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
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
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