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Pinay Poetry

By Barbara Jane Reyes

Hello again Harriet, what up?

I’m glad to be back at the Poetry Foundation for this here National Poetry Month. Let me reintroduce myself. Barbara Jane Reyes here, Oakland-based poet. Among other places, I’ve been teaching Philippine and Filipino American Literature in the Philippine Studies Program at University of San Francisco. One day, I’d casually asked our program chair whether he was interested in an all Filipina/Pinay (Filipino women) literature course, and he said, yes, draft a syllabus, and we’ll get it approved by the curriculum committee. It was approved. It was quickly filled. This is the first semester I am teaching the course, and I’m still in disbelief. All Pinay Literature. I always think, wow, where was this class when I was young, and when I needed it most. It seems a lot of people have been asking this question too, as I have been asked by more people than I can count, for my syllabus and reading lists. So, in this space, I will be talking a bit about some of the items from my syllabus, in the hopes that it will prompt readers further.

We’ve been talking a lot about bodies, including the bodies of WWII comfort women, as in Elynia S. Mabanglo’s “Ballad of Lola Amonita,” from Invitation of the Imperialist. The poem is based upon the testimony of the first Filipina comfort woman to tell her story, which she did in the 1990’s. Originally written in Tagalog, it is spoken in first person, its language is spare, and this is ruthless. “A fresh maiden is sweet,” says the Japanese soldiers, and it breaks our hearts, because the speaker is so young, barely an adolescent.

We’ve also been talking about gendered and racialized work, about domestic spaces, and the dominant paradigm for and about Filipinas in the world. In its title alone, Fatima Lim-Wilson’s “Luzviminda, or Filipinas Make Such Good Maids,” from Crossing the Snow Bridge, is an effective illustration of that dominant paradigm. Luzviminda, a common Filipina name, is a combination of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, the three principal island groups of the Philippines. And as the Filipina is a frequently stand-in for nation, here we have a Filipina maid displaced, forgetting her own name and tongue, in the service of a white family. She is the owner of an expired passport, which places her at her master’s mercy. It is this same master who ogles at her body. Luzviminda, or Lucy for short, is not in a good place.

Certainly, I am not invested in perpetuating a myth of Filipina victimhood, but rather, in exploring the ways in which the writers, stories’ heroines, and poetic speakers attempt to subvert the dominant paradigm. What I am most invested in is exposing young readers to Pinay authors they’ve never heard of before, and while I have selected works which indicate that I favor “political poetry,” I also want to continue to challenge my students with aesthetically diverse work.

So that’s what I’m up to these days.

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Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 by Barbara Jane Reyes.