From Vince Gotera, who tagged Barbara Jane Reyes: The “virtual blog tour” is an excellent, friendly way for writers, artists, and other creative folks to bring attention to their own work as well as that of others. It begins with an invitation from another artist or writer. Then in your blog you acknowledge the person who invited you, answer four given questions about your work and your process, and then invite three other people to participate. These people then do the same thing, referring their blog readers to the blogs of three more people, and so on. It’s a wonderful sort of “pyramid scheme” that’s beneficial for everyone: the artists and writers as well as the readers of their blogs. We can follow links from blog to blog and then we can all learn about different kinds of creative process and also find new writers and artists we may not have known about before.
The talented, intelligent, and wonderfully fierce Barbara Jane Reyes tagged me in poet Vince Gotera’s “Virtual Blog Tour.” I’m very excited and thankful to participate. Barbara has been, ever since I met her at the footsteps of the Long Beach Airport in 2009, one of the most influential mentors of my work. As an emerging pinay writer, I’m indebted to Barbara–she is one of the giants in my community who has paved the way for so many more pin@ys to follow. Here’s a more formal biographical statement of Ate Barb:
Barbara Jane Reyes is the author of Diwata (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2010), winner of the Global Filipino Literary Award for Poetry and a finalist for the California Book Award. 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. She is also the author of the chapbooks Easter Sunday (Ypolita Press, 2008) Cherry (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2008), and For the City that Nearly Broke Me (Aztlan Libre Press, 2012). An Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow, she received her B.A. in Ethnic Studies at U.C. Berkeley and her M.F.A. at San Francisco State University. She is an adjunct professor at University of San Francisco’s Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program, where she teaches Filipino/a Literature in Diaspora, and Filipina Lives and Voices in Literature. She has also taught Filipino American Literature at San Francisco State University, and graduate poetry workshop at Mills College, and currently serves on the board of Philippine American Writers and Artists (PAWA). She lives with her husband, poet Oscar Bermeo, in Oakland, where she is co-editor of Doveglion Press.
Pretty impressive and fierce, right? You can find out more about her at www.barbarajanereyes.com.
Here’s a poem of Barbara that I wanted to share.
[asking] by BJR
there is ghazal swimming inside of her, wanting to be born. on the matter of foretelling, of small miracles, cactus flowers in bloom on this city fire escape, where inside your tongue touches every inch of her skin, where you lay your hand on her belly and sleep. here, she fingers the ornate remains of ancient mosques. here, some mythic angel will rise from the dust of ancestors’ bones. this is where you shall worship, at the intersections of distilled deities and memory’s sharp edges. the country is quite a poetic place; water and rock contain verse and metaphor, even wild grasses reply in rhyme. you are not broken. she knows this having captured a moment of lucidity; summer lightning bugs, sun’s rays in a jelly jar.
this is not a love poem, but a cove to escape the flux, however momentary. she is still a child, confabulating the fantastic; please do not erode her wonder for the liquid that is your language. there is thunderstorm in her chest, wanting to burst through her skin. this is neither love poem nor plea. this is not river, nor stone.
The last stanza kills me each time. The profession: “this is not a love poem, but a cover to escape the flux, however / momentary. she is still a child, confabulating the fantastic…” How powerful is this line, how representative it is of the girl who is living the tides of change, who is in a constant transition of becoming, who is the epitome of the dalaga (a woman on the brink of becoming / on the brink of an awakening). I remember reading this poem in Poeta en San Francisco when it first came out, and I remember when it came back to me when a dear poet friend in my MFA program urged me to read this poem on the eve of our graduation day. “Read this poem,” she said to me as we drank coffee and wine (such was the writer’s life in an MFA program), “Doesn’t it speak to you? If I come out of this program and can write a poem like this, I’ll feel… I’ll know that I’ve changed as a writer. As a person.”
I would like to think that the tides of the world, the hand of G-d maybe, brought Barbara and me together. I’ve changed, shifted, and became because of her mentorship. As a writer just recently out of an MFA program, I feel as if I am, again, pushed back to this awkward period of my life, where I am unsure of who I am, frustrated with my want to be validated by others, especially with my want to be validated because of my work. I am stuck in this flogging stage of “doing,” thinking that the work that I do–the community work, the writing, the giving, the whipping–will solidify my need to be seen. It’s exhausting. I am exhausted. But thankfully, because of my mentorship with Barbara, Elmaz Abinader, M. Evelina Galang, and the love of many others–of my husband, my familia, my friends, my community–I am finally learning to just “become,” to “be,” to stop the “doing,” and begin the “being.”
It’s why I wanted to share this artwork by my sister along with Barbara’s poem:
Yes, my sister is insanely talented as well. Her artwork–as well as Barbara’s–formulate to me that intensive and chaotic state of becoming. As I sit here, two-thousand miles away from home in an empty apartment still awaiting my Ubox from California, still awaiting my husband who is out to sea (yet again), alone and jittery and anxious and hopeful, I am thankful that this Virtual Blog Tour came to me at this particular moment in my life. After my workshop at VONA/Voices this past June with Junot Díaz, I’ve been in this depressive daze, this writing slump. And it’s hard for me to not be hard on myself–but for crying out loud, I just finished my MFA program, and yes, I finally found a job: I’m happy to announce I finally found two English adjunct positions here in the Hampton Roads area.
So, let’s get to the four questions on process, shall we?
1. What are you currently working on?
I’m currently trying to finishing my interlinked short story collection, which is tentatively called, An Eden on Dolores Street. It’s a story that’s very close to my heart, and Dolores Marie Dulay, the main character, is my alter ego. This was my thesis at Mills College, and I’m currently working on transforming it into a full-fledge book. My aim for the book is to portray the differing landscapes of the Filipino diaspora, toggling between Manila, California, and the Middle East, rehashing the immigrant daughter’s song of belonging and un-belonging.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Similar to Nami Mun’s Miles from Nowhere, Patricia Engel’s Vida, and Díaz’s Drown, my interlinked collection strives to map the inner and outer landscapes of a Filipino family bent on surviving; however, unlike Mun, Engel, and Díaz, my collection wrestles with America’s colonizing history, mirroring the effects of U.S. militarism and the Marcos regime on one family, on one feisty and spitfire girl, Dolores. It is a story of trying to make a home despite where one lands, of terrible partings and conflicted reunions, of people working and working to eke out a life, of generational conflicts as old world values clash with the newer ones needed to reinvent a new self in the new world. An Eden on Dolores Street reclaims, remakes, and rebirths the story of Dolores, of immigrant daughters, of lost and adrift girls seeking to live and recreate an Eden, a home, wherever they go.
3. Why do you write/create what you do?
I create, I write, because it is what I’ve always done. It is something that adds a distinct layer of nuance, complexity, observation, and love that no other action or behavior can add to my life–it’s like one’s decision to get married or to have children. Writing adds something to my life that nothing else can. It has saved my life. It is, like Alice Walker has said, an act that saves the life that is your own. Writing is hard, it is difficult, I hate it most of the time, and I feel depressed constantly because of its demands and whips and needs. But what I love about it, what I need from it, is its process. I will always quote Flannery O’Connor to explain why I write: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Writing is process. Life is process. For me, writing gives me the Page to unleash, unburden, give, communicate, and create, and for this, I write; for this, I live.
4. How does your writing/creating process work?
To be really quite honest, it works when it needs to. I am not one of those writers who carries a whip that resembles hours. I do not need to write five hours a day. Most of the time, I write when my body needs to, or toward deadlines, or especially when I am alone and I need to communicate to something, whether it’s a Higher Power or my imaginary reader. And honestly, I do find when I am living, traveling, or doing, I am writing too.
And now, I’m tagging three amazing writers who I love and admire very much. These three are pretty damn ballin’. And to be honest, watch out for these three women writers. They’re fierce, talented, incredibly smart, and will rule the publishing world very soon.
Elaine Castillo was born in the San Francisco Bay Area and currently lives in southeast London. Her writing can be found or is forthcoming at make/shift magazine, The Rumpus, [PANK] Magazine and Feminist Review, among others. She is also a board member of Digital Desperados, a Glasgow-based film collective for women of color. At the end of March, one of her short films was screened at The Future Weird, a Brooklyn-based film series run by Derica Shields and Megan Eardly, devoted to films exploring non-Western futurisms. She is currently at work on a novel, A Filipineia. www.kamustakanamare.tumblr.com
Sally Wen Wao is the author of Mad Honey Symposium (Alice James Books, May 2014). Her poetry has been published or forthcoming in The Best American Poetry 2013, Black Warrior Review, Gulf Coast, Kenyon Review Online, and Third Coast. Read her first published flash fiction piece in GUERNICA. (I’m not sure if Sally has a blog. I really recommend buying her debut book here.)
Karissa Chen is a writer living in New Jersey. She is the author of the chapbook, Of Birds and Lovers, published by Corgi Snorkel Press. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK, The Good Men Project, Pindeldyboz, and Kartika Review among others. Her short story “Decency” recently placed fifth in the Writers Digest Short Short Story Competition. She was a recipient of the diFilipis-Rosselli Scholarship at the Napa Valley Writers Conference in 2011 and a Kundiman Fiction fellow and a VONA/Voices fellow. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She has coordinated and facilitated creative writing workshops for incarcerated young men in Valhalla, New York. She currently serves as the fiction & poetry editor at Hyphen magazine, where she curates The Hyphen Reader, a monthly round-up of Asian American literature from around the web, and is a co-founding editor at Some Call It Ballin’, a new sports literary quarterly. www.karissachen.com