The Rwanda Poems: Voices and Visions from the Genocide by Andrew Kaufman
NYQ Books, March 2023
The only book of poetry to date devoted to the Rwanda genocide and published in this country, this is a work of nonfictional poetry, a cousin in genre to the nonfictional novel. It is based not only on the poet’s observations and encounters during months spent in post-genocide Rwanda, but on his numerous extensive interviews with survivors, all of whom lost most if not all of their families, and with convicted genocide perpetrators, conducted in prisons. The result is a startling book of poems that by turns is unthinkably horrifying, heartbreaking, and enraging, yet which at times breaks unexpectedly into stunning revelatory moments of grace.
As a poetry of witness this book reveals what it is like to carry on with daily life in a society where nearly every adult male is either a genocide survivor or perpetrator, almost every woman either a survivor or the wife of a perpetrator, and where nearly every child at the time of the genocide witnessed multiple killings, often of immediate family members. Ranging from free verse to stanzaic forms, this book by an NEA-award-winning poet uses tools and methods of poetry to distill each of its many varied voices to its essence, allowing those who are heard in these poems to speak for themselves, often in juxtapositions that lend the book the structure and tension of a drama. Considered more broadly, The Rwanda Poems is a book about the extremities of evil that the human psyche is capable of enduring and inflicting, and the resulting psychic costs to survivors and perpetrators.