REVIEW: “Her Poems Are Inked in Fears and Blood” by Kira Lees

Review of Kira Lees, “Her Poems Are Inked in Fears and Blood”, in Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler, Sword and Sonnet (Ate Bit Bear, 2018) — 125-130. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

A plague of ill-fortune is besetting the emperor; five courtier-poets have been killed in the last year, and no one knows how or by whom. Under Minister Ushiwara is the most recent to die, and no eulogy poem in his honor is better-crafted than the one Uguisu composes, and speaks using Ushiwara’s own words and images and voice.

Lees’s story set in Heian era Japan is blood-thirsty and vivid. Uguisu is not fighting to defend her land or her people or even herself, but something even more fundamental: Her voice, and her right to be remembered. I particularly enjoyed the quite long and detailed author’s note for this story which emphasises how little we know of the lives of historical Japanese women, often not even their names.