Why I Chose Barbara Jane Reyes’s Invocation to Daughters for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club


It might seem especially appropriate that I’m writing about this book while we’re in the midst of another sexual abuse maelstrom involving very powerful men and whoever their eyes chance to light on in a given moment, but really, the fact is that sexual harassment and violence is so common that any moment would have been the right one to talk about Barbara Jane Reyes’s newest book, Invocation to Daughters.

Before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your copy of Invocation to Daughters, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with Barbara Jane Reyes, you’ll need to to subscribe by October 20!

The first poem in the book, “FAQ,” sets the ground rules. Reyes moves between English, Spanish, and Tagalog without pause but with great effect and purpose, and also lets us know she is not here to fuck around.

3. Why are you so angry? Don’t you ever smile?

Why aren’t you angry? Why does my outrage inconvenience you? Why is my resting bitch face your concern? Are you afraid of me?

Who told you that a lady should always smile, and for whose benefit and pleasure would that be? Why did you believe them? Who do you believe them still?

4. Why can’t you just write about beautiful things?

Voz is beautiful. Home is beautiful. Lenguaje is beautiful. Grit is beautiful. Orayson is beautiful. Daughter is beautiful. Kuwento is beautiful. Safety is beautiful.

Do you see the woman fighting for air? Do you see the woman guarding her kin? Do you see the woman learning to speak? Do you see the woman resisting being broken?

If you do not see the beauty in these, then I am sorry for you.

The directness of these lines and of many of the poems that follow feel to me very much in tune with the moment we’re living in, where women in particular, led by women of color, are responding to those people who looked at the election of Donald Trump as evidence that their time had returned, that the fact that the country elected a man who had bragged about sexually assaulting a woman meant it was open season on women everywhere, with middle fingers and public truth-telling and lawsuits.

I’ve also been long a fan of the way Reyes moves between languages without explanation or translation or even setting the non-English apart from the English via italics. I am not fluent in either Spanish or Tagalog, which means I spend a good part of my reading with my laptop open, typing phrases into Google Translate in order to get a sense of the context. This book makes me work for it, which is what I want poetry to do. From the title poem “Invocation to Daughters”: “Daughters. let us create a language so that we know ourselves, so that we may sing, and tell, and pray.” That language is in full bloom here in Reyes’s fifth collection.

I’m looking forward to our chat with members and Barbara Jane Reyes at the end of November about this challenging and potent book. Subscribe to the Rumpus Poetry Book Club by October 20 get your copy of Invocation to Daughters and participate in our exclusive chat with Barbara about the collection!

Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →