Review: Yolanda by Tim Tomlinson

Typhoon Yolanda struck the Philippines in November, 2013 with winds that reached 180 mph. It was one of the strongest tropical storms ever recorded and the deadliest in Philippine history, killing at least 6,300 people in that country. But those are just numbers and facts and words. 

“and then we tried to go up
once we neared the surface I released her
so that we would be able to have the chance to crawl up and swim 

well the water was actually pushing us up together
I was telling her to it’s OK you release
so she released her hold on me also

and we resurfaced but the problem
we were both trapped big debris uh, maybe big debris
like this four or six like this

I don’t know it’s big I was scratched
this is still the bruise uh what do you call this my remembrance
and that was how many months ago that was six months
           eight months ago

and that bruise is still there
I was struck here also at my back
and she was struck at the neck I heard the snap

like that super loud
and then there was no emotion on her face
I saw the blood blood blood coming out from her nose and mouth

I thought oh my god she’s dead
and then slowly slowly
she was sinking”

The writer’s greatest challenge is finding words for things that are beyond words.

Tim Tomlinson has done something unique and powerful with Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse. Others have created art from devastation, attempting to harness one of art’s great powers: the ability to heal. But this collection of poems, constructed from interviews with the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda, is not about healing so much as it is about testifying, about bearing witness and forcing the reader to imagine a terror that is all but unimaginable.

In the best of times memories are slippery things. In the worst, they can be sharp blades aimed directly at the heart. The voices of the storm’s survivors reveal the emotionally devastating toll of tragedy that unfolds on such an overwhelming scale.

“The people were zombie-like, having blank stares.
They just walked around, not knowing what to do.
But I didn’t really see a lot of ‘crying’.
Probably they run out of tears?
They were just staring blankly and looking for relatives,
dead bodies of their relatives.”

There is an art beyond art in these 23 visceral poems. No invented stories could resonate with meaning the way these do. For healthy doses of perspective, perseverance, and even hope, get your copy of Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse from Finishing Line Press.

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