As an heraldic preface to her wondrous new volume, Michelle Peñaloza asks of her poetry a profound question—How do children born of empire // once removed // possess the history // of their naming? So the poet sings in splendid particulars—of a mother almost mystic in affection, a father who works with uncommon pride in his work on an assembly line, of her sensuous own body burgeoning with erotic impulse and tenderness, of the romance of an island archipelago luminous with magical beasts but also riven by colonial decrees. Even her own, indigenous family name has been lost to time and conquest. Yet each song is a kind of phenomenal puzzle—until you step back from the reading and recognize these are glowing tiles and shining panels assembled to make a larger composition—a faceted portrait of a life derived from the lonely scatterings of history, from a dispossessed people who would be orphaned without the love and poetic homage rendered here. The book is a colorful and complex mosaic of re-possession, a repairing of an uprooted history, and Penaloza’s own passionate monody of praise for all that was lost.
Author of Coral Road
Michelle Peñaloza’s ambitious and remarkable debut searches for a place to anchor in spite of a rancorous world where we might have “began as crumbs ferried in the beak of waxwings.” These poems read mythic yet contemporary in their burst of bloom-song and bright blood stroke. The result is electric—giving us a kind of poetry more alive, more filled with lava and lyric. Of this I am certain: I’ll be celebrating this poet for many years to come."
Author of Lucky Fish and Oceanic
Michelle Peñaloza’s first collection of poems, Former Possessions of the Spanish Empire, is filled with so much care and kapwa, a deep understanding of shared humanity, between generations of Filipina women and girls -- the granddaughter plucking her lola’s gray hairs, witnessing the aging, failing body with so much warmth and compassion, the daughter who knows her mother’s voice so well, that she inhabits it. Peñaloza’s poems are grounded in details, textures, and aromas, rose petals, coffee, garlic, smoothed rosary beads, old prayer books, the tangle of mangrove roots. This is an emotionally complex work, in which grief, and immigrant, diasporic confusion and rage are handled with so much wisdom. I love this book.
Barbara Jane Reyes
Author of Poeta en San Francisco and Invocation to Daughters