Wednesday, April 29, 2015

For National Poetry Month: The Robot Scientist's Daughter

Created by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, April is National Poetry Month.  During this month, schools, libraries, poets, bloggers, and others in the U.S. celebrate poetry in a variety of ways.  I'm doing my very small part to help keep the art of poetry alive, posting just in the nick of time (like last year), near the conclusion of National Poetry Month, with a review of The Robot Scientist's Daughter by poet and writer Jeannine Hall Gailey.

Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington.  She's the author of three other books of poetry, Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, and Unexplained Fevers.  She started writing her fourth book of poems soon after she completed her second book, She Returns to the Floating World, because the disaster at Fukushima occurred during the week that her book went to print, which was an impetus for her work.

"I'm waking up to ash and dust
I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust
I'm breathing in the chemicals. . ."
~ Radioactive, Imagine Dragons

She also reviewed EPA reports from her rural hometown of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, known as "The Atomic City", and thought about how her own exposure to toxic waste has affected her health over the years.  Oak Ridge was a production site for the Manhattan Project of 1942, the massive operation that developed the atomic bomb, and scientific development is still an integral part of the city's economy and culture.  Additionally, she wanted to write about the influence of her father, a robotics professor and researcher, and about his contributions to science in the nuclear field. 

In the interview I received along with this book, the author says that The Robot Scientist's Daughter is her attempt to create a fairy tale from her autobiography.  Published in 2015 by Mayapple Press, Jeannine also says that it's her most personal book to date, and she calls the composite character "The Robot Scientist's Daughter " a sci-fi version of herself.  (Many of the poems include the words "The Robot Scientist's Daughter" in their titles, and then a word or phrase in parentheses.)  Although the title of this collection is certainly unusual, in all of the poems, the poet describes herself, and her experience, in a clear and compelling manner.  These poems possess style, substance--and science.  She describes the white-tailed deer, catfish, and other creatures, as being full of hot particles (microscopic pieces of radioactive material that can become lodged in living tissue), and her background in science is evident in this work in countless ways.  These poems create vivid images of the effects of radiation, which are terrifying and touching.  Through her work, she wants to raise awareness that nuclear research is never harmless.  Overall, The Robot Scientist's Daughter is a startling, commanding, and beautiful collection of poetry.  Her use of language is exquisite and extraordinary.  Here's a poem I found particularly powerful.

The Robot Scientist's Daughter (Polonium-210)

is a tightly-controlled molecule.
Sometimes she threatens
to explode into antimatter,
to shatter the equilibrium.
Other times she teeters at the edge of decay, a half-life
of skin and soul.  Shake her if you will:
you don't want to stand too close.
She is extremely unstable.  She is toxic;
inhaling or consumption can lead to death.
She is considered fairly volatile.
She can be contained within paper.
She glows bright blue.  She is a showstopper.

This poem is one of my favorites in the book, although I could have easily chosen a different one, as many others are equally affecting and potent.   This collection of poetry is truly a profound "investigation of the beauties and dangers of science and nature", about "a girl in search of the secrets of survival", who loves life and discovers glimmers of hope ("nevertheless, there were violets to pick"). These poems touched me deeply, and made me more aware about the environmental, ethical, and social perils of nuclear power. 

Many thanks to Serena from Poetic Book Tours for sending me a copy of this book and the intriguing author interview.  For other reviews and features, please visit the previous stops on Poetic Book Tours' blog tour for The Robot Scientist's Daughter.  Comments welcomed.


  1. Sounds like a very interesting book of poems. Glad you enjoyed it, Suko.

  2. Glad you liked it Suko, I haven't read any poetry for years though


  3. I am so glad that you really enjoyed this one. It was so multifaceted! I loved that it was autobiographical in nature. Thanks so much for being on the tour!

    1. Thank you for inviting me to participate in this tour, Serena. It is quite a powerful poetry collection.

  4. I enjoyed your review Suko. Sometimes the devastation caused by atomic energy doesn't hit home until reading about it. This sounds like a great collection.

  5. I struggle with poetry but you've piqued my interest in this collection.

  6. Great post! I'm not much into poetry but this sounds good.

  7. Thanks for this great post Suko.

    I really want to read he Robot Scientist's Daughter and I will try to get to it soon.

    I think the concept is a great one.

    I really like the verse that you posted above. iI is so very different yet still very artistic.

  8. I enjoy poetry but haven't read anything like this.
    I'm glad you liked the book!

  9. WHAT ROBOTS MURMUR THROUGH BROKEN SLEEP _ Jon Stone: From School of Forgery)

    (after Naoki Urasawa)

    I. North No.2

    A tornado has touched down in Bohemia, your birthplace.

    Before coming here, I very much enjoyed the movie The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
    No, sir, I really was moved. I overheard you in your bedroom last night.
    It’s the melody you were humming in your sleep, sir. Listen:

    Your dream is not a nightmare. Your mother did not abandon her sickly child.
    Your eyesight has been deactivated. You only compose on an old piano.
    You were humming. You sounded so troubled.

    It’s coming this way. It’s the piece you’ve been working on.

    II. Gesicht

    The police car vanished almost instantly.

    You know the dream I’ve been telling you about: a little flower peddler
    in Persia gives his tulips names. My recognition system nearly goes haywire
    with electromagnetic waves. The humans would call this a hunch.

    Ah, but I have no use for flowers. Flowers must wither and die.
    Because I, too, have hatred inside me. Now your thermal
    and magnetic rays won’t work on me. It’s faint but

    we’ve got plenty of back-up with that police car behind us.

    III. Epsilon

    It’s been raining for three days straight.

    Do you realise that I nearly turned this dawn into ashes? Do you recall
    an extraordinary meteorological event? A strange electromagnetic field,
    say in the earth’s crust, for example? Who was it directed at?

    You lost most of your body in the war. When you died,
    something above us transmitted grief. A mysterious movement,
    a kind of weapon, waiting at three thousand metres.

    Your wavelength scattered all over the ocean.

    IV. Brau 1589

    You appear to the murderer in his dungeon.

    Surely you’re not here to repair me? I might just be imagining
    this shaft, the meaning of my little barricade. They put it up so fast,
    I had to laugh. They should pull out the formula for my heart.

    Then again, it could mean many things: a single defect,
    powerful as the brain; an anti-proton bomb, highly developed;
    a peek at the outside world. That’s why you’d never wake up.

    Even if I were free, where could I go with this ruined body?

    1. Parrish Lantern, thank you for taking the time to add to this post. You always find the perfect poems to post.

      I've learned quite recently that poetry and science go back in time (example: late 1700s scientific treatises written in poetic form). I find poetry all the more fascinating when science is featured prominently.

  10. I so admire writers who focus on poetry. It's like a fine work of art. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Hi Susan, The Robot Scientist's Daughter sounds like a nice collection. It sounds different and beautiful, and also like a great way to raise awareness about environmental issues.
    I know of mountains in NJ where toxic waste was dumped in the 1960's. It will not be fully cleaned in our lifetime unfortunately and the effects of it have been tragic on those who lived near there.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Naida. I think you'd enjoy this collection. Toxic waste is a problem in many areas, unfortunately.

  12. I enjoyed this collection as well Susan. I liked it because it was different than anything I'd read before. I look forward to reading more of her work.

  13. Whilst I do enjoy poetry being read to me I'm afraid I don't generally like reading it myself.. Well done you on spreading the word and keeping the art alive.

  14. This sounds very interesting. I especially love it from the environmental angle - this looks like something I should share with my students!


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