Before cracking open Tortured Willows: Bent, Bowed, Unbroken, I knew this poetry collection would be honest and raw. However, I was not prepared for the collection’s level of horror and heartbreak. Throughout this work, it’s evident that the authors opened their veins and bled themselves onto the pages.
Lee Murray, Geneve Flynn, Christina Sng, and Angela Yukiro Smith weave poetic tales of mental, emotional, and physical abuse against Asian women. The tales end with either the ultimate sacrifice or a rising from the flames.
News and media talk about prejudices against Asian women. Documentaries delve into the racism and sexism that is sometimes associated with Asian diaspora. Tortured Willows takes us onto a deeper, personal level through poetry regaled to us by Asian women authors who allegorically write about experiences of cruelty from prejudice, tradition, and the patriarchy. Tortured Willows is a haunting outcry that mistreatment of women will no longer be tolerated. The representation of the willow tree symbolizes strength and tenacity. The willow bends against hard blows but never breaks—it continues to bounce back and carry on.
Tortured Willows is a perfect accompaniment to the award-winning short story collection Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women (edited by Geneve Flynn and Lee Murray) to showcase the need to move beyond antiquated roles of tradition and injustices.
Lee Murray’s poetry is a quiet, but raw and macabre fury that unrelentingly exposes several hundreds of years of suffering and misery placed upon Asian women. Through this literary form, Murray depicts self-sacrifice as a surrender for expectations, love, and the ideal of acceptance. Her poem “Exquisite” left me in tears.
Pay attention. You think it will not matter, but it will. -Geneve Flynn
Geneve Flynn takes several poetry forms and morphs them into her own. In “Her Gradual Hero”, Flynn uses the sonnet, typically used to express love, to convey gaslighting. “Abridge” is blackout poetry executed in a spectacular fashion, and she exposes us to the pantoum (a Malay poetic form) in “When the Girls Began to Fall”. The creativity breathed into Flynn’s poetry exemplifies her writing strength and talent all the while bringing focus to inequity. Pay special attention to “Mouth, and Feet, and Hands, and Eyes” and “Inheritance”.
Christina Sng lyrically scripts revenge for mistreatment and murder in her poetry. She is quite gifted with paranormal fiction, and through this collection she shows us that her poetry is as strong as her fiction. Sng’s work is full of sorrow and anger as her female ghosts seek revenge against those who have wronged them through racial and sexist discriminations.
And finally, Angela Yukiro Smith poetry is a historic and cultural journey through time. Her work shines a light on matriarch celebration and casts shadows over the oppressive patriarchy. Smith’s poetry properly rounds out this full collection to show the unbendable nature of the willow and women.
Tortured Willows: Bent, Bowed, Unbroken is an eye-opening, soul exposing journey, and a solid continuation of Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Both collections demonstrate that women will not go quietly into the night.