Invocation to Daughters

Feminist experimental poetry in the tradition of Audre Lorde and Theresa Kyung Cha from a prominent Filipina American poet.

Invocation to Daughters
City Lights Spotlight No. 16
City Lights Publishing, 2017

“I am not your ethnic spectacle,” declares Reyes (To Love as Aswang) in her powerful fifth collection. “I write whether or not you invite my words.” Reyes fuses elegy, psalm, prayer, and the language of protest as a challenge to hegemonic, patriarchal, and colonialist narrative-making. Moving among English, Spanish, and Tagalog, Reyes chronicles the ways legal and judicial systems fail to protect Filipina women such as Mary Jane Veloso, who sits on death row in Indonesia, and Jennifer Laude, a trans woman murdered by a U.S. Marine stationed in the Philippines. She boldly exposes and documents violence against Pinay women while also embracing a liminal, transitory, trilingual identity: “This lyric-making me, now a dazzling we.” Reyes writes with conviction about the various ways imperialism transforms women into “capital, collateral, damaged soul.” However, the women that appear throughout the book are not merely victims; in Reyes’s radical cosmology, these women—these daughters—are rebels, saints, revolutionaries, and torchbearers, “sharp-tongued, willful.” This book is a call to arms against oppressive languages, systems, and traditions, all that “strips us of our kick and grit.” In choosing to be ethical, and by refusing to submit to oppression, Reyes writes, “We rise/ And in writing, we restore our lives.” Publishers Weekly, starred review

“San Francisco–based, James Laughlin Award–winning poet Reyes (poeta en san francisco) uses incantatory language to speak to Filipina girls and women, and her words will resonate with many, many readers. “Daughters, our world is beyond unkind” opens an early poem; the collection as a whole then details the arduous female condition (“We are fed up being groped, being entered, being punished, being/ trashed. We are nobody’s fucking things”), then strikes back sharply (“Why does my outrage inconvenience you?”), and advises (“let us create a language so that we know ourselves”). Individual poems apostrophize Filipinas like the murdered transgender Jennifer Laude. VERDICT Infused with Spanish and Tagalog, Reyes’s beautiful, angry verse shines throughout. For a wide range of readers.” Library Journal, starred review

The fifth collection from Oakland poet Barbara Jane Reyes, in the tradition of Audre Lorde and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Invocation to Daughters is a book of prayers, psalms, and odes for Filipina girls and women trying to survive and make sense of their own situations. Writing in an English inflected with Tagalog and Spanish, Reyes unleashes this colonized tongue against sexualized and racialized violence towards Pinay women. With its meditations on the relationship between fathers and daughters and impassioned pleas on behalf of victims of brutality, Invocation to Daughters is a lyrical feminist broadside written from a place of shared humanity.

“Against violence against women, Barbara Jane Reyes rips and runs, jumping off Audre Lorde’s ‘the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,’ Invocation to Daughters recombines registers––prayers, pleas and elegy––braiding a trilingual triple-threat, a 3-pronged poetics that enjambs and reconfigures the formal with the street, utterance with erasure, the prose sentence with the liminal. Invocation to Daughters reminds me of the 70’s in the East Bay, when Jessica Hagedorn met Ntozake Shange and ignited a green flash seen from horizon to horizon. Barbara Jane Reyes is one of the Bay Area’s incendiary voices.”––Sesshu Foster

“Language is fraught for Reyes, and her poetry crackles with her attempts at breaking out from the binds of colonialism, gender, and history. … The language Reyes creates is one that brings together anti-colonial and anti-capitalist feminist thought and Catholic forms. There are psalms, prayers, and gospels written to and for Filipino women.”–Ploughshares

“I feel like Reyes has found yet another gear in Invocation to Daughters. While it is still built on that same tension, where the beauty of expression crashes against the brutality of the world as it is (especially for women, especially for people of color) I find it here integrated and crystallized so deeply it awes me. Maybe I’m only noticing her maturity in a way, but it’s sure not maturity in the sense of softness or acceptance: these poems are fire. Eternal fire, really, but also a highly specific and located fire: these are Filipino poems, periodically breaking into Tagalog, into Spanish, very much located in San Francisco, and very much everywhere too. It’s a mystery to me how they can be so universal yet so immediately topical–so much so it seems impossible they were written before all the #metoo headlines, but that just shows again how sexual harassment and police shootings and grief and anger sure didn’t start this month. Or as Reyes puts it: ‘You walk hand-in-hand with your damage, into the world.’ She also writes ‘Fuck your fences and your applause’ but I’m going to applaud anyway–this book is the news for real.”–Small Press Distribution

“The directness of these [poems] feel to me very much in tune with the moment we’re living in, where women in particular, led by women of color, are responding to those people who looked at the election of Donald Trump as evidence that their time had returned, that the fact that the country elected a man who had bragged about sexually assaulting a woman meant it was open season on women everywhere, with middle fingers and public truth-telling and lawsuits.”–The Rumpus

“Barbara Jane Reyes’ anguished and incantatory fifth collection, Invocation to Daughters, feels like a City Lights book for a new generation. … As in her previous collections, Reyes sometimes chooses not to translate everything into English, a small reversal of linguistic privilege as it typically operates in the U.S. Righteous rage characterizes many of these poems, but the collection closes on notes of tenderness, with poems mourning a father and celebrating women as powerful, wise and free.”–RHINO Poetry

“In its Spotlight series, City Lights publishes poetry by established artists and emerging voices. This new volume, by Oakland poet Barbara Jane Reyes, is a slim but powerful collection that speaks directly to the #MeToo movement. Writing in an English inflected with Tagalog and Spanish, Reyes delves deeply into the many challenges faced by girls and young women in these difficult times.”–The Mercury News

“Reyes’ writes hypnotic incantations, sonorous anthems, edgy psalms and cannonade denunciations that hex and crack Western patriarchal culture, religion and relationships of dominance in sex, law, literature and the rest, customarily enforced humility seething with secret, extrusive, venomous rage.”–The Berkeley Times

“Reyes’s meditations not only apply to Filipinas, they are relevant for women everywhere and a real education for all men smart enough to listen.”–Cultural Weekly

“Barbara Jane Reyes’ fifth poetry collection Invocation to Daughters is a missal for Filipino women, one that uses Western poetic forms to utter an unapologetically transnational feminist poetics. In this collection, Reyes pushes against Spanish and American influences, the two patriarchs that have kept the Philippines abject for much of its history. The poems subvert Western tradition through the use of those same Western traditions, all while bringing in multiple languages, as well as ruminations on Filipino and Filipino-American culture. … The poems in this collection are unsparing in their righteous anger, attacking the patriarchs with a remarkable stamina. … Invocation to Daughters is a rallying cry disguised by the hypnotic lull of the Catholic mass, as if saying that the masters’ tools are precisely what are needed for the masters to pay attention while their house is being dismantled. Isang bagsak.”–Soleil David, Post No Ills

Invocation to Daughters is an intimate account of the Pinay woman experience. Reyes invites the reader to gain an understanding of the female identity in Philippine culture, from a religious, economic and familial context. The invocation to daughters could be understood as a prayer for these women, part of the third-largest Catholic population in the world. The mythos of liturgy with its manifold purposes of contrition, thanksgiving, adoration, and petition are reshaped into human psalms, gospels, and even apocryphal poetry. In her diction, Reyes uses stylistic conventions from scripture. It offers a deeper spiritual reflection on the feminine spiritual identity and the call to action from the New Testament. Echoing Christian theology, words dwell among us in the flesh for Reyes, a living testament itself to the multicolored, nuanced, anti patriarchal and deeply joyous celebration of feminine will.”–Therese Konopelski, Letras Latinas

“One of the many strengths of this book is the way in which Reyes has chosen to express herself in a primarily devotional framework. … This is a call for freedom from the binds that tie, an impassioned plea from those who have been denied a voice, such is the power and the glory of this important book. Highly recommended.”–The Halo-Halo Review