Book Review: 'Diwata' by Barbara Jane Reyes

May 17, 2011

In her third poetry collection, former Hyphen editor Barbara Jane Reyes moves backward in the Filipino diaspora timeline. Whereas her previous book, Poeta en San Francisco, addressed present-tense war and displacement from the viewpoint of fire escapes in San Francisco, Diwata returns to a Philippine archipelago caught in an eternal moment of myth. By turns invoking and speaking through diwatas (or fairies/spirits), mermaids and goddesses, Reyes' prose poems layer moments in Filipino colonial history upon mythical origin stories. A divine rape is mirrored in the book by a colonial rape; a siren later appears as the ocean embracing the bodies of murdered guerillas. The poems repeat motifs, story lines, even lyrics in a restless search for a new way to tell the story. And throughout, we hear the sounds of island life: the wind, the cracking of bamboo poles in dance, the chanting of villagers, the tattoo of gunfire. 

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