Joi Barrios

Joi Barrios (Maria Josephine Barrios Leblanc) serves as a Lecturer teaching Filipino and Philippine Literature at UC Berkeley while on leave as an Associate Professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD). After completing her Ph.D. in Filipino and Philippine Literature at UPD, she taught at the Osaka University of Foreign Studies, UCLA, and UCI. She then returned to Manila to serve as Associate Dean of UP College of Arts and Letters and Coordinator of the Graduate Program of the college. She is the author of five books, among them, the poetry collection To Be a Woman is to Live at a Time of War, and her research From the Theater Wings: Grounding and Flight of Filipino Women Playwrights. She has won fourteen Philippine national literary awards and, for her contributions to literature, was among the 100 women chosen as Weavers of History for the Philippine Centennial Celebration. In 2004, she also received the TOWNS (Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service) Award.

What is (or has been) your favorite editing project and why?

In November, 2005 in the Philippines, I edited a slim anthology entitled Pakikiramay: Alay ng mga Makata sa mga Magsasaka ng Hacienda Luisita (In Sympathy: Poetry for the Peasant Workers of Hacienda Luisita). Released only two weeks after the massacre of peasants at the picketline of Hacienda Luisita, the anthology brought together the works of twenty five poets, including Filipino national artists for literature Virgilio Almario and Bienvenido Lumbera.

This was the first book of the "flash publication series" published by the the Alliance of Concerned Teachers in the Philippines. I envisioned it to be a series of anthologies that would respond to urgent issues. Informed by my street theater experience (also called "theater in a hurry" by theater scholar Doreen Fernandez) of quickly writing, rehearsing and performing plays at rallies and demonstrations, these literary anthologies (including Truth and Consequence: Poems for the Removal of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, 2006, co-edited with Danton Remoto and Jaime Doble; and Subverso, 2007, co-edited with Roland Tolentino and Mykel Andrada) were unapologetically political. The poems and short stories in these collections were statements and testimonies on fraudulent elections, corruption, abuse of power, extrajudicial killings, and human rights violations.

Yes, I must admit that it was also that year (2005) that I published my poem "Botox Day," (about getting my first botox injections) and when I started a new collection of love poems. And yet, I edited that anthology because at a time of political repression, I believed in the power of the talinghaga (metaphor) as a strategy of resistance.

Mga Tala sa Isang Pagpatay

Gaano kadali ang pagpaslang?
Sansaglit, at may nakitil nang buhay.
May punglo na humahagibis,
At may pag-asa na napapatid.

Gaano katagal
Ang ating paglalamay?
Hintayin bang ang luha ay maglawa
At ang telang itim na yumayakap
Sa bawat bangkay ay maging dagat?

Luhang alat, dagat alat.
Sinong hindi malulunod sa hinagpis?
Bawat dibdib ay sumisikip.
Sa bawat pagluluksa,
Habol ang hininga,
Nagtatalo ang pangamba at galit
Sa bawat panganib na hinaharap.
Isa-isa tayo na kanilang nilalagas,
At ating tinatanong:
Sinong nag-uutos, sinong nagbabayad
Sa bawat pusong dinudurog,
At utak na pinapasabog?

Hindi tayo, kundi sila
ang alipin ng pangamba, kaya't namumuksa.
Ating tandaan, laging tandaan,
Matwid ang pinaglalaban.
Sa bawat pagkapit-bisig,
sa bawat welga at pag-aalsa,
Ang binabawi natin ay dangal,
Ang inaangkin ay karapatan.
Patag ang lupa kung saan tayo nakatindig.
Ang bayan na pinapaslang, ano't di sisigaw ng himagsik?

Notes on a Political Execution

How easy is it to kill?
In a moment, cut life short.
A bullet flies,
And hope catches in the air.

How long shall we mourn?
Wait for the flood of tears
Black burial shrouds
Like oceans to swallow each corpse?

Tears of salt, sea of salt.
Who would not drown here?
Lungs pressed tight.
With the crush of mourning,
To catch your breath
Fear rages against wrath
In every hazard faced.
They fell us one by one
And we ask
Who ordered, who paid
For every heart smashed,
Every brain blown apart?

Not us, but them
The slaves to fear, our executioners.
We remember, always remember,
The righteous fight is ours.
With each labouring arm linked,
With every strike and rising,
We recover our dignity,
We reclaim our rights.
The ground lays level wherever we stand.
Nation made martyr, what course but revolt?

(This poem, read at a gathering of civil libertarians at the Asian Center on March 19, 2005, responds to the slaying of activists Victor Concepcion of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipina and Rev. William Tadena, a supporter of Hacienda Luisita strikers. More than 900 activists have been slain under the Arroyo government.)


Nagmamang-maangan ako
tuwing aking kaarawan.

Nahuhulaan ko ang birthday cake,
Putaheng masarap
At lobong lumilipad-lipad
Ngunit nagpapanggap
Na walang nalalaman.
Pagbukas ng pintuan,
Tiyak ko nang sa pagbungad
Ay may sigaw ng pagbati,
Ngunit umaakma pa ring gulat
Samantalang abot tenga ang ngiti,
At masayang nagpapasalamat.

Ganito rin ang pagsinta.
Parang sorpresa.
Kapwa kaya naghihintay,
Nag-aabang ng pagtatapat?
Pigilan pa ang damdaming umaalpas.
Huwag tusukin agad
Ang lobo ng pangarap.

Ika-15 ng Marso 2005


I feign complete ignorance
every year on my birthday.

I can guess at the birthday cake,
the menu decadent
balloons flying.
Though I pretend
To know nothing.
When the door opens
I know my arrival precipitates
The shouts that greet me,
Even while I go on aping shock
Still smiling ear to ear
Extending warmest thanks.

Not unlike love.
A "surprise."
We are waiting
in anticipation of the confession?
Swallow the upswell of emotion a little longer.
Wait, don't burst this
helium hope.

Translations by Mark Pangilinan

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