Canada’s Nuclear Connections – Bloom by Michael Lista & They Never Told Us These Things by Julie Salverson

Louis Slotin's Los Alamos badge mugshot, taken...
Louis Slotin

I don’t normally read poetry but I recently got the opportunity to read Bloom by Michael Lista and I’m very glad I did.

Lista’s poems are  powerful, striking, sometimes scathing but not without compassion for the persons involved in the tragedy of the death of Canadian physicist Louis Slotin who worked on the Manhattan Project.

From the publisher House of Anansi:

On May 21, 1946, the day of a lunar eclipse, a Canadian physicist named Louis Slotin was training his replacement on the Manhattan Project, which prepared the bombs that had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But Slotin decided to forego the standard safety procedures, and there was an accident: the plutonium went critical, a phenomenon scientists call a “bloom.” Nine days later Slotin died.

Michael Lista, a thrilling and wildly engaging new voice in poetry, reimagines this fateful day in a long poem that draws upon the still-mysterious events of May 21, 1946; the connection to Slotin’s ancient predecessor Odysseus, creator of the Trojan Horse, the first weapon of mass destruction; and the link to Slotin’s literary mirror, the cuckolded Leopold Bloom in Joyces Ulysses. Bloom brilliantly draws these stories, themes, and images together, and moves us toward the untranslatable moment of human novelty and creativity, the eclipse — the moment of the “bloom.”

Each poem tells a story, enhancing the tension and building up to the accident that killed Slotin.

A few of my favourites from the book:

“Louis Slotin as Pigeon Feeder”, “Do. But Do” and the goosebumps-inducing “Louis Slotin Improvises.”

Coincidentally, a week after reading Bloom, I read an excellent piece in Maisonneuve Magazine that explored another Canadian connection to the Manhattan Project. In “They Never Told Us These Things”, Julie Salverson writes about a mine in Port Radium in the Northwest Territories that supplied uranium to the Manhattan Project. The townsfolk didn’t know that the substance they were mining and transporting was harmful and it was only until the 1990s that it was confirmed that the uranium extracted in Port Radium was used in the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. I’m not surprised at Canada’s involvement in the Manhattan Project but I was distressed to learn about the government’s mishandling of the situation in Port Radium. After researching the health impact of the mine, the Canada-Deline Uranium Table reported that there was not sufficient evidence to link the rise in cancer deaths in Port Radium to the uranium mine.

House of Anansi. Won copy through a Twitter contest offered by The Walrus
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