OK, this here is a brain dump. I just received a comment on one of my recent Filipino American community posts, and to be clear, the commenter is also a Filipino American. This person tells me (I paraphrase) she would hate to see me limited, pigeonholed in my art because of my ethnic identification. If I identify as a Filipino American poet, as opposed to a poet (or Poet), then I am cutting off all kinds of folks from finding and reading my work.

I am terribly refreshed by this comment today.

I do think of myself as occupying or inhabiting multiple poet worlds, not just in self-naming and principle, but certainly in my everyday practice. Sometimes I think I give myself unneeded grief by working in multiple worlds; in the first place, multitasking can drive people bananas. Having people constantly asking and demanding stuff from me also starts to drive me bananas. A couple of poets tell me what a privilege, to be in that position to be recognized as having something to give. Well, I give a lot, and now I am tired. And let me just say, I get it when Poets just want to Poet, just want to be left alone to Poet.

I think I would like to press on with my two manuscripts eternally in progress. One of my grad students had recently asked me what I was working on, and I admitted that the 90 pages of poems I’d recently printed out weren’t coalescing into a book. I do need to do something about this.

Oscar has told me, one of his poet friends has asked — given all the work you have, how many 30-minute sets (minimum banter, time killer, space filler, prop, distraction, smoke and mirrors, shuck and jive, dog and pony shows) can you rock without repeating a single poem? Well, for me, I could rock a lot of 30-minute sets, and this should satisfy me, but it wouldn’t hurt to be more prolific, even in a directed way.

At the same time, I know that promoting my existing books is still very important. I love that as recently as this past summer, I was still doing a Poeta en San Francisco book talk, and will most likely be doing more. I love that that book’s got legs, that it’s still being taught, that there’s continued interest and enthusiasm about it. I keep meeting grad students whose professors are recommending or assigning my books, and I have to think this means I am doing something right.

I am also preparing for two Skype sessions for Diwata in the next couple of months. As I am also preparing for next semester, teaching Filipina Lit at USF, and Filipino American Lit at SFSU, I have decided to teach  Diwata and Poeta respectively. I’d been encouraged by a friend and professor to do so; she’d argued the students would really benefit from their access to my work and to me. The point is — more book talks, managing two books in my brain, and that I love doing this.

So, where do my eternally in progress manuscripts fit in? I don’t want to be in a mad rush to churn out product from the poetry machine, for sake of churning out more product (perhaps that is where McPoem comes from). I want to stop rushing around in head, and to relish being an author whose books are taught, studied, discussed, critically engaged, and enjoyed by readers.


Barbara Jane Reyes

Author of Gravities of Center, Poeta en San Francisco, and Diwata. Adjunct professor in Philippine Studies at University of San Francisco.

One Comment

  1. I also tend to envy poets who are “in demand,” and at the same time I understand the pull in many directions. I don’t teach for a living, and the “day job” I have has fixed regular hours, which has real advantages. Though even with the majority of my time being “my own,” I have to struggle sometimes to get all of the poetry stuff done that I want to get done.

    I have a moderately long list of books of poems, and poets, that I want to write about in my blog, and I also have my own writing — four or five manuscripts that are more or less done, and four or five more that are in progress, and I generally have a half dozen poems in progress in my notebook — and although I tend to hop from one to the other frequently, ultimately I can only work on one poem/book/manuscript at any given moment.

    In no way am I complaining about any of the above. I’ve been extremely fortunate with publishing and with the connections I’ve made with other poets. But I do sometimes with for another hundred or so hours in the week.

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