Sunday, November 23, 2003

Barbara Pulmano Reyes

One of the recent additions to the links page is Barbara Pulmano Reyes. I have known Barbara for about five years and have been in awe of her for at least nine years. The first time I saw Barbara read was at "Flipside" a show sponsored sometime in the mid-1990's by Maganda magazine and Pangit, the graduate student group at Berkeley.

I was videotaping the whole event and was really critical in my head of the many Pin@y performers. I was still in my lack of Pin@y pride days (no excuses, I'm just slower than everyone else). Anyways, the show that evening featured :

A Pin@y folk song singer who blew everyone away with high voice.
Michella Gravange with guitarist who made me write poems.
A Pin@y urban cowboy, and some others and:
Barbara Pulmano Reyes

I should say that I was critical, but my brain was being blown away by the great talent of everyone. Then, Barbara hit like a storm. My first impression was "What the f*ck!?!" You see, Barbara had tatooes on her arms way before it became a fashion statement. She had huge tatooes of alibata or baybayin on one arm and another set of tatooes on the other arm. Barbara was not an ordinary woman. In fact, I bet you that she scared the shit out of every single guy in the room.

She then began to read one of those typical boy-angst-me-against-the-world poem that talks about the Pin@y's brown arms and brown skin. Again, early to mid-90's, this stuff was just fresh off the box. The meter was all OFF to me because I had been raised on Frost and the standard Western hegemonic poetics. And, more importantly, I did not have MTV. I was a twentysomething graduate student nerd thinking about Pin@y identity and Barbara Pulmano Reyes smacks me in the face. It was an epiphany.

The epiphany was not a eureka moment in which the whole world becomes clear for an instant. No, the epiphany was seeing a Filipina who was absolutely outstanding who has a brain to say something in poetics. My epiphany was not shared by my friends in Pangit. In fact, we watched the videos again that same night. Most of them were not aware that a supernova just exploded in front of their faces. Most of them laughed at the non-conformity and the appearance of Barbara. I only wanted to see her part on the video so that I could make sure that I saw a supernova explode. And you know what? I did, I did see a supernova explode.

One of the striking inconsistencies that is so apparent and so jarring with Barbara is that she writes love poems while she has massive tatooes on her arms. What is more contradictory in the Pin@y mind than that? It certainly made me wonder. You see, I did not see too many intelligent and visionary performers in the mid-1990's. So when someone reads like a woman in love, but that very same woman also has tatooes which is the symbol of prison life in the Philippines, well, my entire world has been turned upside down. You know, the inevitable questions arise. What makes her tick? Why does she do the things that she does?

After a few years, I managed to actually get to know Barbara and I was one of the first people to read her poem "Anthropological" which is in her latest book Gravities of Center . When I read Anthropological, it was like seeing that supernova explode in my mind once more. FINALLY! Barbara has written a poem that went beyond the raw emotions of angst, love and emotions and went into the tearful diasporic history of the Pin@y people. The poem was revealing and disturbing for the truths that are uncovered. It was the first time I saw the death of a thousand Filipinos in the letters of a poem. Pin@ys were skewered, Pin@ys were lanced, Pin@ys were shot in the middle of the page. Anthropological is a seminal work in poetry.

To end this paean to Barbara Pulmano Reyes, I'll tell you that she is working on a second book of poetry.

No comments: