Dr Cassandra Atherton is an award winning writer and critic from Melbourne, Australia who is currently a Senior Lecturer in Literary Studies & Professional and Creative Writing at Deakin University. Cassandra was recently awarded an Australia Council Grant for her research and has written about it here:
I’m really thrilled to have been awarded an Australia Council grant of $13,200 to fund the research and writing of a book of prose poetry on the Genbaku otome or Hiroshima maidens. They were a group of young Japanese women disfigured after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and had extensive reconstructive plastic surgery in America.
The creative rationale for this project is that it is a response to the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and to the recent testing of nuclear weapons by North Korea. Last year the Science and Security Board moved the Doomsday Clock forward to three minutes to midnight stating, ‘The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.’ Annihilation of the human race via nuclear war is, once again, on many people’s minds.
The book is a response to the need to understand why the bomb was dropped and its affect on the city and its people. I attended the 70th anniversary ceremony two years ago in Hiroshima where the mayor of Hiroshima, Kazumi Matsui, called for an end to nuclear weapons and while the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, agreed, he simultaneously sought to renounce the pacifist Article 9 of the Constitution and re-arm Japan. More recently, President Obama hesitated before committing to visiting Hiroshima for fear of offending an American public that overwhelmingly believes that dropping the bomb was justified. Highlighting the complexity, Whitehouse spokesperson Josh Earnest promised that there would be no Presidential apology for the bomb, whilst also criticizing North Korea for developing nuclear weapons. All of this complexity, however, simply highlights the ongoing relevance of Hiroshima, and the need to continue to seek deeper understandings of the bomb and creative answers to these questions of humanity and extinction. I have chosen to do this through prose poetry and to consider hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors’) poetry in this process.
A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima at the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing
Photo: Cassandra Atherton
Lanterns from the Lantern Ceremony, Hiroshima, at the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing
Photo: Cassandra Atherton