“If William Blake were alive and well and sitting on a eucalyptus branch in the hills above the bay, this is the poetry he would aspire to write.”
Poeta en San Francisco
Tinfish Press, 2005
Barbara Jane Reyes’s Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish Press) is a linguistic tour de force, incorporating English, Spanish, and Tagalog in a book-length poem at once lush and experimentally rigorous. From the vantage of San Francisco, Reyes looks outward to the Philippines, Vietnam, and other colonized places with violent histories. As she said in a recent interview, “It’s almost a cliché, the phrase, ‘the personal is political,’ but certainly, this is a strong consideration in my work.” And yet, it is not only violence that concerns Reyes: “I am interested in how we come to love in this world, despite the historical circumstances, the conquests, the wars, which have created us as a diasporic people, as exiles, and refugees.” This is an ambitious, sweeping and necessary work. Reyes has won the James Laughlin Award for a second book from the Academy of American Poets for this volume.
“The US has been at war since its beginnings. And it has taken this to new levels in the last fifty or so years. In response, US poetry that matters has become one long, necessary lament. One could dismiss this as poets rhyming while Rome falls. But it makes more sense to see poetry as one of the places where the ravages of war—on the psyche, on the land, on the culture are called out and called into question. Barbara Jane Reyes’s poeta en san francisco is a necessary part of this emerging tradition of poetry. This book looks at what wars in the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq have done to the home front, to the city streets. It is a multilingual litany that forcefully articulates what it means to be living as a woman in a nation of veterans, virgins, and dark angels.” — Juliana Spahr
“Although Reyes offers a prayer for her community, she doesn’t speak for her community; instead she speaks honestly, intimately, and lyrically within and through her community. In this sense, writing culture becomes ‘constit(ch)utive’ of poetry and prayer.” — Rain Taxi