Invocation to Daughters by Barbara Jane Reyes
City Lights Books, 2017; 74 pp.
Reviewed by Chloe Martinez
Remember those slim little books with the simple covers, the City Light Pocket Poets series? When I worked at the local bookstore in high school those were the ones we had to keep an eye on, because sometimes the skater kids would wander through and slip one into a voluminous pant pocket (this was around 1994; those pants were HUGE). Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems was my favorite, but the skaters were more partial to Ginsburg’s Howl. Whichever one you liked, those books were instantly recognizable, and they made poetry feel portable and vital, timeless and fresh.
Barbara Jane Reyes’ anguished and incantatory fifth collection, Invocation to Daughters, feels like a City Lights book for a new generation. It has all the radicalism and wildness that drew me to those books, but Reyes is speaking to an audience that the earlier generations of City Lights poets didn’t seem to have much in mind: girls and women. Victimized girls and women in particular are named, invoked, blessed and mourned in these poems, all those women
…in judicial review, in hard luck,
in domestic work, in detention cell,
in penitence, and in procession,
in sign and craft, in the street,
in death row traffic, in gift and token…
“Prayer on Good Friday”
This list of circumstances links the women constrained within them, and Reyes demands that we connect the personal and the political, the powerful and the disenfranchised, the art and the struggle. Those connections are often made doubly explicit through formal choices, such as linked “half-crown” sequences of sonnets, the adoption of a collective female voice, or the use of Spanish and Tagalog alongside English. As in her previous collections, Reyes sometimes chooses not to translate everything into English, a small reversal of linguistic privilege as it typically operates in the U.S. Righteous rage characterizes many of these poems, but the collection closes on notes of tenderness, with poems mourning a father and celebrating women as powerful, wise and free:
Glory be to the wild-haired daughter; she is
More golden, more splendid than whiskey…
Let it be known she laughs like a man,
Roaring naked from the belly. Such a sight!
“Invocation to Daughters 5”
Chloe Martinez lives with her husband and two daughters in Claremont, CA, where she teaches on the religions of South Asia at Claremont McKenna College. She is working on a scholarly monograph and seeking a publisher for her first poetry collection. A graduate of Boston University’s Creative Writing MA and the MFA for Writers at Warren Wilson College, her poems have appeared in The Normal School, The Collagist, Crab Orchard Review and elsewhere, and have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.