Summer 2004


Summer 2004

Leah Caracappa

Many authors spend years trying to find that one voice that will separate their writing from everyone else’s. However Mario Petrucci, resident poet at the Imperial War Museum, has a different view on this topic. "I’ve always been interested in voice - actually, voices in the plural," he states. This interest proves triumphant in Petrucci’s book Heavy Water - A Poem For Chernobyl.

Inspired by Svetlana Alexievich’s book Voices for Chernobyl, Petrucci illustrates the reality that lies behind the 1986 tragedy by amplifying several different voices of the people that were most directly affected by its aftermath. Each voice uses powerful words and reveals graphic images that give the reader a glimpse into their intimate thoughts, views and feelings concerning the accident.

Throughout all of the poems in this collection, Petrucci sets up an empathetic tone. Apt in word choice and selection of specific factual images, Petrucci helps the reader to gain sympathy with his characters.

The speaker in the poem Breathing begins by telling the reader exactly what he or she has lost as a result of the accident, for example: "They had to teach me/ from scratch. Teach me/ to breathe. As though/ I had fallen out of space or/ up from water and breath/ was labour - each breath/ a pang to draw me back/ from the brink." Here Petrucci illustrates his talent for describing unimaginable pain and suffering - and at the same time, he recycles the word breath, emphasizing the metaphysical connection to the reader.

Along with offering a sense of understanding to his reader, Petrucci often uses disturbing images to exemplify the severity of the disaster. In Nana the speaker states, "Nana can we count the numbers/ together? / Alright. Are you ready? / anna eva vasily/ alexandr mikhail sofia/ anastasia nikolia." Listing the names of the people that have perished as a result of this tragedy make this poem powerful and touching. Petrucci helps the reader sympathize with the character speaking while demonstrating what we as a physically unaffected region were never able to experience firsthand.

Also, his canny use of a young boy asking for answers about his destiny proves to be upsetting yet captivating. Perhaps the last line of this poem gives the reader a jolt, taking the poisonous truth and placing it on the promising life of an innocent child: "Nana tell me/ is radiation/ like god?" By comparing radiation to a deity, Petrucci reveals the impact this tragic experience has had on even the youngest citizens of Chernobyl.

In this important collection Petrucci proves that emotional poetry can be converted into a message that will influence people for the rest of their lives. His use of realistic description and ability to reiterate significant terms help make his poetry powerful and moving. Throughout the book, he demonstrates his talent for putting tragedy into perspective and making the reader realize that this can happen to anyone.

Mario Petrucci's Heavy Water helps make sure that these voices continue to be hard to ignore - and even harder to forget.


Leah Caracappa

Living your life based on the philosophy always keep your glass empty and your ashtray full is bound to help any author create poetry with a rebellious tone and original style. Author Robert Plath uses simple language to describe this basic approach to life and art in his debut poetry book Ashtrays and Bulls. Awarded First Prize Winner of the 2003 Nerve Cowboy Chapbook Contest, Ashtrays and Bulls is definitely a book to be applauded.

Throughout his poetry, Plath’s negative attitude towards conformity is consistent. He makes repeated reference to alcohol, cigars and death, amply illustrating his decision to brush off conventionally appropriate behavior and lean more towards deviant behavior. He speaks from experience, making his poems real and easy to relate to.

Perhaps most intriguing is Plath’s ability, in these poems, to find beauty in something that is not deemed glamorous by conventional society. In Brown Flowers & Diamonds Plath uses a clever metaphor: "I crush my cigar stub out/ with my thumb & forefinger/ & it cracks open into a/ beautiful brown flower/ on the bottom of the ashtray/ among the ashes/ I smash my beer bottle/ against the wall/ & it shatters into a hundred/ beautiful brown diamonds/ shining on the ripped/ burned blue carpet." In the poem, his reuse of the words beautiful and brown emphasize what he feels most passionately about. Ultimately Plath uses force on the reader to pound home his affections: "these are the flowers & gems/ of the night/ of the world/ & don’t you forget it,/ motherfucker."

Plath does an exceptional job declaring his independence from societallly approved perspectives: "He felt like he was going/ insane, so he decided to nail/ wool blankets over his windows/ to make it seem like night all/ the time in his little apartment." Quick, craftily stated alternatives to a traditional lifestyle like these establish his rebellious nature.

Throughout Ashtrays and Bulls, Plath carefully establishes a relationship between himself and his readers. If there is a conventionally 'moral' lesson here, it is his positivist assertion that we are all individuals and should by no means merely conform to what is expected of us. At times Plath preaches his beliefs - but he also allows for the reader to step into his mind, giving us a glimpse of what a true non-conformist believes.

In the end Plath combines his flair for the vivid with his contempt for the traditions of society to make a kind of poetry that flourishes beyond that of normal standards.




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