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.