Poetry Collection Explores the Beauty and Tragedy of New Mexico in the Nuclear Age ”Albuquerque Journal
Book of the week
“Atomic Paradise”, title of Jules Nyquist’s recent collection of poems, is sure to make you wonder why – and how – these two words juxtapose.
The juxtaposition is intentional, ironic, and empowering, and it introduces extensive commentary on the poems within.
The title pun, Nyquist said, got her to think of a paradise that could be the land of enchantment (New Mexico’s nickname) and then turn to what she said to be. a trapping country. “(New Mexico) is kind of a paradise,” she said in a telephone interview from her home in Placitas. “But with the atomic age, nuclear power had to be a solution to different things – nuclear cars, nuclear planes – after WWII, then the bomb. The nuclear industry has started.
This collection of poetry, said Nyquist, took 10 years to develop. It began to form when she read the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Los Alamos’ principal scientist on the Manhattan bomb-making project during World War II. A particular biography she read was “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer”.
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In Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and brought him back to earth.
Nyquist’s reading of the biography prompted her to write a small series of poems that explore overlapping moments in the life of Oppenheimer, his wife Kitty, and his boss in Los Alamos, the Army General. Leslie Groves. A poem by the ensemble, “Poet and Physicist,” reveals the breadth and depth of Oppenheimer’s intellectual activities. Here is a quote from that poem: “Oppie is interested in everything / he coexists with everything at once / an afternoon reunion with his students / lasts until late at night / electrodynamics, cosmic rays / l ‘astrophysics, nuclear physics / the Hindu classics, Homer and Plato read / in the original Greek… ”
Keep in mind that most of the poems in “Atomic Paradise” are written in free verse (meaning neither rhyme nor meter) and cover a multitude of nuclear related topics, some clearly related to New Mexico.
As you would expect, there is a poem titled “5:30 am” about the first nuclear bomb attack on July 16, 1945 in southern New Mexico: “? liberation from terror. Various free poems reflect Nyquist’s readings and experiences. She revisits a “Star Wars” movie in a movie theater, describes the now dismantled Titan II missiles, 10 stories high in 18 underground silos, discusses the bombing of Hiroshima with her parents, refers to the internment of Americans of Japanese descent during the war, points to a large uranium mine on Laguna Pueblo and focuses on “uranium waste escaping from lead drums” at the waste isolation pilot project.
And here are the bizarre elements of the opening stanza of Nyquist’s poem “‘La Bomba Grande’ (or, nuclear tourism straight with tequila)”: “At the Atomic Museum I can buy / an Albert Einstein poster, / a t-shirt commemorating the first nuclear explosion, / a silver “little boy” keychain / or an authentic New Mexico table wine: la bomba grande. “
Little Boy was the code name for the uranium bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In the epilogue, the poems are strangely oriented towards the current pandemic / Covid-19 issues.
Nyquist took the photographs from the book. An apocalyptic-like landscape appears on the cover.
She is the founder of Poetry Playhouse Publications, a publishing house, library, gallery, and retreat and course in poetry and dramatic writing.