Eileen Tabios introduces Gravities of Center by Barbara J. Pulmano Reyes
(Arkipelago Books Publishing, San Francisco, 2003)
HOPE: A POETICS AND THE ENERGY OF DESIRE
I was suggesting recently to another poet, “Poetry is energy. Poetry is the continued movement of making connections to unify together the shards of this fragmented universe.” Perhaps I’ll change my mind tomorrow, but right now I agree with (my)self and, indeed, see “proof” through Barbara Jane Reyes’ first poetry book, Gravities of Center. From a “language of rupture,” Barbara created poems that do not always spoonfeed meaning to their readers. By doing so, she is as generous, if not more generous, than narrative poets who are less elliptical. For it is through the ruptures in text that Barbara creates spaces for the reader to participate in the significance-making of the Poem; the psychological caesuras allowed by fragmented or collaged text create a site for interaction. She adapts poetic form to reflect her acknowledgment of the reader’s presence, which is to say, Barbara is writing poems in order to engage in community-making.
In turn, however, the reader cannot remain passive in reading. Between the lines, words, letters—within the gaps of text-less space throughout this book—the reader must give back by proactively considering what these poems mean, if they are to mean anything. There is a reason, after all, why Barbara at one point wrote a poem about “101 words that don’t quite describe me.” For one, she is conscious of the limitations of language. But she is also describing you. She is asking, “Dear Reader, what do these poems say about you?”
But unlike other contemporary poets (Filipino or not) who self-consciously address the flux of identity, Barbara doesn’t erase her “I” from her poems. Her presence is palpable, even as she urges you to help define what these poems shall become. This position is critical for a self-described “Pilipina” or “Pinay.” Her presence needs to be palpable—tangible and not intangible, quite viscerally physical—because she considers her poems to be part of a Pilipino/a literary tradition that give “an otherwise silenced people a voice and a presence upon the American landscape.”
Barbara explains, “i was taught ‘pilipina’ (vs. ‘filipina’) is the tagalog word for i am. hence, a self-naming as a native tagalog speaker, however subtracted by ability. in that way it is a political choice because i was taught that ‘filipino/a’ was the english word and that there is no ‘f’ in tagalog. to further politicize: the use of ‘pinay’ has its roots in the formation of stateside/california pil am communities. ‘pinoy’ originated w/ the manong generation to differentiate btwn themselves and the ‘pensionados,’ whose loyalties were still to the philippines. so I use the term ‘pinay’ ironically, in many ways, since socio-economically and educationally, i am more ‘pensionado’ than ‘pinoy.’ but in terms of where I consider ‘home,’ it’s here.”
By “here,” Barbara means Bay Area, CA which contains a sizeable Filipino/a and/or Pilipino/a population. This is significance because, ultimately, Barbara considers “place” to be meaningful to her poetics. (“Place” encompasses more than geographical residence as she remains open enough to write poems about other spaces, e.g. Mexico, the Philippines of course, but even Napa Valley. The openness to new experiences is a critical part of being a poet; Barbara is a poet who will not limit her poems to political influence.)
Consequently, to experience Barbara’s poems is to learn about the specifics of a Pilipina’s experience. And it is also to experience the ‘universality’ of desire and loss—that is, despite the consistency of losses, the stubbornness of never-ending desire. You neecd not be :Pilipiino/a” (or even “Filipino/a”) to connect with Barbara’s poems. But by engaging us all in the poetry of Desire, you need to be as present as Barbara is in her poems. So enter these poems, and stay a while. Think. (Research those F/Pilipino references, just as you are asked to research French, Greek, and other European references in poems that more likely comprise the literary canon.) Think again. Feel. Feel More. Want! Pleasure awaits, and it is of your own making. Hope.
San Francisco, 2002
Eileen R. Tabios is a poet, fictionist, cultural activist, critic, publisher, editor and visual artist. She loves books, and thus has released about 30 collections of poetry, essays, fiction and experimental biographies from publishers in nine countries and cyberspace. She has also edited or conceptualized ten anthologies of poetry, fiction and art. She has released two “Selected Poems”—one focused on the prose poem and the other on the catalog poem; she believes a poetry collection revolving around form is the best way to prove whether she has expanded the poetic landscape. She also invented the “hay(na)ku,” a diasporic poetic form that has been taken up by poets around the world. More information is available at http://eileenrtabios.com