ROSE BOOKER Reviews
To Love as Aswang: Songs, Fragments & Found Objects by Barbara Jane Reyes
(Philippine American Writers & Artists, Inc., 2015)
To be Devoured as To Devour: A Review of To Love as Aswang
There are books that you can gobble down quickly, like dollar store candy or a Taco Bell taco. Then there are books that require you to stop every bite and appreciate their taste, their complexity, and their beauty. It is a full body experience to savor this kind of meals.
To Love as Aswang, by Barbara Jane Reyes, is that kind of book.
Deceptively short, about 83 pages total, this poetic masterpiece gives the reader a taste of what it means to be a Pinay, what it means to grapple with the term. What it means, in a sense, to be.
Which leads me to the red ribbon that connects each poem: to be. Each poem has a title in this form, beginning with “To Pierce the Heart” and ending “To Return a Heroine.” It’s as if Reyes is asking: is being a Pinay a verb or a noun—an object to be acted on or an active subject which attempts to break free of silencing mechanisms.
On the surface, the answer seems clear: a Pinay is an active being. However, this is challenged by Reyes and by the facts of the past which haunt each line of her poetry. In particular, “To Sell Sweetie,” brings out this drama of identity, and demands that we take a look at what it means to be Pinay.
To Sell Sweetie
“Sweetie” is a digital decoy designed to trick perverts into thinking they’re having webcam sessions with a real live 10-year-old Filipina. In just two months, researchers were able to identify 1,000 people who offered money to the fake profile in exchange for sex acts. According to the Netherlands-based children’s rights group Terre des Hommes, who developed Sweetie, the decoy was approached by nearly 20,000 people…
– Jezebel.com, November 5, 2013
Sinless Sweetie sells self
Sweetie sells cyborg sex
Sweetie strips schoolgirl sexy
Sassy Sweetie submits sugar
Circle swoop score Sweetie
Spread Sweetie, savor Sweetie
Soft Sweetie, siren Sweetie
Spank Sweetie, sully Sweetie
Slit slanty slyph Sweetie
Sweetie’s starving, save Sweetie
Simply sumptuous, Sweetie sins
Sweetie satisfies, Sweetie serves
To say that “To Sell Sweetie,” “To Conceive Sweetie (10 F Philippines),” and “To Go Along With Others” hit me hard would be an understatement. I re-read each poem several times, before I braved going forward. For me as an internet native, as a Pinay writer myself, these poems hit me hard and I recommend everyone who uses the internet on a daily basis to read them.
The title poem, “To Love As Aswang,” summarizes the popular identity of Pinays around the world: part desired object, but simultaneously a demonic subject. By the end of the book, the question hangs on as a group of heroines return home. To them, it seems, it is enough to be.
I recommend this book to anyone who loves poetry, Filipino Literature, mythology, feminism, and beauty.
Rose Booker, a mixed race Filipina, was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Booker holds a MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and a BA in English from the University of California, Berkeley. She is one of the founding members of the Folio at UC Berkeley (https://sites.google.com/site/thefolioucb/) and a featured reader at many literary events. Recently, she has relocated to the Pacific Northwest where she works in Early Childhood Education. For more on her, please check out her blog at rosebooker.com.