The Cloud That Contained the Lightning

Overview


Using the character of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb,” as a jumpingoff point, The Cloud That Contained the Lightning explores the kinds of ethical choices we face as individuals and as a society with respect to the innovations and inventions we pursue. How are our fears, obsessions, prejudices, and cultures manifested in the ways we apply new technologies, such as the splitting of the atom? What were the attitudes that resulted in such a destructive invention? What prompted it to be used ...
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Overview


Using the character of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb,” as a jumpingoff point, The Cloud That Contained the Lightning explores the kinds of ethical choices we face as individuals and as a society with respect to the innovations and inventions we pursue. How are our fears, obsessions, prejudices, and cultures manifested in the ways we apply new technologies, such as the splitting of the atom? What were the attitudes that resulted in such a destructive invention? What prompted it to be used on a nation suspected to already be defeated?

By weaving together the voices of Oppenheimer, his wife and brother, hibakusha (Japanese for “explosion-affected people”), and the mythological figures of Cronos and his children, Lowen creates a dialogue out of a vacuum of communication and imagines the kind of exchanges that might have led to a different outcome than the tragedies at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And in an exploration of our tendency for selective amnesia, this collection asks a critical question: How quickly will the forgotten lessons of the past allow us to repeat the tragic chapters of our history?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
12/02/2013
This debut, a National Poetry Series selection, channels the voice of J. Robert Oppenheimer, “father of the atomic bomb.” Lowen imagines war-ravaged Japan, which resembles a kind of cancer: “white heads of cauliflower/ blooming from the cavity,/ tissue aggregating tissue,/ tumors of white fire against the black/ negative.” Broken into five sections, the poems follow Oppenheimer’s work on the atom bomb, from its testing in New Mexico, codenamed “Trinity,” to the measured discussion of “The Target Committee.” Lowen’s poems are expertly crafted and chiseled to a brittle, often stinging essence. Recurring throughout the book, the haunting voices of the children of Cronos who “devoured his own brood/ saying, This is to protect you/ from becoming like me” offer eerie wisdom. “Hibakusha,” the title of several of these poems, is a Japanese word that literally means “explosion-affected people.” Reading this book against the contemporary backdrop of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster and worries about weapons of mass destruction falling into the wrong hands gives the poems a deep resonance. Lowen’s last “Hibakusha” poem, written in the voice of a girl, recalls, “I loved that dress, and now I wear it on my skin/ forever.” (Nov.)
From the Publisher

“In The Cloud That Contained the Lightning the unstable walls of the human heart meet the intimate walls of atomic energy. There is decay. There is bloom. Cynthia Lowen skillfully and fiercely tunnels into the world and mind of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, observes, magically imagines, and then maps forward a critical American life. The historical dust of what intimately did and did not happen in 1945 settles alphabetically on us all. With sensual probing and stark probability Lowen and The Cloud That Contained the Lightning resurrect the questions that human beings will forever face and only clear lovely poetry can answer: What can we see from where we stand? Whose fingers clutch the ropes that could always drop the curtain? We need this graceful work.”—Nikky Finney, author of Head Off & Split

“Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, was a pivotal and tragic figure in twentieth-century American life. No biographer in six hundred pages has come closer to understanding him—and the bomb—than does Cynthia Lowen in these subtle, resonant poems.”— Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb

“Tough minded, mordant, and oracular, many poems in this book speak through the persona of J. Robert Oppenheimer—but as if he were a revenant and had come back to haunt our contemporary world. His comments on our social and political and spiritual arrangements make up a kind of shadow autobiography fraught with dread, nuclear threat, and a sense of the absurd. Zbigniew Herbert’s Mr. Cogito has found his American counterpart.”—Tom Sleigh, author of Army Cats

"In this captivating, almost haunting, collection, Lowen leaves us wondering if humanity is 'circuitously destroyed' by its own creations." —Amy Russell, South China Morning Post (4 stars)

"Lowen’s poems are expertly crafted and chiseled to a brittle, often stinging essence. . . . Reading this book against the contemporary backdrop of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster and worries about weapons of mass destruction falling into the wrong hands gives the poems a deep resonance." —Publishers Weekly

"What The Cloud That Contained the Lightning becomes – through its somewhat fragmented and compelling five-act structure (with the wonderfully compelling section titles: “Fission”, “Trinity”, “Match in One Hand”, “The Art of Surrender” and “Clean Hands”) – is a collection of mostly declarative poems that take the invention of the bomb and uses it as a way to talk about what happens to any of us when we depart the precincts of our more rational, empathetic consciousness; when we are driven (by who or what, no one seems to know), to have a family, to have love, and still somehow also be responsible for creating something that can end to human life on an apocalyptic scale." —Michael Klein, The Rumpus

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820345642
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/2013
  • Series: The National Poetry Series
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 1,546,943
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author


Cynthia Lowen has an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She was selected for inclusion in Best New Poets 2008 and is a recipient of the Campbell Corner Poetry Prize and a winner of the “Discovery”/ Boston Review Poetry Contest. She served as a screenwriter and producer of the 2011 documentary Bully.
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Table of Contents


acknowledgments xiii

Oppenheimer Maps His Coordinates 1

Fission
  Atom 5
  Parable of the Children 6
  Oppenheimer Wears New Mexico as Camouflage 7
  Tea with the Wives Club 8
  Oppenheimer Admires the Prints of Hokusai 10
  Oppenheimer Plays Risk Wearing a Blindfold 11
  Proposition 12

Trinity
  The Scientific Method 15
  Every Mother Says Her Child Is Special 16
  Parable of the Children 17
  Bedding Down 19
  Risk/Benefit 20
  And So What If We Blow Up the Atmosphere? 21
  Theories of Relativity 22
  Why Does Daddy Wear Sunglasses at Night? 23
  And Our Tracks Turned to Glass in the Desert 24
  Morning after Trinity; or, Oppenheimer Wakes and
     Remembers the Woman of His Dreams 25
  Oppenheimer on the Couch 26

Match in One Hand
  Oppenheimer at the Natural History Museum 29
  Notes from the Target Committee: I. Tokyo 30
  Oppenheimer Finds a Message in a Bottle 31
  Notes from the Target Committee: II. Kyoto 32
  Oppenheimer Sends a Message in a Bottle 33
  Where Can You Hide a Think like That? 34
  Notes from the Target Committee: III. Hiroshima 35
  Hibakusha 36
  Quantum Mechanics 38
  Notes from the Target Committee: IV. Nagasaki 39
  What’s War Got to Do with It? 41
  Parable of the Children 42

The Art of Surrender
  The Wizard of Oz 45
  Oppenheimer Studies the Art of Surrender 46
  Hibakusha 47
  Principles of Uncertainty 48
  The Geology of Brotherly Love 49
  Building a House for the Boat 51
  Oppenheimer Gets Caught in a Blizzard 52

Clean Hands
  Half-Life 57
  Tea Ceremony 58
  Hibakusha 59
  Where Cancers Begin 60
  Parable of the Children 62
  Oppenheimer Finds a Lover; or, Afternoon at the Shore 63
  After the Clouds Pass; or, Meditation on
     the Banks of the Lethe 64

notes 65

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