Barbara Jane Reyes on Writing that is Unapologetically Intense

An interview with Barbara Jane Reyes, from The Write Stuff series:

Barbara Jane Reyes was born in Manila and raised in the Bay Area. She is the author of To Love as Aswang, Diwata, Poeta en San Francisco, and Gravities of Center. She teaches at University of San Francisco and San Francisco State University, and lives with her husband Oscar Bermeo in Oakland.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?

I tell them I’m a poet. (I have grown accustomed to their subsequent evasiveness or social discomfort.) I tell them I teach.

What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?

Deadlines. Balance. Saying no. Resting.

If someone said I want to do what do you do, what advice would you have for them?

I’d say that’s awesome, work your ass off, be aggressive, stay focused, learn not to flinch, be smart when the racist and sexist commentary about you comes. I’d tell them I work three jobs and I have to pay the mortgage.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

Nope. There’s a lot more stuff I would need to cross off my bucket list before I would ever think of using “successful” as a self-descriptor.

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

Creepy Filipino Smile Guy!

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.

It wouldn’t be so wild, honestly. It would be in Yosemite. My husband Oscar Bermeo and I would be doing uphill trails for miles and miles, eating tangerines and PBJs. We’d take selfies when at Half Dome elevation. I’d hug trees. We’d drive into Groveland, eat Mexican food, and I’d drink a Tecate. This could be any time of year, though I would prefer spring. I’d bring a book to read, and I’d never get to it. I’d bring my notebook, but I’d end up not doing any writing.

What’s wrong with society today?

Patriarchy. White supremacy. Anti-intellectualism.

Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?

Claritin D. If you present at the pharmacy early to purchase your DEA-regulated allotment of pseudophedrine, then the pharmacy staff will treat you like a meth head and a fucking criminal.

What is your fondest memory?

This is a recent memory, my last dinner with my father, a few days before he suffered a massive stroke and passed away a few weeks later. We went to Duende in Oakland, ordered arroz negro and petrale sole paella, and fideua caldosa. He loved everything he ate. He was so happy to be there.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

Abolishing rape culture.

What are you working on right now?

Among other texts, I am appropriating advertising copy from my Sephora and Ulta daily emails, which tell me how to be pretty, how to glisten, how to halt my aging, how to eliminate cellulite, how to lighten the skin—these are all going into a series of prose poems about ladydom (ladyhood?) being a bitch.

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

I admire writing that is unapologetically intense, well-crafted, musical, multilingual, smart, complex, socially/politically conscious, non-pandering, concerned with postcolonialism and decolonization.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

Affordable housing, proper respect reflected in both attitude and policy towards communities of color, i.e. disallowing techies and hipsters from displacing communities of color.

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

Superhero blockbusters in IMAX 3D with Oscar, and a whiskey cocktail. Home by 9 pm.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?

The legal battle over the monkey selfie was pretty strange. The film Valhalla Rising was also pretty strange.

What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?

50 words = constraints for lots of poems. 50 dollars = shopping spree at Uniqlo.

What are some of your favorite smells?

Caramelizing onions. Warm blankets. Eucalyptus trees on a nice, rugged trail.

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