather than pteropsychology, and the imaginative link I want to forge is between birds and airplanes rather than birds and mythical creatures. The “aerial image” that I study, and that stages a meeting between human and avian flightpaths, is birdstrike: when birds collide with aircraft.


One of my goals is to raise awareness about the problem of birdstrike, which has implications for public safety as well as animal protection in an era when migratory birds are in decline (Rosenberg et al. 2019). That said, you will not find statistics or policy recommendations about birdstrike here. Instead, I explore the poetic overtones and implications of birdstrike, and the audio that pairs with this essay operates in a poetic mode. The emotional appeals of poetic forms have an important role to play in raising environmental awareness, and many authors have declared that we need new narratives, figures, and tropes to help us grasp the wide-ranging threats of the “Anthropocene” epoch (Lakoff 2010; Kollmuss and Agyeman 2002; Scranton 2015; Heise 2016; Haraway 2016). I am interested in audio as a medium of eco-critical expression and a platform for the investigation of new forms of sonic poetics.