The Halo-Halo Review is pleased to interview authors in the aftermath of their books’ releases. This issue’s featured authors include Barbara Jane Reyes:
What is your most recent book?
Letters to a Young Brown Girl (BOA Editions, Ltd.)
When was it released?
What has been the response/what has surprised you most about the response?
I am most encouraged that Brown Girls, including and especially Pinays, are reading the book, outside of the American Poetry scene, outside of scholarly spaces, in book clubs, as Bookstagrammers. This is so affirming, because I know I wrote the book the way I wrote it, to and for Brown Girls, with the hopes that they would want to read it, and see pieces of themselves, and hear their voices resonating in these poems.
Actually, what surprised me the most was the amazing moment when I woke up to find Ruby Ibarra reading my poem, “Track: ‘A Little Bit of Ecstasy,’ Jocelyn Enriquez (1997)” in The New York Times, which told me something about the value (and need?) of these poem for Pinays.
Tell me something not obvious or known about the book.
I have been thinking about my adolescence, locking myself in my bedroom in our crowded family home, reading books, listening to records — overcome by songs whose ascending musical chords just gave me the chills. I know that’s one of the emotional contexts for the book, being a misfit young brown girl wanting, longing for something so bad, but not knowing exactly what that was. I believe this is apparent enough in the book, but as I keep thinking about it and returning to that emotional place, it trips me out how that defines so much of my poetics. It’s honest and so earnest, if not dramatic, the young brown girl locking herself up in the tiniest space she can call her own, dreaming of creating art. I feel like that will always be a part of who I am.
What are you working on right now?
Two things: (1) I have just finished and submitted my non-poetry manuscript, Wanna Peek Into My Notebook?: Notes on Pinay Liminality, to my publisher, Aileen Cassinetto of Paloma Press. I’m excited and anxious about having a non-poetry book in the world — lyric essays, epistolaries, reflections, lists, questions on poetics and creative process, community building, and teaching. (2) I am working on a poetry manuscript, which I have titled Daughtersong Diaspore. I’ve banged out a first draft and am continuing to build the thing. My mom passed away last year, so the poems are elegy, full of grieving, which has so many dimensions, deep visceral loss — think of that beautiful line from WandaVision, “What is grief, if not love persevering?” — as well as the grief and loss which I realize now comes from my lifelong lack of fluency in my mother’s native tongue, Ilocano. I have been thinking, what if I never truly knew her, as I only knew her not in her first language, but through translation.
Barbara Jane Reyes is a longtime Bay Area poet, author, and educator. She is the author of Letters to a Young Brown Girl (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2020), Invocation to Daughters (City Lights Publishers, 2017), To Love as Aswang (Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc., 2015), Diwata (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2010), Poeta en San Francisco (TinFish Press, 2005), and Gravities of Center (Arkipelago Books Publishing, 2003). Wanna Peek Into My Notebook?: Notes on Pinay Liminality is forthcoming from Paloma Press in 2022.
She teaches Pinay Literature, and Diasporic Filipina/o/x Literature in the Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. She lives with her husband, poet and educator Oscar Bermeo, in Oakland.