To Love as Aswang: Song, Fragments, Found Objects by Barbara Jane Reyes

This week, I read To Love as Aswang: Song, Fragments, Found Objects by Barbara Jane Reyes. I believe a couple of her poems from this book were included in a past week’s reading for this class. I remember finding those short pieces moving and evocative then, so I was excited to have the chance to read the entire work together and in context. In doing so, the tone of the poems I had read before changed quite a lot and made me a bit wary of which poems get chosen to be displayed as standalones.

Many of the poems contained stories of violence against Filipina bodies and were quite graphic in nature. One of the poems, “To Read the Newspapers” (6), were all direct quotes from newspaper articles. Using these ‘fragments’ or ‘found objects’ to create a poem was incredibly effective in making the reader understand the gravity of the situation. She need not create poetic lines about the injustices these women face, but rather compile verbatim truths from their realities.

There were some really cool technical elements Reyes employed in her work that I noticed too. She used split columns for some poems which allowed the reader to decide whether to read it straight across or in those columns. Her use of italics worked similarly. It was interesting to see how much that could change my reading experience. She also used a lighter grey font within a few pieces. It made you question who is speaking, if it should be read as a conversation, or if it is an internal monologue.

Ultimately, To Love as Aswang is a narrative about reclaiming power. Using “aswang” as the mode of comparison to Filipinas gives them power and mystique. With this comes the possibility to be taken advantage of and misunderstood, but also the bite to overcome.

The poem I chose for a group close reading is “To Sing Praisesong”. This is an example of one of the many poems in the book that uses 2 line stanzas. Also, note the title of this poem (and all of the ones in the book) use the infinitive form. Lastly, Reyes is definitely following the model of Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool”. She uses the “We Real Cool” format for multiple poems throughout (25, 60). I’m still trying to work out the significance of this…

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