[gn_quote]Heaven has collapsed;
the air is thick with broken souls,
with nowhere to go[/gn_quote]


Wing Tek Lum’s new collection of poetry, The Nanjing Massacre: Poems, uses the versatility of poetry to shed a profound light across the horrible atrocities rained down upon the Chinese during the Japanese invasion in 1937. Lum, inspired by the archival photographs and written accounts of the Nanjing Massacre, as well as the denial of its significance by the Japanese government, skillfully wields his talents for language into an incredibly impactful work of art, breathing vivid life into these historical accounts of rape, death and destruction.

The Nanjing Massacre looks upon the evils of warfare on a human scale, using bold and vivid imagery to fully frame this tragic historical event. Extremely intimate descriptions of the invader’s brutality punctuate their cruel attitudes toward the Chinese, (“A fetus is gouged out of a pregnant woman/to satisfy a bet by soldiers as to whether it is a boy/or girl…”). Comfort women, and the common association of rape with warfare is depicted through the deadened eyes of the victimized, (“I am a mere receptacle/to give them release/for their excrements of lust”). And in “The Boots,” we see the inhumane outlook of the aggressors as a Japanese soldier joyfully dismembers, burns, and “scoops” away flesh from a corpse in order to score a pair of brand new boots to help him survive the rest of the war.

Stripped bare of pretension, these naked and honest accounts of this horrifying period speak loudly to our inner resolve and appeal to our better notions of humanity. It’s not just a polemic on war, these poems are an insightful statement on the extremes of human nature. Through details of towns and villages, we feel a sense of loss of real lives; in descriptions of flesh, bone, and blood, we understand the frailty of our own mortality and the meaninglessness of our husks; in viewing the actions of the Japanese, we feel horror that such atrocities could be committed by people yet fear that deep down we could be like them. Wing Tek takes us into the viscera, through the acrid smells, the bitter tastes, and the horrifying visuals. We reaffirm our humanity by experiencing the pain of those who lived through it, and by viewing the utter contempt and callousness of their conquerors.

The Nanjing Massacre: Poems, though historically inspired fiction, is a resonant companion piece to the swaths of non-fiction writing about this tragic period in our world history. Through striking visuals and skillful language, Wing Tek brings voice to the often forgotten participants in the Nanjing Massacre, and leaves readers with experiences and emotions that can not soon be forgotten.

[gn_divider /]

The Nanjing Massacre: Poems
by Wing Tek Lum
Bamboo Ridge Press, 2013
240 pages, paperback