Friday, April 29, 2022


 In addition to aggregating reviews from the internet, THE HALO-HALO REVIEW presents The Mangozine which features new reviews and serves as the online publisher for reviews and other engagements (e.g. book introductions) published in print but not yet available within the internet.  Other features, including author interviews and reader testimonials, also will be presented. The following presents a Table of Contents for Issue 13 -- CLICK on links to go to the reviews.

Submission deadline for the 14th issue has been set at Nov. 15, 2022 (though we will take reviews sooner than the deadline if that is more convenient for the reviewers).

(April  2022)

Editor's Note:  Welcome to the 13th issue of THE HALO-HALO REVIEW where we provide engagements with Filipino-Pilipinz literature and art and authors/artists through reviews and engagements, interviews and other prose. We hope readers, writers, artists, and publishers will continue to participate and share information about numerous Filipino authors and the wide variety of their writings. 


100 Pink Poems para ka Leni/for Leni edited by Noel Romero del Prado, Emmanuel Quintos Velasco and Krip Yuson (San Anselmo Press, Philippines, 2022)

Engaged by Eileen Tabios

The Son of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio (Ecco/Harper Collins, 2020)

Reviewed by Michael Caylo-Baradi


The short story “Here Be Dragons” from The Infinite Library and Other Stories by Victor Fernando R. Ocampo (Gaudy Boy, Singapore, 2021)

Reviewed by Justine Villanueva

Witness in the Convex Mirror by Eileen R. Tabios (TinFish Press, Hawai'i, 2019)

Engaged by Leny M. Strobel


Letters To A Young Brown Girl by Barbara Jane Reyes (BOA Editions Ltd., Rochester, NY, 2020)

Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater

FE: A Traumatized Son's Graphic Memoir by Bren Bataclan (Philippine American Writers and Artists Inc., 2020)

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ann Quirino


Marka Demonyo by Lourd De Veyra (Anvil, Philippines, 2020)

Reviewed by Aloysiusi Polintan

GO HERE for "Hot Take" reviews of

FORTH by Rosmon Tuazon, Trans. by Ben Aguilar (Balangay Books, 2021); Pesoa by Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles, Trans. by Kristine Ong Muslim (Balangay Books, 2021); Tangere by Rodrigo V. Dela Peña (UP Press, 2020); Pag-aaral sa Oras: Mga Lumang Tula Tungkol sa Bago by Kerima Lorena Tariman (High Chair, 2017); Lahat ng Nag-aangas Ay Inaagnas by Paolo Tiausas (UWU Books, 2020); and Maging Sa Silid: Mga Tula by Vanessa Haro (Self-Published, 2021) 

Reviewed by Eric Abalajon

GO HERE for Flash Reviews of

Banana Heart Summer by Merlinda Bobis (Anvil, 2020 reprint); The Kindness of Birds by Merlinda Bobis (Spinifex Press, Queensland, Australia, 2021); Wing of the Locust by Joel Donato Ching Jacob (Scholastic, 2020); City Stories by Angelo R. Lacuesta (Bughaw, Philippines, 2019); Ruins and Reconstructions by Joel M Toledo (Anvil, Philippines, 2011); Poems sing kwenta y cinco by Alfred Yuson (2010, Anvil) 

Reviewed by Aloysiusi Polintan


Angela Narciso Torres / What Happens Is Neither


Go HERE to read:

Leny Strobel on Greg Sarris

Eileen Tabios on Nick Carbó


"David Medalla: In Memoriam (1938-2020)" by Rene J. Navarro

Filipino Poets on Ukraine

Go HERE to read:


Acts of War” by Aileen Cassinetto

“February” by Luisa A. Igloria

“What the Poets Are Saying About the War” by Luisa A. Igloria


“KILL RATE & KITTENS” by Marne Kilates

“Wife of Russian Soldier tells him, ‘You go there, rape Ukrainian women, but use condoms!’” by Eileen R. Tabios

“Shrapnel” by Alfred A. Yuson


Political Love by Eileen R. Tabios (Booksby Press, Parma, Ohio, 2021)

Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater



100 Pink Poems para ka Leni/for Leni edited by Noel Romero del Prado, Emmanuel Quintos Velasco and Krip Yuson

(San Anselmo Publications, Philippines, 2022)



100 Pink Poems para ka Leni/for Leni, edited by Noel Romero del Prado, Emmanuel Quintos Velasco and Krip Yuson, is an existential project for the Philippines. The country is at a significant crossroads as regards the Philippine elections next month whose outcome will determine its next President. Among the leading candidates, Bongbong Marcos rides on the coattails of his dictator-father Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. Another, Leni Robredo, is the leading light for this book under review. Marcos, Jr. represents the sordid past that aborted a once promising developmental future for the Philippines and whose unearned leadership would result only from hardened corrupt and elitist practices. Robredo, on the other hand, would represent the country’s admirably stubborn and hopeful search for a more uplifting way of life for its citizens.


For this future, it’s difficult to ascertain the significance of a book of poetry. Perhaps it’s enough—perhaps it’s a lot—to note how Robredo’s support, always grass roots oriented, moved enough Filipino poets worldwide to create this project of 100 poems delivered to her as a Valentine’s Day gift earlier this year.


But if one is to be objective, one should consider this book a paradox. Though it’s on about its 8th or 9th printing, it will be read by an infinitesimal percentage of Filipinos. I read online that it’s the top poetry bestseller in the country’s history, a fact I can’t confirm but whose value I've seen questioned since poetry books generally don’t sell or are distributed in munificent numbers. Yet this book is a significant achievement as it is another layer to the multi-layered support for Leni Robredo’s Presidential candidacy where each individual support may be small but contribute to a sum much larger than the totality of its parts. This is significant as I believe (as of April 27 when I wrote this review) that Leni Robredo will be the next President of the Philippines. Not that long ago, I remember when the polls clearly said she faced huge odds against attaining her campaign’s goal.


Turning then to the actual poems, political support is overwhelmingly the raison d’etre for this project. Nonetheless, the book provides sufficient literary sunshine to remind how poetry is worthy of our attention. Here are three sample poems that moved me in particular—which is not to say they’re the “best” poems as such assessments are subjective and differ per reader. Still, as a book reviewer, I’m moved to highlight the following poems, and thank their authors for writing them. A caveat needs to be that I could only assess the English-language poems as I am not fluent in Pilipino. But here are English poems I hope you, too, will enjoy:


“Sonnet 13: Ways of Lookin at a Pink Rose” by Joel Vega

“Jesse’s Poem” by Jose Dalisay (Jesse is the name of the husband to Leni Robredo who also is a widow)

“Parol” by Justine Camacho-Tajonera


I will feature the poems below but before doing so, I wish to share Leni Robredo’s response that was featured in the anthology’s 6th edition (click on images to enlarge):


Robredo’s response ultimately deems the project successful since, regardless of election outcome, she can receive the gratitude of people who understand that to run for office in the context of how the Philippines chooses its political leadership is an arduous—and often dirty—undertaking. Maraming Salamat, Ma’am Leni Robredo.



Three Sample Poems:


Eileen R. Tabios has released over 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in 10 countries and cyberspace. In 2022 she releases the poetry collection Because I Love You, I Become War; a book-length essay Kapwa’s Novels; and her second French book, Double Take (trans. Fanny Garin). Her 2021 books include her first novel DoveLion: A Fairy Tale for Our Times and first French book La Vie erotique de l’art (trans. Samuel Rochery). Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form; the MDR Poetry Generator that can create poems totaling theoretical infinity; the “Flooid” poetry form that’s rooted in a good deed; and a first poetry book, Beyond Life Sentences, which received the Philippines’ National Book Award for Poetry. Translated into 11 languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 15 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays. Her writing and editing works have received recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More information is at



Thursday, April 28, 2022




The Son of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio

(Ecco/HarperCollins, 2020)


In the Pulse of Constant Hiding

These days, the bodies of exhausted migrants crossing national borders dominate the evening news.  Reporters and journalists mine their exodus for the best stories of escape, which, now and then, includes a video-diary of sorts, of migrants documenting their own travails using mobile phones.  And thus, to some extent, we’re privy to the private lives of refugees inside a camp in Greece, a migrant caravan from Central America penetrating Mexico, or a boat of Africans stalking Italian shores, begging for food and medical assistance.  Now, let’s say, a child is born inside these camps, or boats?  No doubt, a state or legal entity will intervene, in order to apply the necessary laws, to document the facts around the child’s birth, information that impacts identity.  For example, if the state in question is the United States, the child will be subjected to two principles of citizenship at birth, which, unfortunately, many visitors exploit: the [1] jus soli principle determined by the place of birth; and the jus sanguini principle determined by the nationality of one or both parents.

Lysley Tenorio puts those principles at work, as foundations of misfortune, in a novel about undocumented immigrants fraught with ironies and twists.  Here, a pregnant woman leaves the Philippines for San Francisco, dreaming of a better life there.  In fact, she wants her son to be delivered in a San Francisco hospital, because she understands the citizenship game.  She wants her son to be American.  Her name is Maxima, and Manila is her former life, where work was scarce, no family to depend on and care for, except the baby in her womb.  Now penniless and destitute, she calls an old friend who is now living in California, and asks for help.  Soon, she leaves for the U.S., and thinks she’s done with misery.  But then the baby couldn’t wait.  Up there, above the clouds, fate intervened.  The baby leaves her womb.  She names the child Excel, after the letters on her flight’s ticket number: XL0426.  Excel won’t be American, but a Filipino citizen like his mother Maxima, since the airspace he was born in is not within the jurisdiction of the United States.  He is unfortunate, indeed, though one might wonder why Tenorio celebrates Excel in the title as The Son of Good Fortune. [2]  Now curiously, the novel appears evasive when it comes to the travel papers Maxima has secured to leave the Philippines.  But the way she got those papers and the ticket for her flight to California so quickly is a glaring clue that soon those papers will expire.


Tenorio’s novel takes a dip into a life affected by those expiration dates, a brutal life of hiding from the U.S. government.  Avoiding deportation is the goal.  It’s hard to find a job.  And she must think of ways to pay the rent.  In the Filipino-American community, this state of constant hiding is called being TNT; [3] the acronym is derived from a Tagalog phrase that paints a life attenuated by uncertainties: tago ng tago.  The acronym is mostly used within the United States, which underlines a state of fear adept in recognizing systems of policing neighborhoods and cities, where new arrivals grow into the culture of a new milieu, or transition to a life informed by dreams and calculated plans.  Excel has lived within that state of mind since birth, a kind of membrane he has nurtured for a hybrid life that thrives on anything as American as Target stores and Superman, and, certainly, the Philippines at home, bouncy as his mother’s habits, speaking in a language he approaches with delicate and convenient ambivalence:

He was a quiet kid who became quieter, sometimes to the point of silence. In class, he spoke just enough to confirm his presence, learned the strategy of playing group games (dodgeball, kickball, freeze tag) without talking to other kids: Some days he’d skip lunch and sit at the far corner carrel in the library with a comic book, finish schoolwork in advance, or just put his head down and rest.  What took effort and strategy became, as years went on, instinct and habit, a way of moving through the world. Tolerable, predictable, alone. (64-65)

In many ways, Excel’s behavior in school appears to prepare him for a life without social and economic mobility. He relegates verbal communication into a kind of menace, afraid he might slip into episodes of carelessness, and reveal too much about himself, which means belonging to a club, being passionate about extracurricular activities, or finding new friends in school are activities he must avoid; they’re doors to interactions that might expose the details of his identity.  And so, Excel barricades his behavior with social distancing protocols, or strategies of “moving through the world” he has created for himself.  His imagination prefers the safety of solitude and being alone, where things like immigrationgreen cards, and citizenship seem irrelevant, because, at heart, Colma, California is home, because he could only be American, even though information about his identity doesn’t exist in U.S. immigration databases.

Then Excel rebels.  Excel decides to leave his mother for a girl named Sab, to live “a little out of the way, near the desert,” in southern California.  Ironically, the desert is the perfect place to hide: full of artists, retirees, ex-hippies, and anyone who needs a little bit of change, a life unencumbered by deadlines, gridlock on the freeway, or anything that makes the nine-to-five oppressive and intolerable.  And thus, for a while, Excel inhales the air of freedom in the desert, released from protocols imposed on him since birth at home.  The desert offers an illusion that he has escaped a life of constant hiding.  Now in a way, the desert underlines a psychogeography of absence and desertion in the text, detached from networks one might feel in urban spaces, where freedom and mobility depends on identification cards, licenses, and other documents procured under the letter of the law.  Essentially, the story oscillates between this desert settlement, and his life up north with Maxima; it’s like a patchwork of events in memory, no past, no future, only an eternal present without end in the novel’s mind.  Unfortunately, misfortune strikes again: Excel becomes a culprit of a fire in the desert commune, big enough to decimate a stage, food carts, and an art display.  The damages accumulate into a large figure he must pay.  Guilty and embarrassed, Excel leaves the desert as quickly as he can, while Sab decides to stay.  Their relationship is now on pause.  Excel heads back home to Colma to reassess his life, hoping to raise a five-figure amount, a situation that, surprisingly, finds a resolution through his mother’s source of income. 

Now Maxima’s main source of income categorically puts the novel in a world of sleaze.  Maxima’s talent for street-smarts since childhood has flourished into something that becomes a tool for survival in the Bay Area.  In California, her set-up goes like this: she visits dating websites like Good Catholic Filipinas and pretends to be a resident of the Philippines. Here, her radar is fixated on the loneliness of white-men struggling to survive the maladies of being middle-aged after a divorce.  They often live alone, desperate to transform their lives and marry a “perfect Asian wife.”  Not just an Asian wife, but a perfect one.  It’s an underhanded humor on the desires of certain white men, viewed from a Filipino perspective.  This is the part of the novel where Tenorio puts Maxima to work to a point where the reader starts to think she holds the novel’s moment, and not the son in the title. 

To an extent, the kind of women Maxima impersonates is the perfect, Asian wife, submissive, kind, but poor.  She studies her potential suitors and calculates the right amount of charm to show on-screen.  She’s always faithful to the fictions of her script.  The primary setting of her stories is Manila, in a shabby neighborhood, where life is hard.  As someone who can pass as thirty all the time even though she’s now in her fifties, Maxima understands the art of accentuating speech patterns and gestures appropriate for someone twenty years younger than her calendar age.  And once the men fall in love with her, Maxima’s script takes a subtle but strategic turn, and reveals “an elaborate tragedy or hardship, something that only money - both small and large amounts - could fix, and the ones she could convince would wire the cash.”  But once the cash is wired, Maxima cuts her contact from the man who has sent the gift.  It’s a cold act.  She will never see him again.  And Tenorio plots his story so well that Excel becomes his mother’s partner in crime in one of her virtual dalliances, towards the end of the novel, because that’s the only way Excel can resolve his financial dilemma as quickly as possible. 

To an extent, the novel’s cover-image appear to diminish Maxima into a secondary character, as though the center stage is solely set for Excel alone, which I disagree; in fact, the novel clearly underlines two competing antipodes of the undocumented immigrant life: Maxima’s drive to be invisible, and Excel’s desperation to desert a life of constant hiding for a life severed from fears of being deported back to the Philippines.  And furthermore, I argue that Maxima is the ‘good fortune’ in the title, the spirit of the novel’s optimism and existential fervor, where she mothers her son into a life still searching for the fortunes he deserves, perhaps the kind that comes from grit and smarts, when the need for survival calls. 

Indeed, the novel paints a brilliant pathos of a life entrenched in statelessness, floating in a kind of ghostly netherworld in daily life, though, at times, oblique, whenever the novel’s realism blinds itself from entities that might advance the case of citizenship for Excel, since his birthplace is convincingly unique.  In that regard, the novel suppresses any mention of non-profit organizations, laws, or even a faint echo of discussions that advocate for immigrant rights and issues.  On the other hand, this absence underlines a glaring clue into the novel’s mind: its agenda is the inner life of statelessness, where Tenorio magnifies the habits of invisibility and alienation, far removed from legalese and politics that often haunts the life of immigrants without the proper documents, in a country that prides itself of being built and raised by immigrants.


[1] U.S. Citizenship & Naturalization Overview - FindLaw (Site maintained by Thomson Reuters.)

[2] The Son of Good Fortune – HarperCollins

[3] Undocumented Filipinos Are Living a Special Nightmare in Trump's America - FPIF



Michael Caylo-Baradi is an alumnus of The Writers’ Institute at the Graduate Center (CUNY). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Adirondack Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Hobart, JMWW, Kenyon Review Online, The Common (Dispatch), Eunoia Review, New Pages, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Galway Review, The Halo-Halo Review, Third Wednesday Magazine, and elsewhere. He is the author of Hotel Pacoima (Kelsay Books, 2021).

Wednesday, April 27, 2022




On Maps: the short story “Here Be Dragons” from 

The Infinite Library and Other Stories by Victor Fernando R. Ocampo 

(Gaudy Boy, Singapore, 2021)




I chose to read and review The Infinite Library and Other Stories by Victor Fernando R. Ocampo because I wanted to challenge myself to read Filipino speculative fiction. This genre is new for me and I’ve been needing some motivation to finally start exploring it. I’m glad that I did because there’s so much to love, and learn, in this collection.

I have to admit, however, that reading this collection is a bit of a challenge. It demands the reader to really make the extra steps of looking up the references made in the stories for a fuller understanding of the individual stories and the collection. One can’t just wing it and hope to understand the stories by way of context. This is what I tried to do at first, not wanting to disrupt my flow of reading. But I felt like I was missing out on the core themes so I finally looked up “Mane, Thecel, Phares” and “Here Be Dragons” and “Strabo” and many more phrases and words used throughout. What a difference it made! Like I said, there is so much to love, and learn, in this collection.

I have to admit one more thing: at this point in my speculative fiction reading experience, there is no way I can possibly rise to the challenge of reviewing all 18 stories in this collection threaded by themes of Filipino identity, the diaspora, artificial intelligence, and infinity (!), among many others. So instead, I am going to review one story. Yes, just one. This is actually harder than it sounds. To choose one means I have to read and reread all of the stories in search of that one that resonates most with me. In the end, I choose “Here Be Dragons.” I’m a children’s book writer, after all, and stories about young girls occupy a special place in my heart. I also love maps. 

In “Here Be Dragons,” an 11-year old girl, Isabelle, is sent every day to buy her mother’s favorite pan de coco. Her trips never varied until that one day when she dares enter a new neighborhood shop, “Here Be Dragons,” which sold nothing but maps. Maps are Isabelle’s greatest passion. Inside, she meets Strabo, the proprietor, who offers to make her a map that would “chart everything from the tip of your toes to every last hair on your heard”. All for the price of a bag of pan de coco. When she asks how she would know that her map will be “real”, she is told that “a map is true only if you have been there before.” The story fast forwards in time and in 100 years, the 111-year-old Isabelle finally sends for her map. The story ends “somewhere in time” when Isabella steps out of the shop experiencing a sense of déjà vu and remembering Strabo’s words, spoken only a few minutes before…or a lifetime ago. 

The title of this story, “Here Be Dragons,” is a phrase associated with old maps—early modern European maps—where an uncharted territory is signified by beasts and serpents. The phrase itself, in Latin, was only used once, not on a map but on a globe, Hunt-Lenox Globe, built in 1510, and referring to the southeast coast of Asia, the extreme end of the Asian continent.  Thus, as a phrase, “Here Be Dragons” is indicative of the subjective nature of the mapmaking process and the limitations of the mapmaker’s knowledge of the land. Obviously, it does not take into account the knowledge of those who actually inhabit the “uncharted territory” and who might actually call it home. The use of this kind of map is for the outsider whose agenda may be more geared towards “discovery” and “exploration”. Those who live in the uncharted territory have no use for this map. Seen from the uncharted territory’s perspective, this kind of map warning “Here Be Dragons!” is false.

In contrast, the map that Strabo offers to make for Isabelle is one that is based on her body, senses, and experiences. “My bird, Animaxander, will record everything you will ever see and hear. My bear Eratosthenes will do the same for everything you will ever touch, and my apple Ortelius will map all the things that you will ever taste in your life.” It is a map that evolves, is emergent, has yet to be made as she becomes. A map that takes into account her age, sex and gender, race, class, existence in a particular time and space, as she daily walks the neighborhood to pick up pan de coco, from the Puerta del Sol convenience next to their house, past the Milky Way cafe, to the Estrella Del Norte panaderia. A map that follows her as she ventures beyond her neighborhood, beyond her country, to everywhere in the universe she ends up going.  

In Strabo’s kind of map, there would be no need to indicate “Here Be Dragons” because it is a map that shows the way to heaven and hell, happiness and sadness, music, loves lost and found, imaginary places known only to dreamers and mapmakers.” It would also be a true map because “you have been there before.”

This brings me back to Isabella’s question upon seeing a vast collection of rolled up maps and dusty globes strewn carelessly on the floor of the store. 

“Who would need all these maps?” she asks. 

“Everyone,” Strabo replies. 

I agree with Strabo. Who wouldn’t want such map for themselves, one that “helps you build your world and find your place in it”? I would.





Justine Villanueva traces her ancestral roots to Bukidnon, Philippines where she was raised until she immigrated to the United States when she was 17.  She now lives in the Patwin-Wintun homeland (Davis, California) with her husband and two sons. Justine's creative work focuses on decolonization, social justice, and connecting with the living Earth. She writes children's books and is the founder of Sawaga River Press, a nonprofit press that publishes children's books featuring Filipino children and their experiences in the diaspora. She runs her own law and real estate office. She loves to dance. 


Tuesday, April 26, 2022



Witness in the Convex Mirror by Eileen R. Tabios

(TinFish Press, Hawaii, 2019)


Leny Mendoza chose individual lines from Witness in the Convex Mirror and then responded with images and her own texts--click on images to enlarge:


Leny Mendoza Strobel is Kapampangan (Philippines) and is now a settler on Wappo and Pomo lands. She is Professor Emerita of American Multicultural Studies/Sonoma State University. She’s a founding Elder at the Center for Babaylan Studies. She is tending chickens and garden with Cal.

Monday, April 25, 2022



Letters To A Young Brown Girl by Barbara Jane Reyes 

(BOA Editions Ltd., Rochester, NY, 2020)



Letters To A Young Brown Girl is the sixth and latest book of poetry by Filipina-American poet, writer, activist and cultural worker, Barbara Jane Reyes. Her previous poetry collections include Gravities of Center, Poeta en San Francisco, Diwata, To Love As Aswang and Invocation to Daughters. 

The first thing to note about this book is its striking cover. In the centre, there is an image of young, brown woman dressed in a tribal skirt and white blouse with outspread wings behind her back. These wings could be bat wings, banana leaves or the wings of an angel. There are birds flying overhead. In the background there is a wooden hut indigenous to the Philippines. From the hut the face of someone looks out on the world while to the right of the picture there is an American flag.

Letters To A Young Brown Girl is a work in three movements. At its core, this is a book about perception: how we perceive the world, how the world perceives us and how we perceive ourselves. It reads like a musical composition, not only is it very aural in its soundscape – a sort of Vivace, Andante, Allegro, but it is also complex in its different layers of text and it sits within a tight, well-ordered structure. Frequent use of repetition as a literary device parallels the idea of recurring themes in musical composition. It grounds the reader in the heart of the argument and knits the collection into a cohesive whole.

The first movement, ‘Brown Girl Designation,’ could well be described as a stream of invective – a series of outbursts emerging in the form of prose poems that contain within them a great deal of emotional force. Writing at a time of political unrest and upheaval, there is so much anger here, it is cathartic even to read it. This is not to say that Reyes has just written down the first thing that has come into her head – far from it – the whole section has been extremely well thought out. Note the title – that italicised ‘n’ in ‘Designation’. It is there for a purpose. It makes us stop and look at the word in a new way. It could contain within it two words: 'design’ and ‘nation’. Both words are loaded with meaning. 

The section opens with a series of definitions rather in the manner of an insurance claim defining specific terms, and then there are questions that the young brown girl might like to consider. These questions are phrased in such a way as to make the reader proceed with caution. They are as subtle and beguiling as the serpent in Eden. Here is a taste of them:

what’s it like to be so treasured to be trafficked,

what’s it like to be locked in for your own good so no one will get their oily fingerprints on you, so that no one can hear your soft, soft asking voice,

what’s it like when they mispronounce your alien name and shrug, when they tell you your ass should be deported…

The section closes with a ‘Brown Girl Glossary of Terms’ exploring terminology such as internal colonialism, decolonization, white privilege, Pinoy, Pinay and Pakikipagkapwa-tao followed by a ‘Brown Girl Manifesto’ whose repetitious phrase ‘Because so much depends upon…’ has that William Carlos Williams American ring to it. 

The middle movement, ‘Brown Girl Mixtape,’ comprises 20 short poems whose titles are taken from song tracks dating from 1964 to 2017. So often, music, especially popular music, defines the moment in which it was written: it is a product of its own time. 

Opening with a couple of sentences that read like something out of an instruction manual on relaxation techniques, Reyes begins to ease that knot of tension that was felt in the first part  of the book:

Squeeze your hand into a fist. Now, loosen just a bit. 

The final lines invite us to take note of our altered pulse rate, to see how it has begun to slow down as a result of this change of gear:

…Press your index finger and tall finger 

into the underside of your jawbone, and count.


In ‘Track: “Firewoman,” Barbie Almabis (2005)’ I particularly liked the way in which Reyes used phrases such as ‘grooved edge,’ and ‘cut wax track’ that fitted so well with the image of vinyl. The word ‘break’ and ‘wrecked’ also plays on the fragility of shellac which preceded vinyl. None of these observations have much to do with the prose poem per se but it is interesting to note how these words have slipped into the text at an almost subconscious level.

In this middle movement, where prose poems give way to poems, we see Reyes at her most lyrical. In ‘Track: “Dahil Sa Iyo,” Pinay (1998) she writes:

Do you know how old you were when you first saw the ocean,

How old you were when the ocean first touched you,

How old you were when you knew you were the ocean.

Do you remember its cradle and nudge, its pull and boom, your skin shocked by your

own pinpricks and ice, do you remember sinking,

How were you ever so new, swaying into something so immense, so beyond sight.


Do you remember the rocks. How old were you when you returned.


The final movement takes the form of 10 letters and carries the title of the collection: ‘Letters To A Young Brown Girl’. The deliberate use of the indefinite article denotes that these letters are being addressed to all young brown girls, not to a specific one. They speak of the universality of this poet’s approach to writing. Since each letter is untitled –you would not normally give a letter a title – for ease of reference, the beginning of the first line is given in square brackets on the contents page. 

The first letter focuses attention on the spoken word and the second one on the written word with excursions into penmanship: ‘I want to tell you about my rounded, looping penmanship in berry scented ink’. The next letter is on the topic of keeping diaries and secrets and the fourth one is about silence – listening to it and tuning in to your own heartbeat: ‘What do you find when you sit with yourself inside your silence’. The absence of the question mark at the end of this sentence and at the end of all of the questions in the entire book is deliberate. There are no question marks anywhere. Reyes does not want to turn this into an interrogation. Interrogations carry their own threats. These, after all, are rhetorical questions, ones that are asked in order to create a dramatic effect or to make a point rather than to obtain an answer.  Nobody pretends to have answers. The next letter describes another kind of silence. The overwhelming, unsettling silence that is inflicted by subjection:

They proposition you and grab your ass. They are impressed you do not protest. They love your nodding and smiling at exactly the right moments. 

The last letter in this series returns to the subject of the spoken word bringing the cycle full circle.

The final epistolary poem is cast in the form of one hundred FAQs (frequently asked questions) from writers. Instead of the formal Q&A we are accustomed to see, Reyes only provides the answers (in other words, the questions are not stated, they are simply implied by the answers).

Letters To A Young Brown Girl covers a great deal of ground: it touches upon race, ethnicity, religion, gender and nationality. To the girl who is taught to be small, to know her place, who is concerned that no one will ever hear her, Reyes gives her the affirmation that she is listening and her book is uplifting in the sense that she leads us time and again to our inner selves (the loób) where we can pause, take stock, and see the beauty that lies inside.





Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland.  His work has been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His publications  include Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014); The Fragility of Moths (editura pim, Iași, Romania, 2014); Sleeve Notes (editura pim, Iași, Romania,, 2016); Penn Fields (Littoral Press, 2019) and Reading Between the Lines (Littoral Press, 2020). His work has been translated into French, Dutch, Nepali, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish.