Tag Archives: Barbara Jane Reyes

On “Liking” and Being “Liked”

I’ve just come across this article, “Against Enthusiasm: The Epidemic Niceness in Online Book Culture” on Slate.

The problem with Liking is that it’s a critical dead-end, a conversation nonstarter. It’s opinion without evidence—or, really, posture without opinion. For every “+1,” “THIS,” or “<3” we offer next to someone’s fawning tweet, a feeling is expressed without saying much at all. And in the next review or essay, it will show.


I remember Barbara Jane Reyes writing awhile back about online literary life and dialogue before Facebook and Twitter.  Instead of perpetual “liking” on Facebook (which I admit, I’m apt to doing), folks wrote thoughtful posts on their blogs and their followers responded with actual words and fully-formed sentences.  Thinking about my online work with The Blood-Jet Writing Hour, I try to create honest, critical dialogue with the guests on the show and with listeners through the Facebook fan page.  I’ve found that when I post questions on the page, in order to encourage listener participation and feedback, I’m often greeted by crickets and a host of “likes.” 

Going back to the Slate article on “blind enthusiasm,” I can’t help but think of the communities where I read, write, engage in dialogue and exchange work.  In the effort to build communities online and in-person, especially for writers-of-color, does “niceness” and enthusiasm restrict our ability to give honest feedback or write critical reviews of each other’s work (which is important!)?  Amidst the kumbaya-ing, do we begin to care more about “safe spaces” than the writing itself?  After fostering a “safe” community (and I put safe in quotes because I think that nowhere is a safe space for writing), where do we go from there?  Lastly, if we do practice critical reading and writing of each other’s work, are we afraid of airing our “dirty laundry” for the public to see?


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Work Update: Summer Sessions with the Aswang

Cristina Victor, an artist friend of mine, drew this incredible aswang a year or two ago, in response to one of poems.

*The Aswang Manuscript

The aswang manuscript is undergoing some radical revision.

The manuscript is organized by the different creatures the aswang embodies:

1.) Weredog

2.) Vampira

3.) Viscera Sucker

4.) Witch

5.) Manananggal

I’ve revisited a number of poems to play with form.  I want the form to reflect the changing, elusive creatures of the aswang, which means working with the fragment and the image even more.  For a long while, I felt tied to the linear narrative of the aswang and her mother, even when it wasn’t working.  I’ve cut a bunch of lines and poems, which was liberating.  I am also letting go or saving some of the world’s fair poems I’ve written.  They just don’t fit right now.

When I sent my manuscript to friends and other poets, the question of my body came up.  Where was it?

I’m interweaving the difficult poems I wrote in Chris Abani’s workshop last spring with the aswang poems I already had.  Poems of trauma, colonization, violence among families and women, violence committed against the body, the Filipina brown body.  Poems of girlhood, motherhood and daughterhood.  Some in persona, a few not.  For a while, I’ve kept these separate, but it’s fascinating to see them in dialogue.  I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere with organizing the manuscript.

During VONA, I spoke with Elmaz Abinader about her thoughts on this project.  She suggested playing with the performance of it, which speaks to the persona nature of the project.

This fall, I plan to stage a section of the aswang poems  in conjunction with UC Riverside’s Golden Mean Theater Group this fall.  If you all know of any Pinay actors, let me know!

*Writings on Filipino Mythology

TAYO founder and fellow VONA attendee, Melissa Sipin and I have been in dialogue about editing an anthology of literature inspired by Filipino mythology.

We found this call for submissions on the PAWA blog, but we want to open it up to other genres, besides fiction, and we want Filipino writers from all over the diaspora to submit.  We’re inspired by the work of Barbara Jane Reyes, Aimee Nezuhukumatahil, Ninotchka Rosca, Noel Mariano, Oliver de la Paz, Maina Minahal, Aimee Suzara and more…

We want seasoned and emerging Filipino writers represented in the anthology (which we want in both print and online venues).

Is there something like this out there already?  Who are other Filipina/o writers who could fit into this project?


Filed under aswang, writing process

Summer Slouch AKA I don’t want this blog to die…

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

I have been thinking about blogging a lot lately but thinking isn’t the same as doing. Still, here I am.

I want to talk about the past year in the EM-EFF-AY (OH-EM-GEE), my experience at the VONA Voices Workshop, the progress of the manuscript/s (plural maybe?), some projects/goals I am working towards (a YA book, an anthology on Asian American mythologies, fixing up a paper on Lynda Barry and J. Torres for the upcoming MLA Conference)…which I will write about soon.

For now, I leave you with this …

*An incredible manifesto by the fabulous Ching-In Chen on the Doveglion Press website (curated by the equally awesome Barbara Jane Reyes and Oscar Bermeo).  Read it!

And my ever-growing Summer 2011 Reading List:

*Names Above Houses by Oliver de la Paz  — I’m finally getting to Oliver’s first collection, and falling in love with Fidelito, a boy who longs to fly.

*Steady, My Gaze by Marie-Elizabeth Mali — who will be on The Blood-Jet next Tuesday!  I’m excited to talk with her about her first book.

*Sudden Fiction Latino: Short-Short Stories From The United States and Latin America edited by Robert Shapard, James Thomas and Ray Gonzalez — I just read the first story, “White Girl” by Luis Alberto Urrea; explosive, haunting, and I wish it were longer!

*Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor —  I love witches!  And I get so excited about writers of color who write “genre” fiction, especially fantasy and sci-fi.  This YA books is by and about a young Nigerian girl with powers.  Check out this list by Adriel Luis who compiled “The Ultimate 21st Century Guide People of Color List” on Colorlines Magazine.

*and one more (a guilty read)…Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin — Because I loved the show on HBO so much, I needed to find out what happened next!  And then I found out there are 4-5 thickass, 1,000 page books that follow. I don’t know if I should keep drinking the Kool-Aid.

What are YOU reading this summer?

oh, and p.s. I have a poem, “Litany for Silence,” on the Splinter Generation website.  If you wish, please read.


Filed under currently reading, summer, YA

Three Spring Readings

Barbara Jane Reyes just posted a great, thought-provoking post on literary activism over at Harriet Blog. I recommend reading it!  I wholeheartedly agree that more documentation of readings and literary events needs to happen.  I used to scramble on YouTube, looking for poetry performances to show students.  I think Hilda Weiss over at Poetry.LA does an incredible job of documenting readings at dozens of diverse venues all over Southern California. Here’s an interview I conducted with her over at cratelit.

BJR also mentions her aversion towards conferences for important discussions/topics, specifically women of color publishing and visibility.  I agree for the most part, thinking about my last experience at an academic conference.  Though I think that conferences sometimes can be a good jumping off point, and a good way to meet folks and see where folks from different communities overlap.  Hmm, I suppose it depends on the conference.

Speaking of readings, I’ve hosted/participated/attended in a few the past week.  The first at Back to the Grind, a local coffee shop in Riverside, for high school students in an after-school creative writing workshop series I co-taught with my colleagues, Kamala Puligandla and Angel Garcia.  Our students read some wonderful stories and poems though I wish we spent more time on performance.  Many of them became really interested in performance and theater towards the end of our workshop, but we didn’t have time to cover everything.  This is good to note for next time.  This workshop was really my first engagement with Riverside outside of the MFA, and I was pleasantly surprised to see so many high school students who were and weren’t in our workshop at the reading.

I read at Skylight Books, one of my favorite L.A. bookstores, last Sunday with a group of MFA’ers.  It was truly an honor reading there.  Some of my PEN and MMIX friends came by to support, and it was wonderful seeing them since I no longer live close by.  Skylight was podcasting the event, and I’ll share the audio once it’s made available.

Lorna Dee Cervantes gave an incredible reading yesterday afternoon at UCR.  She read from Emplumada and Drive: The First Quartet (five books in one!), which was great since I’m quite new to her work.  I bought Drive and I’m excited to read it!  She read a poem riffed from Robert Hass’  advice to “know the names of things,” which was a beautiful catalog poem dedicated to immigrants “everywhere anytime.”  Her reading definitely sparked some poems.

I’ll be posting NaPoWriMo poems here occasionally, but not daily, as I’m posting poems on a collective private blog.  I hope you all are writing your ass off!

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Filed under 30 days/30 poems, los angeles, readings, UC Riverside, writing process

Being Brown at ‘Curious If True’: The Fantastic in Literature Conference

The spring quarter here at UCR started today, and I need to write this post before I forget.

I was invited by the University of Victoria to present my poems on the aswang and the St. Louis World’s Fair a few weeks back.  It was great to meet with other graduate students and Ph. D candidates from all over Canada and the U.S. and hear creative and academic work on fantastic literature.

For me, the keynote speaker, Hiromi Goto (Japanese Canadian fiction writer) was the highlight of the conference.  She presented on race and representation in Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea.  I haven’t read Le Guin but Goto did an excellent job of contextualizing her work.  She spoke about misreading the protagonist Ged (a young wizard) as white though he is described by Le Guin as a dark skinned man.  Goto reflected on her own childhood of reading stories about mostly white characters by mostly white authors.  She talked about a moment of recognition when she read A Cricket in Times Square by George Selden when Sai Fong, Chinatown shop owner, appears in the text.  No matter how essentialized Sai Fong’s character was, she was still struck by the inclusion of an Asian person in the story, since it was so rare to see.

Goto emphasized that the sense of place and body can’t be neutralized in reading, that the reader is reading from a context not a state of neutrality.  When Goto asked, “Is race an issue an when race is not an issue?” I couldn’t help look around the room, a habit formed from attending a nearly all-white college on the East Coast.    I had an idea that I was probably one of the only students of color but no idea until that moment that I was the ONLY one.  I couldn’t help but think about the First Nations and immigrant poets and writers who weren’t at the conference but deeply rooted in the landscape of Victoria.

As I mentioned earlier, I read poems from my project on the aswang and the World’s Fair, which are very much poems about the body politic.  It was strange to read these poems to a practically all-white audience.

Barbara Jane Reyes is talking about the role of pinayism and feminism in the poetry world over at her blog, and I’m thinking, too, about the role of the woman writer of color as critic, workshop presenter and scholar.

Hmm.  I’m still processing all of this.  I’ll write more later.

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Filed under readings, writing process

Cacti & Other Updates

Four brand-new cacti gracing my window sill

I think I’m settled in now.  I have about a gazillion books checked out from the UC Riverside Library; I made tatertot casserole and apple pie for new friends in my MFA program; I take the bus for free; new friends and I have a “table” at the local Pho place.  It feels good to be writing lots and lots.  Even though the lots and lots turn out to be mostly crap, it’s good practice, plus it’s fun.  And as it turns out, I’m challenged everyday by new friends, professors, the writers/poets I’ve been reading.  I’ve written my first fiction piece (ahh!), and I remembered how nice it is to have that beginner’s mindset.  There’s tons of risk involved, and you don’t know if it’s good or not but you just keep writing to see what happens.  I sometimes miss that in poetry.  Occasionally when I start a new poem, I have a lot of expectations of what should be on the page.   So, it’s refreshing to not have that in prose.

Okay, here are a list of work/poetry things I’ve been thinking about recently (I apologize — this might be more for me than for you, reader, though maybe you can answer some of my questions):

*ASWANG PROJECT.  Is it appropriate to workshop poems from a larger series of poems?  I understand that poems should stand alone, but must EVERY poem need to summarize or define what the aswang is or detail the world in which the poem is set?

*MANUSCRIPT?  I’ve just re-read Barbara Jane Reyes’s post on the “doneness” of poetry manuscripts on her blog here, which she wrote in response to a question I had.  I’ve sent out a manuscript to a dear Kundiman friend and am planning to send it out to others.  I had originally planned on writing an entire book on the aswang, but now I’m not so sure.  Maybe I’ve been sitting on these poems for too long?  Some of the poems I’ve lightly revised, but now I feel like they’re too dusty to even touch.  I’ve been writing a lot of non-aswang poems and wonder where these poems will go.  Lots of questions on this.

*THE BLOOD-JET.  I’ve put the radio show on hold, since I’m back in school, but I’ve now finally found some time to broadcast it.  I’m excited to talk to Aimee Suzara, writer and performer, about her new play, A History of the Body.  She’ll be on the show this Wednesday morning.  Check it out.  I’m still planning the Fall/Winter schedule, and it’ll be fun to get into the full swing of things again.

*BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS.  I’m taking a craft of fiction class, and I often feel like I know nothing, which is good because this means I need to read more.

Here’s my short list:

-THE ENGLISH PATIENT by Michael Ondaatje

-THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy


-INTERPRETER OF MALADIES by Jhumpa Lahiri (I’m re-reading this)

-Both books by Junot Diaz (re-reading)

-SAG HARBOR by Colson Whitehead (Thanks to Rio)


*AND, YAY.  I’ve just signed up for winter quarter classes, and wow, the time just zips by.  I realize how lucky I am to be writing full-time.  Most people don’t get to do this.  I hear it all the time — the two years in grad school go by quickly– and I want to take full advantage of it.

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Filed under currently reading, MFA, the blood-jet, UC Riverside, writing process

Barbara Jane Reyes at USC tomorrow, October 8th!

I know I haven’t been updating much lately.  School has been crazy (in a good way)!  I’ll be updating soon re: MFA stories but for now, I wanted to share this event featuring poet Barbara Jane Reyes.  Hope to see you there!

TAYO Reading | Diwata: A Reading with Barbara Jane Reyes

October 5 · 8:00pm – 9:00pm

Location USC Doheny Library, Intellectual Commons (RM 233, 2nd Floor)

3550 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles, CA

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Come join us for a night of poetry! Poet Barbara Jane Reyes, the author of Diwata, will be presenting her book of poems at the University of Southern California, Doheny Memorial Library in the Intellectual Commons (Room 233, 2nd Floor).

Support your local Filipino poets and come mingle with TAYO and other literary/artistic-minded people. Barbara will be selling her poetry book and TAYO will also be selling its 2nd issue at this e…vent.

Parking $8 (PSX & PSD)
Gate 3 Entrance on Figueroa Blvd. and McCarthy Way

Ask attendant for walking directions to Doheny Library.


About Barbara Jane Reyes:

Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of Diwata (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2010). She was born in Manila, Philippines, raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is the author of two previous collections of poetry, Gravities of Center (Arkipelago Books, 2003) and Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish Press, 2005), which received the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets.

Her chapbooks, Easter Sunday (2008), Cherry (2008), and West Oakland Sutra for the AK-47 Shooter at 3:00 AM and other Oakland poems (2008) are published by Ypolita Press, Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, and Deep Oakland Editions, respectively. Her poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in Asian Pacific American Journal, Chain, Interlope, Kartika Review, Lantern Review, Latino Poetry Review, New American Writing, North American Review, Notre Dame Review, XCP: Cross Cultural Poetics, among others.

She received her B.A. in Ethnic Studies at U.C. Berkeley and her M.F.A. at San Francisco State University. She has taught Creative Writing at Mills College, and Philippine Studies at University of San Francisco. She lives with her husband, poet Oscar Bermeo, in Oakland, where she is co-editor of Doveglion Press.


About TAYO Literary Magazine:

TAYO is the Tagalog word for “We” or “Us” and “To Stand Up.”

TAYO Literary Magazine is geared towards one purpose: bringing the Filipino-American community together through the arts. We empower Filipino-Americans through creative forms of expression, such as poetry, essays, photography, paintings and drawings.

Together, we capture the complexity of our culture and community.

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Filed under los angeles, poets i love, readings

MMIX Readings and “The Blood-Jet” on Poetry Foundation


Thanks to MMIX Writers Los Angeles, MorYork Gallery, Cafe Muse, folks who came out to all the wonderful literary events this month.  I love doing themed readings.  The MorYork reading was centered on childhood; Cafe Muse on sex.  It was fun to play around with my setlist and read poems I don’t usually read.  It was also nice to give my aswang poems a break for once.

Below are photos from the reading at the gorgeous MorYork Gallery.

For more photos, check out the MMIX Blog and Sorin Constantin’s website.

In other news…

Thanks to Barbara Jane Reyes who interviewed me about “The Blood-Jet Writing Hour” on PoetryFoundation.org.

“Poetry is the blood-jet. There is no stopping it.” –Sylvia Plath

I wanted to shout out Rachelle Cruz, whose work I was introduced to a couple of years ago at the San Francisco Litquake’s boisterous Litcrawl, where she read for the API arts org, Kearny Street Workshop. I picked up her chapbook, honey may soon run out, because I was impressed with how concrete, meticulous, and emotionally well-considered her poems and her reading were. She’s a young and energetic poet, a recent PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow, and I am confident we’ll be seeing all kinds of good work coming from her in years to come. Currently, she is the host of the weekly The Blood-Jet Writing Hour online radio show.

You can read the rest of the article here.

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Filed under emerging voices, los angeles, MMIX, readings