Barabara Jane Reyes

Click here to read the rest of this Harriet article by Barbara Jane Reyes.

Dear Barbara Jane Reyes,

Thank you for this rich and well-written article. I have lived in South East Asia for 15 years, and have travelled widely in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia, my immediate neighbors — but never in Burma. (Aung San Su Kyi has asked me not to support the junta with my tourist dollars, and I’d do anything for her!) I haven’t managed Vietnam yet either, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I will find there one of the most vibrant, life-affirming cultures in the world. I also have no doubt that Vietnam will soon be the leader in continental SE Asia, and I don’t mean just economically either. I mean intellectually, artistically, and above all in the quality of life.

Having said all that, I have a strange confession to make: I’ve never been there but I still like the Philippines the best — just based on the people I’ve met from there all over the world, in America, in Asia, on ferries, in diners, students, bar girls, nannies, doctors, NGOs, roustabouts, one Shakespearean actor and even one Blue Grass guitarist! And yes, I’ve found a beauty, vibrancy, and sense of personal freedom in people of Philippino origin that’s quite unique. And the extraordiary thing is that the qualities I so admire seem to be in each and every one of them without exception regardless of their citizenship, education, or station in life.

And I love especially their wonderful kitsch, their glamor and mixing up of media, metaphors, metatarsals, moxies, munchies and feathers. I was brought up in New England and was taught there was such a thing as ‘Good Taste’ that ‘Everybody’ knew — well, that’s completely gone in me now, washed away with my Puritan birthright, thank God. Now I want fairy lights with everything, jingle bells on my hairpiece and funny little pandas on my desk and all over my altar. Indeed, what fills me with wonder is the genius of Filipinos wherever they live to make everything that glitters pure gold — and here’s your article and I can say, yes, including what I was also brought up to call ‘our’ English language. And now I just say PPPLEASE!

This is a wonderful poet, R. Zamora Linmark — how I wish Tom, Desmond and myself were there on Harriet to join you in the discussion.  And the whole topic of “communications and miscommunications” — truly wonderful.

But don’t worry, even though we’re not there we’re still following on Scarriet. So stay tuned here too!

Christopher Woodman


  1. thomasbrady said,

    September 29, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    A shame Barbara’s posts get such little response on Harriet. It seems those who visit Harriet either have nothing to say, or would rather advertise their own projects.

    A few posters on Harriet were deeply disturbed by the frequency and length of posts by others–as if an occasionally active thread personally offended them.

    These active and popular threads became a number one concern of Travis Nichols, Harriet administrator.

    Let us think a moment about this Orwellian state of things:

    Here’s what happened on Harriet in July, 2009:

    Those who admit they have no interest in contributing to the conversation on a particular thread, go on that thread to voice concern about the style of conversation occurring on that thread. And this behavior is not only condoned by management, but applauded, and specific actions are taken by management to inhibit and curtail poster activity, activity which is not offensive or abusive, but which is simply deemed ‘too active.’

    Then you have a host of threads, RIGHT NOW, including those by guest writer Barbara Jane Reyes, which get no activity, and which see EVEN LESS activity when management takes steps to curtail thread activity in general, as they did between July and the end of August, 2009.

    And this is somehow supposed to fit in with the Poetry Foundation’s STATED MISSION to expand poetry’s presence in the larger culture.

    This really needs a letter to Mr. John Barr of the Poetry Foundation.

    I hope everyone reading this will drop Mr. Barr a line.

    Thomas Brady

  2. thomasbrady said,

    September 29, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    Linmark’s sociological and linguistic observation of Phillipine culture is fascinating.

    When Reyes, in her appreciative piece, repeats the phrase that Linmark’s poetry “reads like…” this betrays the one issue I have with it.

    Yes, his poetry does “read like” something else.

    The poetry “reads like” sociology, and I think it would be better if it were put in a prose essay, rather than presented in lines as poetry.

    My guess is that more people would read if it were presented in prose–and it’s certainly worth reading!

    Thomas Brady

  3. cowpattyhammer said,

    September 30, 2009 at 3:02 am

    No, Tom, I don’t altogether agree with you on that, at least not in this case. What I find so refreshing about Barabara Jane Reyes work in the Filipino community is that it is not only “outside of academic and institutional settings,” but actually fun! Who cares what you call it, you can sing it in the shower, and God knows that’s not a place to read a heavy book!

    Here’s what she had said just before in another article, Filipino American Poetas en San Francisco, “And always, as with most Filipino gatherings, there’s food, and lots of enthusiastic picture taking. The vibe in the place becomes nothing like monotone automaton reading from behind a podium, eyes glaze over literary event; it’s more like a Philippine palengke, or bustling marketplace.”

    No wonder Barbara Jane Reyes doesn’t get much response on Blog:Harriet — I’m sure the genteel posters that still cling on there would find all that so vulgar. They want to talk about things that are ‘out,’ ‘up’ or ‘in,’ never ‘down,’ and forget the ‘horizontal.’ You wait and see, before there’s another reply to Barbara Jane Reyes there’ll be a new post from Kenneth Goldsmith on outer space in language, some very precious dialogue between Terreson and Margo that define just how high we really are, and a Travis Nichols ‘in’ just on the edge of altogether out of sight.

    And as to the ‘horizontal’ — when was the last time you felt any warmth or sense of community on Harriet? Honestly, all you visitors to Scarriet who are also hopefully as concerned as we are, this is a very sad and lonely place. And this has got to change.

    That’s Scarriet’s mission in a nutshell — as a well-known writer and poet e-mailed me just this morning in response to some of this, “Harriet has great usefulness as an open discussion forum. I hope that everything works out so that anyone who wants to contribute to discussion there will be able to do so.”

    That’s what we hope too.


  4. cowpattyhammer said,

    September 30, 2009 at 3:44 am

    Look what’s happening on Rebecca Woolf’s This-Is-The-End/FAME thread, for example. Look at what Blog:Harriet irregular Krista just had to say in a comment (like Noah Freed, Krista comes out of the woodwork just when you’re least expecting it!):

    Poetry has its fashions just like anything else and it’s way too easy to trivialize them. Fashion is art, right? Can anyone make the case that fashion is less useful than poetry? They’re both useless! That’s why they’re both so awesome! Sure, some people can go overboard with their “hipster” biz but to pretend we all poetry folks are somehow above it with our sackcloth and ashes is sillier than anything on Project Runway. Yay fashion! Yay fame!

    All very well, despite the cutting tone, the fashionable bluster and crippled logic, but look what Krista said to me, right out of the woodwork as well, the very day I got the boot in the backside from the Harriet management last July. Because Travis Nichols loved what Krista said, of course, and actually used it to reinforce his argument that I was sucking all the air out of the Harriet room!

    Worse than “Thomas Brady”’s inane bloviation on every subject is your sycophantic championing of Tom’s lame causes, Christopher. The combination causes a foul miasma to hover over every thread. Why not take a summer vacation and let in some fresh air?
    POSTED BY: KRISTA ON JULY 7, 2009 AT 9:00 AM

    And my reply?

    Did you read what I just wrote, Krista? Did you give yourself a chance to grasp the ironies in it?
    This is hardly the response of a sycophant.
    I’m always tough on Thomas Brady, and I’m very tough on him here.
    I’m also tough on the life that’s worth living, which I suspect you aren’t.
    This thread is about Robinson Jeffers. Do you want me to be nice about that? Do you want no grief?

    And her reply to that, the coup de grace in fact. Indeed, as a result of Krista’s intervention, Tom, Desmond and I were dead — not to speak of Harriet!

    Will you please be quiet, please?
    POSTED BY: KRISTA ON JULY 8, 2009 AT 8:41 AM

    Fortunately, we have the wonderful example, and limitless sense of possibility too, of both the Filipino community Barbara Jane Reyes is describing in her article, and the hilarious yet healing words of R. Zamora Linmark.

    Don Share’s good voice wasn’t quite loud enough back in July, but reflecting on it I think this is probably what he also meant when he replied to Krista, “All these various characterizations notwithstanding… as Stefan Collini so nicely put it a while ago, “good criticism makes us wary of underestimating writing with which we thought ourselves familiar.” So I figure this a good thread if it gets a few folks to think twice about Jeffers. Hokay?” (click here)

    Well, they didn’t, they thought only about themselves. And if you want to know what that sounds like you can keep following Harriet. On the other hand, don’t try following one of Barbara Jane Reyes’ threads. What she writes makes the Blog:Harriet irregulars as well as the regulars feel uncomfortable, they’re so noisy!


  5. poetryandporse said,

    September 30, 2009 at 6:42 am

    On the Myles thread (click here) where Gould, Johnson, Knott and Weinberg went at it; responding indirectly to a comment – more short angry ejaculation – I made about a 70 year old man being banned for no reason (click here — and then you have to “click to show comment”): Don Share came in with a comment, explicitly stating that he has no involvement with the moderating of Harriet. (Click here for Don Share’s comment.)

    I remember reading it at the time, but my mind, as usual, being four beats ahead of itself and with a more accurate import of what others say, often only filtering in on re-reading: the significance of Share’s short sentence did not sink in until the other day when returning to the thread.

    He has no problem publishing me on his blog, and my instinct suggests he is on the side of common sense, and will not be supporting Nichols in his own mind. Far from it, as he may well recognise that true ‘imbas’, which is a bardic Irish word for vigorous poetic energy, is not being displayed by the amateurs at Harriet mistaking poetry as the sole reserve of a dangerously stupid American mindset, which casts the activity of nursery rhymes about the prez being sung in school, as an outreach branch of commie-facism implemented by the Hittlerites controlling the US NEA Khmer Rouge comptrollers brigade. Unless of course the prez is white, as they did after Katrina with Bush. Then the rich right wing white racists, can all sleep safe at night.

    Whilst not for a moment suggesting the cohorts of Harriet are in this ball park: it comes from the same side of the park. That they can cheer any cause of freedom going, as long as there is no personal connection. Become passionate about democracy in Iran and the rights of the oppressed there, but when it comes to tolerating passionate language in the form of words on a screen they are free to ignore: the talking of poetry, the cuddly cute and fwendly faces claiming to be book lovers – exhibit the limits of their intelligence in a manner that makes me chuckle.

    Desmond Swords

  6. thomasbrady said,

    September 30, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    Arlene Babst, a writer I met through Iowa’s International Writing Program, laments that filipinos are not book lovers.

    This is a complex issue, obviously. The Philippines was colonized recently (historically speaking) by two global empires, two different languages. My guess is that it’s very difficult for one nation’s literary culture to serve more than one master. But then I might be completely wrong…

  7. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 1, 2009 at 2:51 am

    I was struck by this recent comment on Barbara Jane Reyes article on R. Zamora Linmark, it betrays such a limited perspective:

    I don’t know…it could simply be that with the world’s exploding population, there are simply so many good poets writing these days that it’s impossible to keep up with them all. Which makes this blog very useful! Thanks from me, as well.

    The assumption would seem to be that Filipino poets, among others, have burst upon the poetry scene due to “the population explosion.” Give me a break, Wendy Babiak. Do you really think poetry is something new? Do you really think the bibliography you got handed in Poetry 101 or even Comp Lit 999, “Poetry of the Spanish Diaspora, including William Carlos Williams and Pablo Neruda,” covered every poet you ought to know? Or that there aren’t 100s of first rate poets who have written in Korean, 100s in Bengali, 100s in Turkish, and maybe even 1000s in Chinese, and all of those never even heard of in their own countries what is more translated into English?

    That’s the problem in a nutshell in America, that because poetry has become exclusively a classroom activity, people believe you can “learn” the subject, and that if you then stay interested and keep reading APR, POETRY and The New Yorker you can “keep up with it.” And that’s very foolish. For a start, classroom hours are limited to maybe 3 a week in our universities, and courses rarely last more than 3 months — and we take maybe 6 courses in poetry if we’re really lucky. Yet we still believe that the Poetry Syllabus we got taught somehow gives us The World Poetry Picture. And boy, it doesn’t — even in relation to our own short literary history in America it doesn’t. Indeed, there are 100s, maybe 1000s even, of really fine American poets who have never been heard of, including me and probably you, and some of our very best poets from the past are right now being relegated to a footnote (ask Thomas Brady about that one!).

    Poetry is not a degree subject, or at least not anywhere but very recently in the English speaking West, and mostly following the American model. Poetry is what people do when they weep or pray or love or doubt in their very deepest words — and what some people even speak spontaneously if they’re gifted (there are monks who specialize in that where I live). And those people don’t need to know how to write either, and the people that hear the poetry don’t have to know how to read.

    Poetry is everywhere, Wendy — and you’d be very lucky if you could keep up with the poetry just in your own community alone. Imagine how many readings there are in America every evening, imagine how many poems get written, and fine ones too, that you will never see, even in your own small country (only #4 in the world, after all, and tiny by comparison with the other 3 at the top!)? Indeed, I would say that would apply just to the month of September in upper New York State!

    Forgive me for my tone — I know it’s harsh. But it makes me so angry that the PoBiz has made poetry a product that can be catalogued, advertized and sold, and due to natural competition what’s on the market is what is Best. Well, that’s nonsense, of course. What’s on the market is what is sold!

    And you know, the population explosion has made that even worse, there’s so much money to be made through mergers — i.e. keeping it all under control. Right now Lotus, Carrefour and Big C are taking over Thailand, and the poems in those places are very, very few indeed.

    The real poems are in the open earth market as they always have been.


  8. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 1, 2009 at 10:54 am

    A reply to Comment #6 — Reading Habits.

    This is a major problem in all South East Asian cultures, whatever the language situation.

    I taught for many years in an English Department at a very large and highly respected Thai university, and even my Thai colleagues who were specializing in English literature didn’t read. You went into their offices and there were only the texts they were teaching on their shelves. Indeed, one of the problems I faced as the department’s Foreign Advisor responsible for curriculum development was that the Thai professors did not change their set books, but taught the same Dickens novel or Shakespeare play for 20 years — indeed, I suspect the notes they used were the ones they had taken at their American or Australian universities when they were graduate students. Also there was no Common Room, no table with the current journals and best papers of the world laid out, no arm chairs, no place to do the thing every teacher I’ve ever known likes to do best when there’s a lull — read The New York Review of Books!

    The fact is that in all South East Asian cultures there are no walls, no rooms, no private places. This is a part of the world blessed with an almost perfect climate, so much so that there is no glass in the windows either, and you don’t even have to think about a hat, coat or sweater. People of all classes eat and sleep together on mats on the floor — there are no cold drafts, you see, and it’s so easy to slip off your shoes nobody would ever think to step inside with shoes on.

    So what evolves is a culture where people are always close together day and night, and as a result they come to value most the social skills involved with people doing things together. Indeed, this goes so far that even turning your back on the group is considered anti-social, what is more going off somewhere and burying your head in a book. It just won’t do. It looks awful!

    So what my colleagues did in the English Department when they had free time is laugh and eat and then laugh and chat and eat some more. All day. And when they had too much time they spent that time planning social gatherings for the future — indeed, in any Thai institution or business I would say 20% of the working hours are spent on planning how to have even more fun the next time!

    So when are you going to read?

    A major problem for educators when even the teachers do not model reading habits, and of course there’s even less space at home to read than there is at school.


  9. thomasbrady said,

    October 1, 2009 at 9:41 pm


    Who needs to read in paradise?

    Who needs writing where people live like bees, constantly in touch with each other?

    The queen lays eggs–the most imporant role. Protect the egg-layer, or die. Die, protecting the egg-layer.

    Do Thai mothers read, or tell stories, to their children at bedtime? Or, instead do they sing them lullabies and songs?

    You mention the teachers in Thailand teaching the same Shakespeare over and over again, in the same way. I guess this has its advantages. How can literature live, when its broken into a billion different pieces?

    Wendy Babiak’s remark on ‘population explosion’ on the face of it was crude and dismissive–it betrays the educated Westerner’s fear of the breeding Third World.

    How do we ‘control’ over-population? Isn’t the West obsessed with this problem more than anything?

    Here in po-biz we have the ‘crisis’ of too many MFA poets chasing too few readers. What’s the solution to this ‘crisis?’ IS it a crisis?

    I can see how, my dear Woodman, to you I must come across as a hyper-critical, hierarchical, Western literary bully. I’m sure I did when we first met.

    But I think we understand each other because I’m a student of Plato, who was suspicious of writing and poetry, and Shakespeare is really in the same spirit: the bookish pedant is not worshiped their works.

    The outsider is the real insider: the poet who doesn’t trust poetry is the most trustworthy poet.

    Conversation v. Poetry. Do they kill each other? And must we admit, for a healthy society, the first is a million times more important than the second?


  10. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 5, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    Everything I’ve learned has been a tooth drawn out of my mouth, leaving me spitting blood and inarticulate.

    Here’s one thing I learned in the dentist’s office. Conformity in human societies isn’t always conservative, and bee-hive-like communities with their bee-hive-like communications aren’t always ‘on the rails.’ In American poetry, for example, it’s the conservatives who say, “Make it new,” and the real poets in the bee garden hum the ancient tune that speaks and sings what has never been heard or found or celebrated before.

    Actually, what am I saying. I learned that from you!