Though the book has been available now for a few weeks, 09/01/2010 was Diwata‘s official release date. So, once again, here it is, the very lovely production that is my third book:
New from BOA Editions, Ltd.
Poems by Barbara Jane Reyes
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.
Really, Diwata‘s toughest reader for me is going to be my mother. Critics, book reviewers, academics, po-biz H8ers got nothing on the fear I felt when I handed my mother her copy of Diwata.
First thing: She is a reader. She will read my book. Indeed, the people in my family are readers. My mother’s friends are also readers; some of them apparently follow my work, and so they will also read Diwata. That’s pretty awesome, especially given what we’re always told about Filipinos being non-readers and non-book buyers. For me, what is at stake is this: I need my mother to know that my work as a poet is an earnest attempt at paying respect to our elders and ancestors. More concretely, I have dedicated my book to my mother’s eldest sister and her father, both of whom are recently deceased, and this gesture really touched her. I want my mother not to be disappointed by what I have written in their memory.
That's right, friends. Diwata has arrived. I took this photo with my crappy cell phone camera, but you get the gist of it. It's here. And it's gorgeous.
I have to say, as I’ve been reading and thinking about Miguel Syjuco’s Ilustrado, which is very writerly and Filipino community focused, I’ve been thinking about my own writing and its reception by the community. I’d previously written about the inside/collective self-referential moments in Ilustrado, in which the elder Manila authors criticize the deceased Crispin Salvador for what sounds like pandering to a larger audience beyond his own countrymen (ehem, countrywomen, see below):
Rita: “Autoplagiarist’s problem was it was more about Filipinos than for Filipinos.”
Furio: “It’s the sort of book Americans love and Filipinos hate. We have to write for our countrymen.”
Me: “Then why couldn’t he get it published abroad?”
Furio: “The same reason the rest of us Filipinos have hard time.”
I guess I have to dredge my blog once again, as I am supposed to be writing a poetics essay for a new poetics journal coming out of (I think) University of Akron. It’s timely then, that Eileen Tabios has been writing about Kapwa poetics, and has written up my chapbook Easter Sunday for Galatea Resurrects, after reading it through a kapwa lens.
(To review, kapwa is Tagalog for kindred, fellow, or shared humanity. It’s a Philippine indigenous psychology term discussed by Katrin de Guia in her book entitled Kapwa, which I actually ended up not liking at all. Still, this does not mean I am not interested in the concept and practice of it as a community artist.)
So I am thinking about what I have been calling “we poetics,” as something operating in Diwata, though I don’t believe I was conscious of it at the time; I previously wouldn’t have articulated it that way. But Diwata‘s speaker is invested in a “we,” and she embodies a “we,” in that she is a vessel and conveyor of historical and community wisdom. If a storyteller is a bridge, between what and whom is she a bridge? She exists then in relation to others; I do not want to say she is a mouthpiece of others. This doesn’t jibe with my poetics or my activism, to speak for others, to be a voice for the voiceless. This too easily translates into “she speaks and so others don’t have to,” or it can easily be enacted as such, in spite of her intentions. Her intentions, in my book, are to speak and sing the story so to bring people together, so to remind them why they come together, what makes them a community.
Wow, seeing and having my eyes and hands all over Diwata in typeset PDF’s makes it more real. It’s such a gorgeous production, and I am more than happy I’ve done things the way I have for Diwata. I always say this one took its own sweet time, and it’s true.
I didn’t really go through a hellish submissions process. I submitted to or queried eleven presses (nine independent publishers and two university presses), and entered into four contests. I didn’t place as semifinalist or finalist in any of these contests. Of the eleven presses I queried or to whom I submitted (and here, it was during open submissions periods):
- one took a week to send me back a form rejection letter,
- two never responded,
- two responded with polite rejection letters citing high volume of manuscript and budget/funding issues,
- four (of course, including BOA Editions) had editors who were so responsive to the work, which they really read and really thought about — the three besides BOA were West End Press, Heyday Press, and Graywolf Press.
I have updated my Diwata page with blurbs and the beautiful book cover:
New from BOA Editions, Ltd.
Poems by Barbara Jane Reyes
In her book Diwata, Barbara Jane Reyes frames her
Belated Happy New Year to you all. I’ve been online, though mostly in work and research mode. I’ve been trawling the USF Gleeson Library online databases for my spring semester course, finalizing my syllabus, downloading readings (articles, literary work) from Project MUSE et al, and uploading these into Blackboard. I’ve been contacting local Filipino American artists and arts orgs. I should also say that my syllabus transformed itself from a dense and disorganized outline o’ stuff into something manageable, interesting, and hopefully fun; this has happened because I’ve been thinking about Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales and Valerie Soe, both of whom have taught the Community Arts course in SFSU’s Asian American Studies Department.
So this is what my course is becoming, a series of discussions of the work of local arts orgs and mostly local artists, in order to think about Fil Am arts advocacy and activism, at the same time, to engage the works for their historical and cultural themes (i.e. as historical documents), and to engage them as art (i.e. created by artists with some amount of education/training and technical expertise in their respective fields). Filipino American artists as cultural historians — that thing again, about how we can’t simply be “artists,” or “Artists,” that we must always create art that is relevant, accessible, and affirming to our communities, that our art must always be an autobiographical statement, that our art must always be historically and ethnically correct.
I was just thinking this morning about a poem I tried writing over a decade ago, spoken in the voice of a tribe of young women coming of age, pulled by the elements, this very old ancestral land, and the deities that created it. The poem was a failure, or I couldn’t poetically pull it off — I was just making up too much stuff which I’d since deemed implausible or incongruous, placed everything into a poetic container not solid enough to support it, using a language so wrought because it was meant to overcompensate for not knowing enough about my subject matter. I was so moved by Merlinda Bobis’s Cantata of the Warrior Woman Daragang Magayon, and the voices and words of Bayang Barrios and Grace Nono, but I was writing blind.
A couple of weeks ago, I made it to 1 AM Gallery in SOMA, San Francisco to check out the Tabi Tabi Po exhibit, which was curated by James Garcia, though I wasn’t able to attend any of the events which took place at the gallery during the exhibit. I’d recommended these events and exhibit to my students (I even offered extra credit to those who attended and submitted a brief write-up), and I was pleased to know that a good number of them seemed plugged into the local Fil Am artist and activist community and did, in fact, attend and really enjoy the exhibit.
So, what do you think? Too much? Just right?
- “Upland Dance” was written after the Ifugao Music and Dance Ensemble of Banaue San Francisco performance, September 2007. The words ima, pagay, billít, and angin are Ilocano words meaning “hand,” “rice plant,” “bird,” and “wind.” Kastoy means “like this.”
- “Duyong 1” uses “salvaged” in the term’s Philippine context. Poet and journalist Jose F. Lacaba writes, “As used in the Philippines, the verb ‘salvage’ and the noun ‘salvaging’ are the slang equivalents of the terms ‘to execute extrajudicially, to assassinate’ and ‘extrajudicial execution,’ terms used by human-rights organizations such as Amnesty International.”
- [Edits.] “Call It Talisman (If You Must)” was written after the Tatak ng Apat na Alon Tribe, and anthropologist Ikin Salvador’s “Signs on Skin: Beauty and Being: Traditional Tattoos and Tooth Blackening among the Philippine Cordillera” exhibit and talk at Pusod in Berkeley, October 2004. In one photograph, a group of newly tattooed, young Ilubo warriors posed in traditional headdresses and loincloths for a portrait in 1949. Their rite of passage (for which they were inked) was the killing of invading Japanese soldiers. The Ilubo were traditionally headhunters. [Addendum: I found my old blog post about this 10/2004 event.]
- “Aswang” was written after Rachelle Cruz’s currently unpublished poetry collection, Ascela at the World’s Greatest Fair, and Vince Gotera’s “Aswang.” Anthropologist Alicia Magos has written that in an effort to spread Catholicism in the Philippines, the early Spanish Catholic clerics maligned the “pagan and demonic” indigenous women priests by calling them Aswang, a god of evil. “It was a perfect religious-military tool for conquering other cultures. Through time, the term aswang was invented and its description became more morbid and cruel as generations passed these fabricated stories.” The aswang is now known as a mythical creature that uses her long, thin tongue to suck babies out of their mothers’ wombs.