Poet Confronts Sexual Violence from an Earlier Generation

Poet Confronts Sexual Violence from an Earlier Generation

Faith Patton

A Cruelty Special to our Species is the debut poetry collection by Emily Jungmin Yoon, a book addressing past sexual violence and cruelty against women, specifically Korean women in World War II.

Yoon was raised in both Korean and Canada and received a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and a MFA in Creative Writing. She is now perusing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, where she also serves as poetry editor for The Margins, the journal for Asian American’s Writer’s Workshop. Her work has also made appearances in The New York Times and The New Yorker.

Yoon has written other books such as Ordinary Misfortunes which is a testimony about cruelty to vulnerable bodies in effort to find a place where brutality is overcome through human connection.

In her newest book, A Cruelty Special to our Species, she tells the testimonies of “comfort women” who were forced into prostitution by either coercion or kidnapping. Around 200,000 Korean women were forced to work as sex slaves by the Japanese during World War II.

Tapping into these voices allows Yoon a retrospective vantage point to examine “the cruelty special to our species”, a phrase that appears midway and claims the collections title. The book fixates of the conditions these women faced– everything from being kidnapped to being injected with an arsenic compound and left to die of infection and disease.

In the authors note, Yoon characterizes her poetry as “a space in which I conceive disasters, failures and traumas, lending them my own perspective, dimension and articulation.”

Her book is available on sites such as Amazon and as well as the publishing companies website, harpercollins.com.