Sun. Oct 17th, 2021

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Reed’s Literary Horror Review of ‘Tortured Willows’ by Christina Sng, Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, Geneve Flynn

8 min read
They just really hit me with everything they had and left me floored. These words may forever be etched upon my soul.

Poetry of pain

Lord, there is a lot of pain in the first few poems alone. I have to admit, I’m like… the worst guy to submit poetry to for review. But I felt that this collection really needed to be heard and I had to contribute what meager opinions I could on the matter.

First off, it’s hard enough to get me to feel ANYTHING through the written word, or the silver screen, other than mirth. I’m just so dead inside. It’s not even a matter of impressing me. Lord knows, horror has been impressing me for decades, much as I haven’t felt an ounce of fear since I was six. So when I tell you this collection gave me all the feels, know that this was no simple act. That’s like trying to carve stone with a toothpick. So these women galvanized and steam-powered their toothpick. I mean they just really hit me with everything they had and left me floored. These words may forever be etched upon my soul.

So how do I rate a collection of poems? In my review of the Configuration Discordant, I didn’t really lay down ground rules, only mentioned that the majority of the poems were worth the cover price. However, in this collection, the first three were very much worth the cover price. I believe they should be read. Hell, pick any three from this collection, at random, and you’re going to get three winners worth the cover price. To be blunt, I’m not sure how to rate the value of poetry, but I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Just buy the fucking book.

As usual, there are too many poems to give everyone the attention they deserve, so I’m going to mention some of the stunners in the spoilers… And to be blunt, I’m basically forced to only cover the poems that didn’t leave me in a daze of wonder. Some of them are far too complex a conversation to be summed up in a short paragraph of my review.

SPOILERS!!!

FOX GIRL: It’s hard to have a poem about the short life and death of several women and not have me take notice. I am the horror guy after all. But the verse about boning her children like chicken before taking her own life was probably one of the most powerful things I’ve read in a long time.

EXQUISITE: A good bit of body mutilation in the name of love. I feel like this is something many women can relate to, regardless of the ethnocentric meaning behind “ugly duckling” here. Beauty is pain, after all, and why else do they do this, except for the pleasure of men. The foot binding scene was bad enough, and it only gets worse from there.

INTERVIEW WITH A GODDESS: A great metaphor how people look past abuse. Everyone acts like men save women by marrying them. Like the best any woman can achieve is being second fiddle to their mate, and to become a mother. In the old days, this was often at the cost of themselves as an individual, not that there was often much choice. That, of course, is only made worse by their abuser, who by nature cuts his wife off from any outside support. All of this, of course, being overlooked by the casual outside observer.

AT THE BAR: I haven’t laughed that hard in a long while from a poem. A poem about fucking around and finding out.

WHEN THE GIRLS BEGAN TO FALL: A poem about what it means to have no prospects in life other than motherhood. And for many, it isn’t a life worth living. This poem is about the only other option they see. Warning, it’s a hard one.

ABRIDGED: Probably one of the most clever uses of presentation I’ve ever seen as the poem is words plucked from a deeply redacted document. One can only wonder the words unsaid through the words that manage to escape. What horrific tales the full document would have disclosed if only allowed.

GUEST OF HONOR: A metaphor about treating Asian women like exotic Cuisine… Where in the poem, they literally eat one.

PENANGGALAN’S LAMENT: There is a theme in here about trying to fit in at the sake of one’s self. This poem is a metaphor about assimilation for one Asian girl. In the poem, she makes a pact with a demon to be like everyone else, at the cost of herself.

A THING OF BEAUTY: EKPHRASTIC ACROSTIC: Well, that’s the first time a peom ever got me to google something. Yeah, absolutely fuck Michael James Pratt.

CONVERSATION WITH THE DEAD: Both of the first two poems talk about the indentured life of women before they officially had rights, but I wanted to highlight this one as the woman does not survive it, the victim of abuse. It’s a strong reminder of where women had to rise from over the years, but more importantly a reminder of the consequences.

I LEFT TOO LATE: A poem of hope from a woman who lost everything to her life of servitude. A reminder that women suffered and fled these tragic lives to give better lives to their daughters. And maybe burned a house or two down to spite the fuckers that stole their lives.

AN INTERLUDE WITH THE BOARDING HOUSE OWNER: Don’t fuck with a woman who has everything to lose. That’s how you end up in a stew.

THE LAST BUS: I love a good horror poem about angry spirits. Especially one as violent and brutal as this. Importantly, this one also reflects the anger that permeates this book of poems. It’s a beautiful rise at this point in the collection. So much suffering is written in here, it’s good to see some brutal comeuppance. There will be many more like it that follow.

KIJIMUNA: A lot of these poems are rife with traditional folklore and thing that are new to me. But that’s half of what I love about them. This is a great way to be introduced to new creatures from other cultures.

KAMI-DAARI: Then along came Angela Yuriko Smith… the great part about her poems so far is also the problem with reviewing them. I could easily devote the rest of my review to any one of these poems if I had time to peel back the layers or talk about the cultural significance. This is the third poem by Smith that I really wanted to talk about but found myself WELL outside my element or capacity to do so. She’s a stunning closer for the collection.

THE NUKEKUBI: A woman not horrified by the ghastly spirit that haunts her house, but instead sympathetic to it. A feeling of being so lost that the strange, even terrifying, is familiar in that it is also out of place.

INSIDE CHIBICHIRI GAMA: A hard tale about how Japanese women were would take their lives rather than be capture by the invading US forces…

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Final thoughts

Listen, I know it’s hard to recommend poetry to people who aren’t specifically into that. Lord knows I’m not much for the stuff myself. But if I could thoroughly enjoy this read and be struck by it, so can you. There were some truly stunning pieces in this collection and they deserve your time.

Enjoy.

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