Invocation to Daughters

Invocation To Daughters
City Lights Spotlight No. 16
By Barbara Jane Reyes

Feminist experimental poetry in the tradition of Audre Lorde and Theresa Kyung Cha from a prominent Filipina American poet.

“I am not your ethnic spectacle,” declares Reyes (To Love as Aswang) in her powerful fifth collection. “I write whether or not you invite my words.” Reyes fuses elegy, psalm, prayer, and the language of protest as a challenge to hegemonic, patriarchal, and colonialist narrative-making. Moving among English, Spanish, and Tagalog, Reyes chronicles the ways legal and judicial systems fail to protect Filipina women such as Mary Jane Veloso, who sits on death row in Indonesia, and Jennifer Laude, a trans woman murdered by a U.S. Marine stationed in the Philippines. She boldly exposes and documents violence against Pinay women while also embracing a liminal, transitory, trilingual identity: “This lyric-making me, now a dazzling we.” Reyes writes with conviction about the various ways imperialism transforms women into “capital, collateral, damaged soul.” However, the women that appear throughout the book are not merely victims; in Reyes’s radical cosmology, these women—these daughters—are rebels, saints, revolutionaries, and torchbearers, “sharp-tongued, willful.” This book is a call to arms against oppressive languages, systems, and traditions, all that “strips us of our kick and grit.” In choosing to be ethical, and by refusing to submit to oppression, Reyes writes, “We rise/ And in writing, we restore our lives.” Publishers Weekly, starred review

“San Francisco–based, James Laughlin Award–winning poet Reyes (poeta en san francisco) uses incantatory language to speak to Filipina girls and women, and her words will resonate with many, many readers. “Daughters, our world is beyond unkind” opens an early poem; the collection as a whole then details the arduous female condition (“We are fed up being groped, being entered, being punished, being/ trashed. We are nobody’s fucking things”), then strikes back sharply (“Why does my outrage inconvenience you?”), and advises (“let us create a language so that we know ourselves”). Individual poems apostrophize Filipinas like the murdered transgender Jennifer Laude. VERDICT Infused with Spanish and Tagalog, Reyes’s beautiful, angry verse shines throughout. For a wide range of readers.” Library Journal, starred review

The fifth collection from Oakland poet Barbara Jane Reyes, in the tradition of Audre Lorde and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Invocation to Daughters is a book of prayers, psalms, and odes for Filipina girls and women trying to survive and make sense of their own situations. Writing in an English inflected with Tagalog and Spanish, Reyes unleashes this colonized tongue against sexualized and racialized violence towards Pinay women. With its meditations on the relationship between fathers and daughters and impassioned pleas on behalf of victims of brutality, Invocation to Daughters is a lyrical feminist broadside written from a place of shared humanity.

“Against violence against women, Barbara Jane Reyes rips and runs, jumping off Audre Lorde’s ‘the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,’ Invocation to Daughters recombines registers––prayers, pleas and elegy––braiding a trilingual triple-threat, a 3-pronged poetics that enjambs and reconfigures the formal with the street, utterance with erasure, the prose sentence with the liminal. Invocation to Daughters reminds me of the 70’s in the East Bay, when Jessica Hagedorn met Ntozake Shange and ignited a green flash seen from horizon to horizon. Barbara Jane Reyes is one of the Bay Area’s incendiary voices.”––Sesshu Foster

Born in Manila, Philippines and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of four previous poetry collections and winner of the James Laughlin Award, among others.

Some poems from Invocation to Daughters are published online:

Prairie Schooner
The Margins
Hinchas de Poesia
Delirious Hem
Puñeta: Pilipinx Political Poetry
So to Speak: a feminist journal of language and art

Some poems from Invocation to Daughters can also be found in the following print publications: Prairie Schooner, Raven Chronicles, South Dakota Review, Vector Press, and in the anthologies IMANIMAN: Gloria Anzaldúa Anthology, and Golden State 2017: The Best New Writing from California.

To Love as Aswang

The Philippine aswang is a mythic, monstrous creature which has, since colonial times, been associated with female transgression, scapegoating, and social shaming, known in Tagalog as hiya. In the 21st century, and in diaspora, she manages to endure.

Barbara Jane Reyes’s To Love as Aswang, the poet and a circle of Filipino American women grapple with what it means to live as a Filipina, or Pinay, in a world that has silenced, dehumanized, and broken the Pinay body. These are poems of Pinay tragedy and perseverance, of reappropriating monstrosity and hiya, sung in polyphony and hissed with forked tongues.

Please see PAWA’s  reading and discussion guide for this book.

To Love as Aswang is now available for purchase at the Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc. website!

Diwata

“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

Purchase Diwata at your local indie bookstore.

Poeta en San Francisco

Barbara Jane Reyes’s Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish Press) is a linguistic tour de force, incorporating English, Spanish, and Tagalog in a book-length poem at once lush and experimentally rigorous. From the vantage of San Francisco, Reyes looks outward to the Philippines, Vietnam, and other colonized places with violent histories. As she said in a recent interview, “It’s almost a cliché, the phrase, ‘the personal is political,’ but certainly, this is a strong consideration in my work.” And yet, it is not only violence that concerns Reyes: “I am interested in how we come to love in this world, despite the historical circumstances, the conquests, the wars, which have created us as a diasporic people, as exiles, and refugees.” This is an ambitious, sweeping and necessary work. Reyes has won the James Laughlin Award for a second book from the Academy of American Poets for this volume.

Purchase Poeta en San Francisco at SPD Books or Tinfish Press.

Gravities of Center

Gravities of Center (Arkipelago Books Publishing, 2003)

“Always mindful of the terrible past that still haunts her native country today, Reyes writes with urgency, but her poems contain an anger quite tempered by maturity and dignity. That past also haunts her own personal life in America: her poetry offers an acute look of what new ethnic identity means, but again, without sanctimonious complaints. Even when she writes about that other terrible topic, love, she is devastating in conveying loss, but without reaching for sentimental sympathy. At once tender and tough, her precise voice shatters us.” ~ Nguyen Qui Duc, Host/Producer, Pacific Time Public Radio

“Intelligent, energetic, and inventive, Reyes’s writing is nourished by the confluence of cultures at which she resides as an urban twenty-first century Pilipina American. Seen as both a post-colonial chronicle and an intimate exploration of self, community, and history, Gravities of Center hovers between conventionalpoetry or prose, bending the genres until what emerges is a work that will illuminate us like ‘garnet crystalline fire … burning, to light the way back home’ .” ~ Jaime Jacinto, author of HEAVEN IS JUST ANOTHER COUNTRY