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A Cruelty Special to Our Species: Poems

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  333 ratings  ·  58 reviews
A piercing debut collection of poems exploring gender, race, and violence from a sensational new talent

In her arresting collection, urgently relevant for our times, poet Emily Jungmin Yoon confronts the histories of sexual violence against women, focusing in particular on Korean so-called “comfort women,” women who were forced into sexual labor in Japanese-occupied terr
ebook, 80 pages
Published September 18th 2018 by Ecco
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Average rating 4.26  · 
Rating details
 ·  333 ratings  ·  58 reviews

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Clemlucian (🏳️‍🌈the villain's quest)

I’m disappointed. The beginning is good because I wasn’t used to the format or the theme but all the poems say the same thing: Korean women have been through hell.

The poems are shocking and horrible but well written although sometimes I got lost in one but it’s redondant.

I've long known Yoon's work via the poetry salons of New York City as well as via her role as poetry editor for the Asian American Writers Workshop's literary magazine The Margins, so I was eager to finally read this.

I've read countless debut poetry collections over the past decade or so with a more-or-less critical eye, and this is one of the strongest debut collections I can remember -- consistently readable, clear, and compelling. You don't have to be steeped in the world of contemporary
Sep 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's been years since I was consistently reading poetry, but I am trying to get back into it. I was a little bit hesitant about accepting A Cruelty Special to Our Species for review, but I am so glad that I did. Emily Jungmin Yoon's collection is heartbreaking and thought-provoking. She pours her heart into these poems, and I loved the honesty.

A lot of these poems cover Korean history, and many of them are about "comfort women", who were trafficked for sex work during WWII. So, trigger warning
Francesca Calarco
Oct 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Short and impactful, A Cruelty Special to Our Species: Poems opens a window into the lives of Korean women who have survived sexual assault, including the stories of those who were forced to be comfort women for the Japanese during World War II. Some poems shine a light on a specific time and place, though the entirety of this collection unveils more universal elements of culturally sanctioned dehumanization that is as heartbreaking as it is vile and pernicious. This book will not be for the faint of hear ...more
Feb 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
"The trouble with trees is that their bodies and limbs are too capable, capable of burning, of living, capable of leaves, of leaving, charcoal ash, and we think we have power."

This is a short, devastating collection. Covering difficult subjects from the sex slavery of Korean comfort women during World War Two, to the fetishization of Asian women in western culture, to the tragic beaching of whales, Yoon does so with grace and with great, great effective eloquence. Her language is jol
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Our Q&A for the Poetry Foundation:

The poet Emily Jungmin Yoon believes that art reminds us that “dissent can manifest itself in beautiful and complex forms.” Born in Busan, the second-largest city in South Korea, Yoon recently published her debut collection, A Cruelty Special to Our Species (2018). The book focuses on the history of so-called comfort women from Korea and elsewhere in Southeast Asia whom Japanese soldiers detained and forced into sexual slavery before and during Wor
Alex Johnson
Oct 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fascinating exploration of the history of Korean "comfort women" who were raped repeatedly for the enjoyment of Japanese men in WWII. Yoon also speaks on womenhood and living in the liminal space between cultures. I particularly enjoyed her series of "An Ordinary Misfortune" poems and how she used Korean words to build imagery in her poems. That being said, I wasn't very taken with the whole collection; however, I'm excited to read more by Emily Jungmin Yoon.
Sep 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, poc-poets, race
An arresting and moving collection about Korean "comfort women" during WWII that is so well-thought-out and put together, in terms of taking hold of a narrative that hasn't been widely shared (and the importance of that, given the surviving comfort women are in their 90s). And beautifully written, of course.
Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
there were several times i wanted to just...close this book, put it out of my mind, forget i ever read it, because it was just too much. the sorrow, the unresolved grief. speaking of grief here are some lines from one of my favorites:

Colonial-era Japanese historians were sure
the white pottery and clothes of Korea show perpetual
sorrow. Poverty of color, incapacity for pleasure--countless foreign invasions turned the people blank
and hollow, cursed to eternal mourning.

i'm convinced/>Colonial-era
Peycho Kanev
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry

I wanted to carve it out of me—
become a fjord flanked
by historic cliffs. How else
could I write the years
I did not live. I wanted the space
for fear emptied, teem with lives
like the black-and-white photos
of Max Desfor’s.
I don’t know what I expected to feel
in front of his Korean War photograph.
The image that won him the Pulitzer
held refugees crawling a wrecked bridge,
but this wasn’t it—
it was a pair of han
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, fantabulous
A Cruelty Special To Our Species:Poems
by Emily Jungmin Yoon
Harper Collins
4.5 / 5.0

This packs so much emotion, fear, and heartbreak, it is hard to grasp. The poems here share the brutality and sexual violence against women. Specifically, Korean comfort women, women captured and forced to have sex with soldiers in Japanese occupied territories during WWII. Many of the soldiers were American. Let that sink in.....
The forced violence, and deaths pissed me off. It was difficult to read
Jan 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was POWERFUL. I felt my anxiety creeping while I read this because of unsettling and horrible some of things these "comfort women" experienced. I was left in physical pain... but there are realities we need to write and read about.
Feb 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Collection of poems showing the mental and physical anguish of comfort women, how it feels like to be a “foreigner”, and the sheer power of the Korean language in its multiple forms/definitions.
Melissa Croce
Oct 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
tragic and necessary. bears witness to an especially horrific period in korean history. i usually try and consume poetry books slowly, but i couldn’t bear to put it down or look away.
Katya Kazbek
I’ve been dying to read about the tragic history of “comfort women” since I, an immigrant to the US, and not that well-versed on East Asian history, first heard about them on the radio. And this poetry book with an absolutely incomparable name became the unlikely but satisfying read on the subject. I am definitely going to read some non-fiction about “comfort women” later (perhaps the fascinating oral history mentioned in this book’s acknowledgements) but meanwhile I just want to reread “A Cruel ...more
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Pure. Fire. Read it.
Carla Sofia Sofia
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely stunning! Listened to this on audiobook Yoon's reading was gorgeous.
Aug 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

You think you know how cruel humans can be...

and then you hear stories that are bravely, unflinchingly, uncompromisingly told

like this
Jayde Meng
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
My favorite poems:
- An Ordinary Misfortune (3): A strong start to the anthology. Interesting transitions and colons.
- An Ordinary Misfortune (11): Nice repetition with a change- reveals each layer to the poem like an onion.
- Kang Duk-kyung (18): This one made me cry. I'm sorry we failed you, Kang Duk-kyung.
- Kim Sang-hi (20): The last four lines are so powerful and the spacing is beautifully done.
- Kim Soon-duk (26): The feeling of helplessness in this is so strong and heartb
May 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The poet’s ability to listen to stories of excruciating trauma, work through that, and let herself feel it deeply within herself enough to be able to transform it into art so as to give these women a voice who may not be able to give themselves a’s beautiful, it’s awe inspiring, it’s haunting. She helps work at helping such horrible injustices find a bit more justice. I’m sure it’s not easy work. I’m sure it’s emotionally just a lot. But it’s much needed work.

I had no idea the extent
Andrea Blythe
Dec 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
My first podcast interview at New Books in Poetry is live!

I had a lovely conversation with Emily Jungmin Yoon regarding her  first full-length collection, A Cruelty Special to Our Species (Ecco Books, 2018), which examines forms of violence against women. At its core these poems delve into the lives of Korean comfort women of the 1930s and 40s, reflecting on not only the history of sexual slavery, but also considering its ongoing impact. Her poems beautifully lift the voices of these women, helping t
Jeffrey Parker
Sep 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A compelling and powerful collection that centers around the personal history Comfort Women and the continuing impact over generations. But the story is not that simple. These poems show echoes of that impact in the way a young women navigates through the world. These poems show how cheap, trivial, and disgusting a behavior can been when set against the images of this history.

Beyond the subject matter and it’s impact, my feelings about the poetry itself are more complicated but large
Oct 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
An arresting collection that draws attention to individual experiences of Korean women from a not-long-gone past, whose history has been forgotten by contemporary desire to forget humanity’s most inhumane actions. What emerges is a searing and mystifyingly lyrical investigation of Japanese and American acts of colonization and violence against Korean women. Yoon delves deeply into this history while at the same time never letting the reader forget that these stories, though removed, are not irre ...more
Sep 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
A powerful collection that focuses on the dehumanization of women, specifically Korean "comfort women." The second section of this book, The Testimonies, are poems inspired by biographical accounts of "comfort women" from WWII. As the writer says in her notes, she is not speaking FOR these women in these poems but rather to amplify their voices. The poems are haunting -- the distorted line breaks add to the feeling of these girl's lives being interrupted, their long nightmarish days. The other p ...more
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yoon's poems are about memory, history, and identity. Her poems about the comfort women are powerful and haunting as they weave back and forth across time and place, but the ones that stood out to me were about the experiences and challenges of navigating life in the United States as an immigrant-- in her ESL class and walking the streets of American cities. My favorite poem was about how she struggled to pronounce the very words that are used to create one particular poem and another that was q ...more
Sep 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
“There are mountains of me.
Fluorescent, inflorescent.
Infrared: mountains of us.
Find me with azalea. Confuse me
with azalea.
Find constellations where I open.”

cw: rape (mentioned a lot), sex trafficking, csa, war, death

this is such a poignant and meaningful collection of poems. it was difficult to keep reading at times but only because of the horrors Korean women had to go through. which is why it’s such an important book to pick up, so as to be aware of these things
the testimon
Patti K
Apr 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Yoon's book of poems was published in 2018 to acclaim. As she writes in
a Note: "I wrote this book to say that one has the agency to command
and preserve their own narrative." Several of the poems are entitled:
"An Ordinary Misfortune" which belies the horror of nearly every piece
of work. She writes a lot about Korean "comfort women" who were used
as sex slaves to the Japanese military force during the war. Some of the
poems draw from historical records of the wome
Aug 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This excellent and sobering collection of poems focus on violence against women, especially the Korean "comfort women" enslaved during war. This is another fine effort by a young poet to communicate the horrors that women experience being victimized by men. One would hope that creative writing by Yoon and others, in prose as well as poetry, will soon make a difference in the safety and status of girls and women around the world.
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Emily Jungmin Yoon presents a striking collection of poems of testament and remembrance for the Korean 'comfort women' forced to be sexual slaves to Japanese soldiers. Yoon does a lot of important historico-literary work here, and the poems meet the ethical and aesthetic demands of the subject material. I do wish that they maybe telegraphed their intent a little less directly, so it felt like there is a bit more to dig into, but that's a smallish complaint in the grand scheme of things.
Dec 12, 2018 rated it liked it
This was good, but I'm not going to tell every poetry lover in my life to run out and buy it. I love poetry that fuses the personal and the historical, but this focused so much on the historical that it was easy to lose Yoon's voice and experience. "Bell Theory," which is entirely about Yoon's personal experience, was the standout poem for me - if nothing else, I'd absolutely recommend poetry lovers to flip through a copy and read this poem.
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Emily Jungmin Yoon is the author of A Cruelty Special to Our Species (Ecco Books, September 2018) and Ordinary Misfortunes (Tupelo Press, July 2017), winner of the Sunken Garden Chapbook Prize. Her poems and translations have appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, Poetry, and elsewhere. She has received awards and fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, Ploughshares’ Emerging Writer’ ...more