Poetry of the Forgotten People: How We Use Our Voices (Blog Discussion)

NOV. 04, 2012 | 2 – Poetry of the Forgotten People: How We Use Our Voices

Speaker: Barbara Jane Reyes | blog comments due on Saturday at midnight, Nov. 3

• Ruth Mabanglo’s “Ballad of Lola Amonita”

• Barbara Jane Reyes’s “A Little Bit About Lola Ilang” and “Why Girls Do Not Speak”

• Nick Carbo’s “The Bronze Dove”

• Mahealani Perez-Wendt’s “Bury Our Hearts at Wal-Mart, etc.”

• Joi Barrios’s “Rape” and “Slaying the Word”

First impressions? What emotive responses did these poems relay to you? Further thoughts to think about:

1. How do these poems explore ‘place’ and ‘history,’ and how do they relate, as well as create each other?
2. What’s working in these poems? What are the craft elements? How do they create geographical place, impress conflict/history/culture onto physical spaces, etc.?
3. How did Barbara Jane Reyes’s poems interweave ‘voice,’ ‘place,’ and ‘history’ together?
Also, Barbara is willing to do a Q&A session. Here’s a part of her artistic statement, something to let saturate in your head/jumpstart your questions:
I shy away from the word “Activist,” but wholeheartedly believe my work is “Political.” I believe when a Pinay writes, and she is the subject of her own narratives, then she is subverting those master narratives which have figured her as a voiceless and passive object.

Barbara’s artistic statement 


3 responses to “Poetry of the Forgotten People: How We Use Our Voices (Blog Discussion)

  1. Some of the common themes that run throughout the poems are the unearthing of little known narratives of people, places, events, folklore, and rituals. To the typical American born Filipino these are the kinds of stories and perspectives which one would only hear from an elder relative if one was lucky enough to have an aunt, grandmother, parent who would be willing to talk about such things. Even if one was lucky enough to hear stories about the Japanese invasion of the Philippines during World War II, stories about supernatural creatures, ancestors whose peculiar practices are no longer seen amongst current generations, that does not necessarily mean that the stories showcase the myriad of emotions, feelings, and perceptions of those narratives. Poetry has the power to bring the dead and decaying words of the history books to life.

    Common throughout all of the poems are a sense of loss, pain, and suffering. Philippine history is messy. Our history has been one of struggle, misfortune, tragedy, and perseverance. Mabanglo’s “Ballad of Lola Amonita” brings to the light the horrifying experiences of Filipina comfort women which have gone unnoticed in the general narrative of history. Mabanglo does not spare the audience the gruesome details of the rape of a young woman at the hands of a Japanese soldier. Many stories of the Philippine experience include such shocking, yet necessary imagery in order to truly depict the gravity of the moment. Just as important if not more so is the fact that these poems symbolize the act of resistance and perseverance inasmuch as the fact that despite having been silenced by the meta-narrative of history, voices such as those of Philippine comfort women are still able to be told and heard by the world.

    Oftentimes the symbolic and the literal intersect as conflicts between nations, family histories, are indelible imprints on the bodies Filipinos as well as the land of the Philippines. Barbara Jane Reyes’ poems uses history as a mirror for Filipinos to view the beauty and blemish of our not only our psyche, but even our physical reflections. In her work “A Little Bit About Lola Ilang,” Reyes juxtaposes the personal anecdotes of Filipino women with the overarching narrative of the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. Something as simple a being able to flip a cigarette 360° while holding it in one’s lips symbolizes the ingenuity needed to prolong one’s survival in a war torn country. Through this juxtaposition, such anecdotes although personal are able to take their place of significance in the general history of an even such as the Japanese invasion of the Philippines during World War II.

    -Joshua F. Castro

    • I’m thinking of the way words and history fold over each other through the work of these five poets. The connection between these works manifests itself via the themes of return and rape. The notions of return and rape occur as metaphoric and literal landscapes, seen in the lines:
      Wounded throats have no power/ Over words
      Alternate terrains of memory, history, and place emerge through the inability to recognize belonging or the self through what’s italicized. I am most moved by the bravery of these poets, the way in which each poet continually returns to the sources of shame to extrapolate truth, however muffled, however erased.

      Repetition, rhymescape, and form are hard at work in all theses poems. Repetition creates the atmosphere of history’s echoes, reverberating context, truth, place, and displacement. This is seen in Mahealani Perez-Wendt’s “Bury Our Hearts at Wal-Mart, etc.” through the repetition of the lines:

      For the sands of my birth
      For the sands of my birth
      Are digging places
      Are trenching places

      In these lines the poet introduces, place, discovery, and violence, which unfolds through the root of the grandfathers moans. The result of colony is seen:

      Through the languor of broken men
      Hollowed-eye sisters,
      Their children.
      And the grandfathers moan
      And the grandfathers moan
      The feeling that resonates is of belonging, connection, and its lack. I too am of this excavation, but I no longer see the old gods.

      Through prose Barbara Jane Reyes creates a sealed container for story. The history and fairytale-like qualities of these two poems invents an environment that lends itself to subtle protest. I’m drawn to the way her prose become action/an arrow: directions. The universal truth that surfaces is the memory of trauma. One can forget his or her age, but can never escape fear: the kind of fear that allows one to inflict harm to herself in order to avoid the consequences of detection. I’m left to think of the consequences of being a woman in a time of War and the unspeakable violence that accompanies that situation. I’m forced to interrogate power and its lack as a woman in history and in this moment. I’m forced to imagine the unthinkable in a contained space without escape. I am forced to tears.

      ~Mg Roberts

  2. Pingback: Political Narratives in Colonial Amnesia: Filipino/American Landscapes (BLOG DISCUSSION) | Political Content & Engagement·

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