Curie, by Jessica Cuello, is a beautifully written chapbook entirely about Marie Curie, the Polish-born chemist and physicist best known for her groundbreaking work concerning radioactivity. Naturally, as a student of history, my fingers were excitedly tingling as I opened up the envelope that the mailperson delivered to my door several days ago. I have read through the eighteen poems it contains several times, and have deemed the chapbook, overall, to be outstanding.
Cuello's style, for one, is perfectly matched for a subject like Marie Curie--it is, for lack of a better word, measured (a word used several times throughout the poems in conjunction with the subject). Each word has a distinct purpose. This is made all the more powerful in that the poems are told from Marie Curie's own point of view--history measured in poetry, tempered by a personal perspective. It is this personality which makes many of the poems outstanding--they deal, not only with the purely historical aspects of Curie's life, but also with very singular events--the early losses of her mother and sister, for example, to tuberculosis and typhus:
"I clutched her coughs
like kisses. I wanted to touch
her throat, press my lips
beneath her eyes, bury
my face in the contagion
of her--who left early."
Of the ghostly, otherworldly dance of her friend, Loie Fuller, painted in radium:
"Breasts curved with gold,
thighs phosphorescent, her neck
a stick of light."
Of performing surgery on a wounded young man during the First World War:
"Our eyes watched each other
as the metal entered
his skin. An odd silence:
a storm behind our pupils,
more than the pain of surgery..."
Truly, Cuello's talent for writing is superbly showcased in Curie. While the strength and richness of her poetry is captivating, there is nonetheless bound to be some confusion for the casual reader who knows next to nothing of Marie Curie beyond what simple information schoolchildren may know--that she received two Nobel prizes, that she discovered Polonium, that she pioneered the study of radioactivity. The poems are laced with names and references...Casimir, Bronia, the beet children, the leaking shed...which will confuse anyone who does not have more than passing knowledge of Curie and her life and work. Accompanying information, such as a page or two of clarifying notes, would be helpful if published with the book. The upside of this is that casual readers will be encouraged to learn more about Marie Curie--and by doing so, they will both gain knowledge of an extremely important historical figure, and be able to appreciate and understand Curie all the more.
Overall, Curie, by Jessica Cuello, is a highly enjoyable read from a very talented writer. Anyone wishing to read some very good poetry, and anyone wishing to learn a bit about Marie Curie, may do so right here.