I remember reading Barbara Jane Reyes’s Poeta en San Francisco years ago and being struck by how under the skin real her use of language was. Poeta en San Francisco won the James Laughlin award of the Academy of American Poets.
Born in Manila, Philippines and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area Reyes’s work is suffused with a consciousness of the worlds and cultures that she lives in. Diwata, which is her third poetry book, is a hybrid work. It’s a very interstitial work and in my opinion this book transcends genre as it plays in the worlds of myth, magic and the real. As in Poeta, Reyes’s use of language evokes a body response. That keen and critical eye, a strong social consciousness and the wisdom of knowing are also present here.
At present, Barbara Jane Reyes is an adjunct professor at University of San Francisco’s Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program where she teaches Filipino/a Literature in Diaspora, and Filipina Lives and Voices in Literature. She has also taught Filipino American Literature at San Francisco State University, and graduate poetry workshop at Mills College, and currently serves on the board of Philippine American Writers and Artists (PAWA).
Considering your work as a poet, as a writer, as an academic what have been some of the major challenges/obstacles that you’ve encountered and how have you dealt with/overcome them?
I don’t consider myself an “academic,” though I am an educator. I am an adjunct professor between three different institutions, and I have a full time job outside of education, literature, and the arts. So that would be the first and major challenge – finding the balance, and the ability to multi-task. Keeping the house clean is a challenge, given my long work days. But I persevere, and my husband is my greatest supporter.
As a poet and writer, major challenges for me have come from various sectors of the Filipino American community. I have been told that the content of my poetry is painful and upsetting; I have also been told that it is also angry, aggressive, and abundant in ugliness and profanity. People want to distance themselves from what is painful and upsetting, and what is considered socially problematic. Continue reading