In her book Diwata, Barbara Jane Reyes frames her poems between the Book of Genesis creation story, and the Tagalog creation myth of the muse, placing her work somewhere culturally in between both traditions. Also setting the tone for her poems is the death and large shadow cast by her grandfather, a World War II veteran and Bataan Death March survivor, who has passed onto her the responsibility of remembering. Reyes’ voice is grounded in her community’s traditions and histories, despite war and geographical dislocation.
“Reyes has accomplished a masterpiece by conjuring and weaving the dialectics and elements of Malakas and Magandá – a Filipina poetics of the strong and beautiful. This alone merits praise. In majestic prose and deep story, in rhythmic caesura and hunter woman voices, in genius image brushwork and long and short line archipelago, we learn lessons for the 21st Century: that colonial invasion, the horror of cultural dismemberment, is not exhaustive: Asia, the Philippines, Manila spirit, all of us – can rebuild and continue in América, in many ways become whole again, by the alma and ceremonias, the tellings kept for centuries and beautifully recast in this book. I was mesmerized by the true Diwata that lives in these pages. Diwata – she instructs us, lures us, takes us deep into her jeweled river, then breathes into us our Creation Story – one we thought we could no longer remember, write, speak, or call our own.” —Juan Felipe Herrera
“Barbara Jane Reyes’ Diwata is a book that would have raised the hairs on the nape of Emily Dickinson’s head upon recognition of its poetic backbone. She injects Filipino words like calamansi, kastoy, and pananaghoy into the sinew of American poetry with panache and fearless abandon. Hers is an incomparable talent from which we cannot avert our gaze.” —Nick Carbó
“We are offered Reyes’ own version of oral history, the history of her split heritage, the story of survival, and myths of Reyes’ own creation that add an additional emtional truth despite their deliberate inaccuracy. We leave this book both shellshocked and empowered, reborn and rib–torn.” — Coal Hill Review
“These retellings of myths and folk tales become a modality through which ahistory is rendered into history, history itself is investigated, and variations of diwatas, their quarries, and their hunters are revealed as inhabiting multiple narrative, linguistic, and cultural sites.” — Lantern Review
“Triumphant and plaintive, Diwata is a living document, offering both succor and claws.” — Rain Taxi
“Myth and story, telling and retelling, the claiming of an indigenous history and also a dislocation from that history form a thematic crux in this gorgeous text.” — American Poet
September 2010 • 88 pages $16.00 paper • 978-1-934414-37-8
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Cover image by Christian Cabuay. Cover design by Sandy Knight.