Tortured Willows – Bent, Bowed, Unbroken
Reviewed By Steve Stred
Huge thanks to Lee Murray for sending me an early review copy of this outstanding anthology of poems. This was a really hard group of tales to read, but the pain that resonated through every single one showed just how much writing these poems meant to the four amazing authors within.
What I liked: The anthology has a theme throughout, but one thing I loved was how each poem did have some room for interpretation. As a white male reading these poems, I was able to relate to them through shared experiences from women in my life, which definitely increased the emotional wallop I felt while reading these.
The anthology opens with a foreword by K.P. Kulski. This was a fantastic look at how personally moving these poems were and did a great job of sharing a bit about her heritage and why these poems connected so deeply.
Due to the volume of poems within, I’ll showcase a number of poems from each author that really resonated with me.
WILLOWS – The fantastic opening poem that Lee shares was very autobiographical. Loved the story this one told.
FOX GIRL – I really liked the imagery of this poem and the flow of it while reading. It was a great poem that really painted a picture while acting as a subtle metaphor.
EXQUISITE – A favourite of Lee’s. Just dark descriptions and visceral emotions showcased. So well done.
AT THE BAR – Such a dark, brutal poem told over eight lines that tackles stereotypes, racism, sexism and has a cathartic vengeance to it.
WHEN THE GIRLS BEGAN TO FALL – No words. Just a brutal dark poem that can be taken a number of ways. For me, personally, it felt very dystopian and apocalyptic in nature. Outstanding.
ABRIDGE – A heartbreakingly aching blackout poem that addresses violence against women. Poems like these are hard to read, but even harder knowing just how frequent this violence occurs.
INHERITANCE – A poem looking at the reality many women face where they’re held back and discouraged simply because of their gender
WHAT THE MIRROR SHOWED ME – This poem was beautiful, if not difficult to read. It will definitely affect each reader differently, especially those who have dealt with self-esteem/body issues.
STAY DOWN – Interesting poem that could be about a zombie or even a demon-type creature. Such a simple poem but so much story was shared within those few sparse lines.
CONVERSATIONS WITH THE DEAD 1928 – Just a sad, sad poem about a woman looking back at her life and the choices she never made that led to her demise. This one is a real tearjerker.
I LEFT TOO LATE – A very dark, sad poem looking back at what could’ve been.
WILLOW – Another sad poem in a very similar vein to ‘I Left Too Late.’ Hard, hard poems to read.
AN INTERLUDE WITH THE BOARDING HOUSE OWNER – A deliciously evil poem that gives us a novel’s length of story in fifteen lines. Amazing.
FLAT – A dark, ghost-story poem that shares the flat-faced woman tale. This one was creepy from start to finish.
Angela Yuriko Smith
FOUR WILLOWS BOUND – Almost reads like a battle-cry between the four authors. A poem saying ‘we’ve all been through hard times, but together, by each other’s sides, we’re stronger because of it.’ Really moving.
HER HAJICHI – A fascinating poem about a traditional tattoo. This was great.
KIJIMUNA – A really creepy poem about someone seeing wood sprites and knowing they want to take them away.
THE NUKEKUBI – A ghostly poem based on a real experience the author had. This elevated the creepiness factor even more, and that’s saying something.
What I didn’t like: With a large number of poems within, some will be hit or miss to each reader, but saying that, even the ones that didn’t catch me like the others, the sorrow within the words absolutely did.
Why you should buy this: The four authors here are masters of dark fiction and have crafted some of the darkest, bleakest, most emotional poems I’ve ever read. Time and time again these poems created a look into certain situations that were so hard to read but so well written that it’ll leave you sobbing and struggling to move on to the next poem. But you’ll want to read the next one. And the next one.
Just so, so good.
The willow is femininity, desire, death. Rebirth. With its ability to grow from a single broken branch, it is the living embodiment of immortality. It is the yin that wards off malevolent spirits. It is both revered and shunned.
In Tortured Willows, four Southeast Asian women writers of horror expand on the exploration of otherness begun with the Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women.
Like the willow, women have bent and bowed under the expectations and duty heaped upon them. Like the willow, they endure and refuse to break.
With exquisite poetry, Christina Sng, Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, and Geneve Flynn invite you to sit beneath the tortured willow’s gravid branches and listen to the uneasy shiver of its leaves.
Steve Stred writes dark, bleak fiction.
Steve is the author of a number of novels, novellas and collections.
He is proud to work with the Ladies of Horror Fiction to facilitate the Annual LOHF Writers Grant.
Steve has appeared alongside some of Horror’s heaviest hitters (Tim Lebbon, Gemma Amor, Adrian J. Walker, Ramsey Campbell) in some fantastic anthologies.
He is an active member of the HWA.
He is based in Edmonton, AB, Canada and lives with his wife and son.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevestred
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