Barbara Jane Reyes

Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of Gravities of Center, Poeta en San Francisco, and Diwata. She is currently an adjunct professor in Philippine Studies at University of San Francisco. She and her husband, poet Oscar Bermeo, plan to launch Doveglion Books in 2010.

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

In 1990, as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, I was taken into the fledgling Filipino American literary publication, Maganda. To this day, I believe my few years of experience as an editor there are some of my favorite editorial experiences.

To be more accurate, I was a proto-emerging poet at the time, not so well-read in American poetry at all, not exposed to any Filipino American authors, both of which in many ways, worked to my advantage because our expectations were so open. As a collective editorial body with quite diverse criteria and opinions, we decided through lengthy sessions what kind of poetry we liked and disliked, whether it was "message," or whether a poem made sense as it was presented on the page; we gradually developed a rudimentary but critical language about Filipino American poetry. That is to say, we debated over whether it was good enough for a poem to speak some kind of personal, historical, or cultural "truth," to be voiced with some "sincerity." We debated over a poem's apparent cleverness with wordplay, rhyme, identifiable traditional poetic form, how and why these were or were not well-executed.

We did this with so little mentorship. In Ethnic Studies courses, we started to read poems which were integral parts of political movements; still, real live Filipino American poets were virtually nonexistent to us. We came to hear about Jessica Hagedorn, the San Francisco based Asian American arts org Kearny Street Workshop, and the publication Liwanag. Through KSW and Liwanag, we started to hear about Al Robles, Jaime Jacinto, Virginia Cerenio, Jeff Tagami, et al. Publication of their first books of poetry was happening so vibrantly at the time.

It was exciting to be regarded by these poets as a part of this history of Filipino American literature. It was also exciting to find in our mailbox an envelope of poems from the then unknown to us poet and editor Nick Carbó. This was 1994. The poems he sent us, which we happily accepted for Maganda #8, would later be seen in his first book of poems, El Grupo McDonald's (Tia Chucha Press, 1995). This was when it hit me, that Filipino American poets outside of our Bay Area communities were taking notice of us; our community was growing.

I believe that my exposure to these poets' community and artistic works contributed to my ever developing poetic vocabulary in the editorial process, and in the formation of my own poetic work. Holding their books in my hands made it possible for me to envision myself as an author.

I always think of this Lucille Clifton poem, "won't you celebrate with me":
won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge ...
These lines speak to me about my work with Maganda, how we began by feeling around in the dark, making it all up as we went along, until poet elders, potential mentors, and the larger community took notice.


After Rachelle Cruz and Vince Gotera

I am the dark-hued bitch; see how wide my maw, my bloodmoon eyes,
And by daylight, see the tangles and knots of my riverine hair.
I am the bad daughter, the freedom fighter, the shaper of death masks.
I am the snake, I am the crone; I am caretaker of these ancient trees.
I am the winged tik-tik, tik-tik, tik-tik, tik-tik; I am close,
And from under the floorboards, the grunting black pig,
Cool in the dirt, mushrooms between my toes, I wait.
I am the encroaching wilderness, the bowels of these mountains.
I am the opposite of your blessed womb, I am your inverted mirror.
Guard your unborn children, burn me with your seed and salt,
Upend me, bend my body, cleave me beyond function. Blame me.

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