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Sunday, October 09, 2011

INDEX

For convenience, here's an Index. The dates are when the articles are posted on this blog, versus date of their original publication.

Oct. 11, 2011:
Drew Butler writes report on Galatea Resurrects (A Poetry Engagement)

March 28, 2011
Edric Mesmer reviews THE SECRET LIVES OF PUNCTUATIONS, VOL. 1

Nov. 1, 2010
ALFRED A. YUSON writes column "New Filipiniana Titles"

April 15, 2010
ALFRED A. YUSON writes column on the exhibition “Remix: Santiago Bose” at the Yuchengco Museum

June 14, 2008
ALLEN GABORRO reviews THE LIGHT SANG AS IT LEFT YOUR EYES: OUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY

February 17, 2008
ALFRED A. YUSON writes column reviewing DREDGING FOR ATLANTIS and THE LIGHT SANG AS IT LEFT YOUR EYES

October 9, 2007
JUANIYO ARCELLANA writes COLUMN ADDRESSING THE LIGHT SANG AS IT LEFT YOUR EYES

March 6, 2007
ALFRED YUSON writes FEATURE ARTICLE ON CHROMATEXT RELOADED EXHIBIT

ALFRED YUSON writes FEATURE ARTICLE ON CHROMATEXT RELOADED EXHIBIT AND FILAMORE TABIOS, SR. MEMORIAL POETRY PRIZE

Jan. 17, 2007
ALFRED YUSON writes FEATURE ARTICLE ON CHROMATEXT RELOADED EXHIBIT

Aug. 14, 2006
DIMITRA KESSENIDES writes FEATURE ARTICLE

May 21, 2006
ROCHITA LOENEN-RUIZ writes FEATURE ARTICLE ON THE HAY(NA)KU

Feb. 6, 2006
ROCHITA LOENEN-RUIZ writes FEATURE ARTICLE

Feb. 5, 2006
SHIN YU PAI reviews ASIAN AMERICAN ANTHOLOGIES

CIRILO BAUTISTA reviews PINOY POETICS

JUANIYO ARCELLANA reviews PINOY POETS

Feb. 1, 2006
CHRIS MURRAY reviews REPRODUCTIONS OF THE EMPTY FLAGPOLE

Jan. 30, 2006
THOMAS FINK reviews I TAKE THEE, ENGLISH, FOR MY BELOVED

THOMAS FINK reviews REPRODUCTIONS OF THE EMPTY FLAGPOLE

DAVE JOHNSON reviews MENAGE A TROIS WITH THE 21ST CENTURY

Jan. 29, 2006
LEZA LOWITZ reviews REPRODUCTIONS OF THE EMPTY FLAGPOLE

RIC CARFAGNA reviews MENAGE A TROIS WITH THE 21ST CENTURY

NICK CARBO reviews REPRODUCTIONS OF THE EMPTY FLAGPOLE

ALFRED YUSON reviews I TAKE THEE, ENGLISH, FOR MY BELOVED

Saturday, October 08, 2011

DREW BUTLER REPORTS ON GALATEA RESURRECTS

Drew Butler reports on Galatea Resurrects (A Poetry Engagement) for one of his classes classes at the University of Colorado. Here's an excerpt:

The Journal: Galatea Resurrects (A Poetry Engagement)
Founded in 2006
Editor and Founder: Eileen Tabios

Her visions for the journal: “GALATEA RESURRECTS (GR) synthesizes some thoughts as regards poetry, the internet, poetry publishing, and cultural activism. I was interested in GR being specifically an online publication because online readership is often higher than for many poetry print publications. Relatedly, I wanted to add to the internet data base as regards poetry, given the widespread use of the internet for researching a variety of topics. Moreover, GR's addition to e-data would be accessible long after each issue's release date (I still get queries involving articles that were published in the internet many years ago). Thus, in addition to new reviews, GR is open to publishing commentary previously published in a print publication but unavailable within the internet.

“As regards cultural activism, I go back to the nature of the internet. My intent with GR is partly inspired by the existence of BagongPinay.com founded by Perla Daly and others. These Filipinas founded the site to offset how internet searches for "Filipina" usually comes up with negative myths, mail order bride sites which may be unsafe, porn sites, among other things. Similarly, I and other Filipina poets and scholars recently set up -- via Blogger -- Your Filipina Pen Pal to disrupt internet search results for various phrases related to Filipinas and/or pen pals. In this sense, I consider that boosting data content gratis for profit-making corporations is an acceptable price for longer-term benefits: in GR's case, more attention to poetry in all its forms, schools, approaches and other variety.”

Editing is open to anyone. Works are listed and there is an open call for submissions.

Total of 16 issues ever. Between 2 and 4 come out each year.

The Editor:
Writing for 16 years, in which she has created 18 print poetry collections, four online collections, one CD poetry collection, a book of short stories, a novel, a collection of essays on art, and a collection of essays on poetry. Before her writing career, she worked in International finance using her MBA in economics.

Invented the poetic form of hay(na)ku [1 word, 2 words, 3 words]

Born in Philippines, moved to America at age ten. Filipina heritage is still very important to her work in the Journal.

An Interview with Eileen Tabios:

How do you choose which books of poetry to put up on GR for review? Is there a particular style you look for? Do you feel these pieces reflect your initial goal of cultural activism?

My cultural activism is for Poetry -- not a particular style of poetry. Therefore, all types of poetry are welcomed to be reviewed on GR. Although I have a list of available review copies (at http://grarchives.blogspot.com ), I tell folks out there that they can review any poetry project including books on their personal bookshelves. Each Editor's Intro provides a breakdown of the number of books reviewed from review copies sent to me, versus those chosen elsewhere by the reviewer (e.g., http://galatearesurrection16.blogspot.com/2011/04/editors-introduction.html) But GR doesn't just review books (though, most reviews are of books) -- they can be reviews of poetry readings, poetry performances, etc. I even allow the review of books in other genre (e.g. fiction) if the author is a poet. The latter reflects my belief that everything inevitably affects one's poetry; for example, if a person writes in more than one genre, that could affect that person's use of poetic form.

Having said that, while I publish reviews of all sorts of poetry styles, it is true that GR has come to be known in some circles are being empathetic towards the "innovative" strain in poetry. That has arisen organically, though, as people who write for GR as often also poets. In most cases, I do not assign poetry reviews but let the reviewers choose which publications they wish to review. If poets tend to review those works with which they themselves empathize as practitioners of the art, then I suppose a lot of poet-reviewers who write for GR may come from a camp described as innovative or experimental poets.

Publishers of many styles of poetry do send review copies. I personally have reviewed many different styles of poetry. So I lean towards poetry being a huge tent but if the actual issue or issues reflect an emphasis on a particular style, that is caused as much by those who volunteer to write for GR and not because of any intent on my part.


What editorial process do the reviews go through before publication? Are the guidelines relatively lenient or do you receive quite a few more submissions than get put up on the blog?

Any poetry project, or any project by a poet, is eligible for review in GR. I don't publish all reviews that are sent for my consideration. But I do publish the majority of submissions for at least a couple of reasons:

1) reflecting my initial editorial introduction to the GR project, I was invested in just generating volumes of poetry-related information in the BIG net of the internet; and

2) as part of my cultural activism on behalf of poetry, I wanted to encourage others to start writing critically about poetry as I believe the art could stand more critics. As with anything else, we all improve with practice but I was willing for GR to be the host of many newbie critics' efforts. It has turned out over time, as I had hoped, that some critics have persevered as a result of GR's encouragement and gotten better. GR has enough professional, brilliant critics lending their names to the effort that I'm not at all worried that the occasional less-than-brilliant review would dilute GR's reputation.

Having said the above, if there is one editorial standard that I try to make sure exists in all reviews (and I'm not sure I succeed all the time, but I try), it's that the reviewer always includes an excerpt from the reviewed work to exemplify whatever opinion that reviewer is offering.


I noticed that sections of the blog have a lot of references to your children and your personal life. Do you view GR as a primarily personal blog with some poetry reviewing aspects or a more professional review journal with personal sections?

My poetics reflect that I don't believe in the separation of "life" from "poetry-writing", and so I reference my personal life. This approach should be contextualized, though, in that it reflects generally my approach to blogs. I was, I believe, among the initial group of poet-bloggers who began blogging before it really took off. I appreciate the blog for its informality due in part to how its (internet) medium allows for almost-immediate publication of something one has written. That informality, of course, does not necessarily mean lack of rigor...but I think the blog-space is obviously very different from other contexts, for example, a peer-reviewed journal. Anyway, I do view GR as primarily what I reference it in its subtitle: An Engagement with Poetry (with such "engagements" often manifesting themselves as reviews).

My views on the form of the poetry review probably has bearing on this question. You may notice that when I write "reviews" for GR, I don't say I "review" but say I "engage." That's because I think there's value to the non-traditional way of reviewing poetry, including the very emotional, the very personal, the fragmented outlooks which may not be the norm in more traditional criticism. I mean, as a poet, when I receive a fumbling, at times inarticulate response to some of my own poems, I often glean some value to that type of response -- as much as the more well-written, well-wrought critical review. So I allow a space for all styles of poetry reviewing.


You mentioned on the blog that you chose the medium of the Internet in order to increase readership and because of its low cost. How do you feel about the fears some have voiced concerning the Internet weakening the strength of writing in poetry reviews?

That has always been an artificial debate to me. First, take a look at who's providing such criticism. Does that person, for example, have a vested interest in narrowing the gate through which others learn about a multitude of poetry publications or projects? Secondly, it always amazes me when those interested in poetry, be they poets or not but surely people of some intelligence (?), fail to scratch deeper into their questions -- doesn't their complaint reflect an undeserved reliance on wealth as a controlling factor on what will create cultural capital and isn't it true that efforts that push the edges of the art form of poetry often start out on low-cost bases because of the general lack of support of poetry and specifically even more constrained support for innovative poetry? Thirdly, the question assumes that a way to assess poetry reviews is to assess them as a group (e.g., it's from the group of "online" reviews versus "printed" reviews). That doesn't make sense. Read a poetry review, and assess that individual poetry review. You don't assess the merits of a single poetry review based on the overall outlook of whether poetry reviews have increased in number and venues. (This ridiculous conflation of the macro with the micro is a point that's both irritating and amusing to me, btw, who's been trained as an economist,...) I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at this type of group-think, though. If you take a look at various discussions about poems, you can tell that poems are often read based on what category folks fit them into, versus based on the individual poems' merits....(which is not to say a poem's generative source, including its context, may not be relevant...)

Last but not least, the beauty of the internet and, specifically the blog, is that if there's nothing worth reading in your project, people will not read it. It seems to me that a blog's success -- or even redeeming value -- can be judged in a very bottom-line way for a blog like GR. Are people reading it? The answer is YES. Are publishers sending review copies? The answer is not just YES but even long-standing publishers (vs. indie publishers looking for rare marketing venues) are sending books. Are people continuing to volunteer to write for it for almost zero compensation? Absolutely and I am so grateful to answer this question, too, as YES (I offer books as compensation and while some reviewers pass on those offers as what I have may not be of interest to them as readers, they nonetheless continue to write for GR...). Believe me--if and when GR ceases to be of interest, I will be the first to pull the plug on it. I'm not looking to spend a lot of effort on something that is of zero interest to internet readers out there... in fact, GR takes up so much effort that I've thought a lot about ending it but haven't done so yet specifically because there is such interest in it as a project....


A significant portion of your original intention statment concerns cultural activism in relation to Filipinas and in particular the website BagongPinay.com. Do you feel GR has continued to reflect this goal through its work? How so?

Really? Because I went back to re-read the Introduction to Issue NO. 1 where I inaugurated GR and this factor was just one of four factors cited, isn't it? I wouldn't say it's more significant than the other three factors. But it is a factor, and I would say about this that GR has probably achieved just 60% of the goals related to this factor. That is, the two goals related to BagongPinay would be (1) just increasing poetry content on the internet, and (2) increasing the content of reviews of Filipino poetry (and because I happen to be Filipino with contacts in the Filipino literary community I was hopeful of GR being used to promote Filipino English-language poetry which, in my opinion, doesn't get as much attention as it deserves). Anyway, I would say that we've achieved No. 1. But in terms of No. 2, the distinct majority of poetry reviews have to do with non-Filipino poetry so I would say that GR has helped draw attention to Filipino poetry but not as much as I hoped it would do.


List of Available Works for Review:
http://grarchives.blogspot.com/

Blog Main Page:
http://galatearesurrects.blogspot.com/

Monday, March 28, 2011

EDRIC MESMER REVIEWS THE SECRET LIVES OF PUNCTUATIONS, VOL. I

[First published in Yellow Field, Spring 2011]

Received & Noted
The Secret Lives of Punctuations, Vol. I

Eileen Tabios             xPress(ed), 2006)

By Edric Mesmer

Ever slow to catch-up, new to me is Tabios's first volume of Punctuations. (Was there ever a second?) Rife with the stuff of Language Poetry, disseminated here in the investigatory practices of a secular grammarian, Tabios takes for her organizing principle the diacritically punctual gesture--thus a poem like "; No Music in His Voice" may begin "; when accomplishing a portrait ends the relationship". Too Dorian for you? Supporting such columnar effects rids us of the indices of affectation; serials, editorial drafts, and asides open and flex here in the full catalog of our representational enquiring. Epigraphix and a healthy amount of notes at back lead the reader to consider the functional afterthoughts of "?"; the parenthetical series may dilate the eye, but these queries are most bountiful when considering the colon and double-colon: "pauperism: owlish symptom / mulatto: wineglass emphysema / concrete: argue requisite / ulna: weary median". I'm awaiting Volume II.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

ALFRED A. YUSON WRITES COLUMN ON "NEW FILIPINIANA TITLES"

[First published in The Philippine Star, Nov. 1, 2010]

New Filipiniana titles (Part One)
The following titles are all worthy additions to everyone’s Filipiniana shelves.

[...]

Mondo Marcos: Writings on Martial Law and the Marcos Babies, edited by Frank Cimatu and Rolando B. Tolentino (also published by Anvil), collects short fiction, personal essays, and poetry — mostly from “Martial law babies” — that theme up on the Marcos world.

Contributors for fiction are R. Zamora Linmark, Paula Angeles, Cyan Abad-Jugo, David Hontiveros, Robert J.A. Basilio Jr., and Cesar Ruiz Aquino, whose meta-fiction piece titled “The Diaries of Mojud Remontado: 55 Days in Dumaguete” is certainly worth more than the price of this volume alone.

Essays are by Wilfredo Pascual, Jr. (who has two), Ige Ramos (three), Sandra Roldan, Apol Lejano-Massebieu, Oscar Atadero, Grace Celeste T. Subido, Johanns Fernandez, Gabe Mercado, Pete Rajon, and Shubert Lazaro Ciencia.

Poetry is contributed by US-based Pinoy poets Eileen Tabios, Luisa A. Igloria, Vince Gotera, and R. Zamora Linmark, as well as co-editor Frank Cimatu, Alma Anonas-Carpio, Padmapani L. Perez, BJ Patiño, G. Mae Aquino, and one bashful Anonymous.

It seems Mondo Marcos is a two-volume collection, with one in Filipino, also of essays, poetry and fiction — but I don’t have that copy.

In his Epilog, co-editor Tolentino writes: “The writers are from the generation of young people who have grown up, lived through, and generated their consciousness and being primarily during the martial law period. Forced into singing the New Society theme song, gardening vegetable patches, and deprived of a chunk of the Voltes V series, these ‘martial law’ babies had little choice than to involve themselves in materially and symbolically slaying the Marcos-father....

“...There was no language outside the Marcos dictatorship. On the other hand, the world given unto them, the officialdom of the conjugal dictatorship’s nation-building is engaged, critiqued and re-worlded. Even as there can be no language other than those uttered by the Marcoses, the idioms for rearticulating the language are retransformed by this generation of writers....

“... The Mondo Marcos volumes seek to memorialize the generation’s coming of age with the legacy of the Marcos era, whose utmost legacy may be surmised in the slogan, ‘never again.’”

Thursday, April 15, 2010

ALFRED A. YUSON REVIEWS "“REMIX: SANTIAGO BOSE” EXHIBITION

[First published in The Philippine Star, March 1, 2010]

Santi's spectacle of influence

I found it quite spectacular, and I’m sorry I can only write about it now. But one of the strongest art shows I’ve seen recently just has to be “Remix: Santiago Bose” at the Yuchengco Museum.

While going through the virtual maze of splendid visual offerings themed to an eclectic mix yet partaking of one central influence, I kept muttering to myself that no way would any verdict coming from me be taken at its word.

Santi Bose had been a close buddy, after all. His dear wife Peggy still bakes unparalleled cakes and cookies for me and my family, while his daughters, son, girlfriends, and all former co-conspirators and common friends still take of my time, attention and care as tight kindred, even beyond spirit/s.

And there they all were now, at the Feb. 11 opening of a tribute to Santi’s phenomenal influence — with everyone apparently having pasted on a goofy smile that went well with the Xeroxed Bose facemasks some participating performers had donned.

In one hall were Santi’s Anting-anting illustrations, below which were tacked poetry and prose written by an all-too-willing coterie of poets, writers, historians and cultural purveyors from New York and San Francisco to Pasig and Cubao.

Luis Francia, Jessica Hagedorn, Bino Realuyo and Eileen Tabios of the USA had penned and sent over their literary takes on a particular, selected image among the 60 that made up Bose’s “Confessions of a Talisman.” These literary reactions to Santi’s amulets collection were joined by those of John Silva, Victor Peñaranda, Howie Severino, Ed Geronia and Lilledeshan Bose, among others.

As Santi’s daughter Lille had envisioned, each writer drew literary inspiration from her dad’s anting-anting drawings to “bridge visual and literary art forms, while breaking cultural barriers.”

The next halls showcased a splendid array of distinctive art works by eight relatively young artists who also “took off” from Bose’s talisman collection.

And I tell you, the sets of canvases, multi-media works, and sculpture that each artist created were superlative delights to behold — from Kawayan de Guia’s ethnic/electric chair to Alwin Reamillo’s piano-part dragonflies as bas relief, John Frank Sabado’s geometric excellence to Mark Justiniani’s striking sovereignties, Arnel Agawin’s elegant output to Jordan Mangosan’s solar art, and Bose mentees Leonard Aguinaldo’s and Ged Alangui’s equally creative alarums that wailed in the wake of a shaman’s aesthetic skullduggery.

In the main hall, where Bose’s auto-portraits dwelled on a narrative utterly his own as well as ours, the eight young immortals also collaborated on Santi’s version of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” — endowing the 12-by-12-foot canvas that the artist was working on when he died in 2002 with a picaresque, personalized life of its own.

There too was a prized set of photo collages by Wig Tysman, inclusive of secret narratives that had not a few of the guests at the opening — National Artist BenCab, filmmaker Butch Perez and grand chef Louie Llamado among them — going giddy with recognition.

Australian artist and writer Pat Hoffie and her daughter Visaya Bose also sent in superlative contributions. It was Pat who had best encapsulated the scope of territorial imperative Santiago Bose had mapped out in the international art scene as early as the 1980s.

In a 2003 critique titled “Santiago Bose: Magic, Humor and Cultural Resistance,” Hoffie wrote:

“The extent to which Santiago Bose’s art has influenced the development of contemporary art in the Philippines has yet to be fully fathomed. His introduction of indigenous materials, his mining of Filipino iconography, his re-writing of Filipino history, his commitment to indigenous forms and practices, his bringing together of new media — such as performance, video and installation — with older forms such as rituals, festival paraphernalia and altarpieces — have made a rich and deep contribution to contemporary art practice not only in the Philippines but also abroad. ... Santi’s work wove past histories into the present, and then on into probable and improbable futures. In the face of what often looked like insurmountable odds, he always continued to make art that breathed with the potential for new imaginings.”

Indeed, we all breathed a universally tribal sigh of a wow as we took in the exhibit’s collective interpretation of a singular legacy. Bose’s apprentice Perry Mamaril pitched in, too, as did percussionists and dancers, so that the music that soon enveloped the venue became another medium of transport into Santi’s world: a heritage of endless beginnings.

Days later, his buddy Boy Yuchengco applied yet another piece to add to the 3-D puzzle (read: cosmic conundrum) that Santi’s effect on everyone had, very much like his maniacal guffaw. As if redux and reload were not enough (and with Santi nothing was ever enough), an incendiary altar now enhances the Grand Guignol remix.

Poet-rocker-daughter Lille says it best:

“Art critics lamented that when Santiago Bose died, his influence on the development of contemporary art was impossible to recognize completely. Seven years later, artists have co-opted (and) reinterpreted... Bose’s ideas, forms, and ideology in various mediums.”

You should all catch this exhibit born out of the vestiges of a legacy that has stayed luminous, like lovely lunacy.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

ALLEN GABORRO REVIEWS THE LIGHT SANG AS IT LEFT YOUR EYES: OUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY

[First published in Philippine News, June 11, 2008]

I once had a college classmate who was so exceptional as a student that our professor exclaimed, with tongue-in-cheek, that she could submit a paper with absolutely nothing written on it and still receive the highest grade. I can easily say the same for artist, poet, writer, and publisher Eileen R. Tabios. Of all of her admirable pursuits, it is her poetry that has proven her artistic worth. Her poems are transcendent, expressive, and provocative. What is more is that they are human, all too human to borrow from Nietzsche, in the emotions they evoke and in the wisdom they reflect.

Tabios’s The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes: Our Autobiography,” is an eloquent testimony to her artistry as a poet and to the sublimity of her verses. It is also rich and extensive in its subject-matter, covering the historical, the spiritual, the social, the literary, and the personal.

More than anything else, The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes is the story of two lives told in verse. It is the story of Eileen Tabios herself and that of her deceased father Filamore B. Tabios, Sr., a victim of brain cancer. Having to cope with his illness and subsequent death was quite an emotional burden to bear for Tabios. However, if there can ever be a silver lining in the death of a loved one, it is that private suffering can emerge as a source of creative inspiration. This notion forms much of the basis of the book’s poetry.

While love and devotion for her father runs throughout Tabios’s poetry, her book is by no means an unequivocally starry-eyed paean to the man who sired, as Tabios calls herself, “the most prodigal of daughters.” The reader can almost feel Tabios’s emotions pulsing as she struggles to make a clean breast of her troubled relationship with her father. Describing her mind as “an open wound,” Tabios plaintively asks how did her relationship with her father reach a juncture where “he could not feel my love to be guaranteed?” She compounds this question with another heartrending one: “How did our relationship come to encompass so much loss?”

It takes her father to fall into a bedridden state for Tabios to find the opportunity to repair the damage caused to their relationship. It is under these circumstances that she has “finally returned” after having “left him nearly 30 years ago.” Content in the knowledge that she has reconciled for the most part with her father, and cognizant that he doesn’t have much longer to live, Tabios writes of wanting him to be “immortal” because “hell, we finally like each other!”

In the multifaceted, philosophically-edged poem “What Can a Daughter Say?” Tabios’s poetic genius intersects with the weight of contemporary history, particularly that of the Philippines. Here, in her own, creative way, and as a Filipina who was born into the Marcos era generation, Tabios speaks for Imee Marcos, the former dictator’s daughter. In a fictional voice that is complemented by a dose of pathos from Tabios, Imee jumps from rationalization to denial to a loving daughter’s affection and back again, in what would seem like a reluctant attempt to evaluate the legacy of her father, Ferdinand Marcos. More than not however, Imee’s fictive ruminations segue into the realms of what Tabios envisages as the “flux of language” and the “logic of amnesia.”

The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes is intended to be a postmodern blending of eclectic themes, images, and words. As hallmarks of the postmodern style, Tabios’s poems steer people away from simple-minded assumptions and towards being more contemplative about things, about ideas, about life in general. That is why readers should understand that the divergence and subjective impressionism in her poems are what make them not only distinct works of art, but also a significantly meaningful body of verses.

Categorical readings in art or literature should never be raised from the bottom of the interpretive receptacle. Meanings are subversive things, always ready to supplant the interpretation that was previously arrived at until they too, are subverted in turn. Tabios’s poetry is built on the same foundation.

It is within that approach that Tabios keeps the spirit of her beloved father alive in the pages of her extraordinary book. It is a spirit and memory that will never die out thanks to a daughter’s belated, at times painful, journey of self-discovery.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

ALFRED A. YUSON REVIEWS DREDGING FOR ATLANTIS and THE LIGHT SANG AS IT LEFT YOUR EYES

[First published in The Philippine Star, February 11, 2008]

Verses for the extra-terrestrial heart
(First of 2 parts)

KRIPOTKIN By Alfred A. Yuson
The Philippine Star
Monday, February 11, 2008

To all the friends and wannabes who sent their latest titles in the year just past, my sincere apologies. Been so busy over the past months that I couldn't find time to conduct any literary reviews. But since my extra-galactic powers allow me to trilocate sometime around Valentine's Day and adopt various life forms, such as an amoeba, a paramecium, and a Jarjar Binks-type of mutant, these manifestations managed to go through every single, letter-perfect page in your wonderful additions to Filipiniana, let alone my shelves.

Why, my holy synergy even found the gravy time to render the following report. Not an omnibus review; no, let's not call it that. But a report, plain and simple, glowing as it must be, for good Happy Lunar New Year measure.

The books are cited in the order received by this visiting Neptunian. But I'll initially confine this first part of a series to books of verse, that is, human poetry, which is close to my extraterrestrial heart.

Early last year, Eileen Tabios sent her 11th poetry book from California, where she tends a vinery while still writing poetry and occasionally publishing other poets' books.

Dredging for Atlantis is published by Otoliths of Australia. It's a slim chapbook of 56 pages, but rather delightful, not only for the continuing experimentation in poetic form and provenance, but also for the brief works' aphoristic value.

Most of the poems are of the ekphrasis variety, which means they're inspired by or based on works in other art forms, such as paintings. Here, too, they utilize the painterly technique of scumbling — that is, softening lines or colors by rubbing or coating opaquely. Thus she creates poems from other poets' works.

Whichever the technique, her deceptively simple lines radiate memorably in various directions, as in the poem "Burning Pulpit": "Could our two miseries/ copulate/ into one opulent being?// Men simplify/ then slink back/ to antediluvian burrows// Baby priests/ turn away/ to cast profiles forsworn to Donatello// But she is clutching lilac print/ within a shadow burning/ away/ salvation's seedlings."

The two-line poem "Futurism" is Villaesque: "The truants of heaven/ possess a startling velocity"; so is "Winged Victory": "Defile/ that Carrara// A nude woman stands for the universe// All of her names end/ with 'A'// Then her eyes..."

Also from other writers' texts, she extracts sequences of the "hay(na)ku" — a poetic form she introduced in 2003, and managed to have international poets try their hand at it. It involves tercets with a stepladder progression from one word to three words in each of the three lines in a stanza, or in reverse hay(na)ku, the other way around. As in "Windfalls": "The olives' oil/ contents grow/ substantially// from October to/ December. It's/ risky,// however, to leave/ them too/ long// on trees because/ if they/ become// 'windfalls' they cannot/ be considered/ for/ virgin pressings."

Tabios sent yet another book later in the year, the 366-page The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes: Our Autobiography (Marsh Hawk Press, New York), her 12th among what are now 15 poetry collections (the others being online editions). The soft-cover tome is basically an intense, loving testament to her father, Filamore B. Tabios Sr., who passed away in 2006.

It is also her most comprehensive collage, or quilt or tapestry, of poetic utterances, melding political statement with found art, childhood memoir with e-mailed texts, and ranging from translations by other poets in Filipino and Spanish to poem-installations, anti-Marcos diatribe to fond recollections of an Ilocano Baguio, prose poems to memoirs, more hay(na)ku poems to blog entries, collaborations to deconstructions, detailed notations on her dad's demise to Artist's Statements etc. She includes her "List(ing) Poem: Towards the New Filipino Society" as well as its visual rendering, as displayed in PLAC's "Chromatext Reloaded" exhibit at the CCP Main Gallery in January 2007.

This book has been reviewed in full in these pages by Juaniyo Arcellana, so that since we've been beaten to the earlybird prize, suffice it to say that Eileen Tabios commands breadth and depth in her ongoing affair with poetry, surely a passionate one that involves all senses and evolving forms, and yet still drawing — as against the risks of too prolific and possibly profligate an output — on fundamental strengths. As in "Canto 32": "You dare to stare/ at the sun.// When you turn away/ from the light.// You can no longer see/ anything but its absence.// I see you, Daddy./ I see myself// seeing you looking back/ at me...."

These five couplets are followed by a prose rendering on a lower, right-hand column. It's too long to quote in full, so let's skip to its arc of closure, which could well be read as Tabios' ars poetica: "... you will conclude, no matter how many poets have labored, are laboring, will labor, there are never enough poems. Never enough poems. And as you read me now, you feel me sitting before a small desk, buried in a man's plaid bathrobe, unkempt hair falling over bloodshot eyes, ink smudging all fingers, munching on 'a cookie chock full of mountainous chunks of rich
milk chocolate and munchable macadamia nuts,' as I write, as I write, as I write: Never enough."

In his new poetry collection, Textual Relations (UP Press), Ramil Digal Gulle begins his preface titled "A view from the Hellsmouth": "There might be too many words in this book."

It is in direct contrast to Eileen Tabios' theory of all-inclusive poetic peroration. The truth or wisdom may be somewhere in between, or much more likely, twirling like an angel on the pinhead of both standpoints. For with and on poetry one can say anything, utter anything. Hear out William Stafford, whom Gulle quotes in the pages of aphorisms serving to introduce his book sections: "... A poem is a serious joke, a truth that has learned jujitsu."

It may be in that sporting vein that Gulle expands his repertoire from the years when he early gained university and Palanca prizes. His collection is rife with levity, figure-of-eights, stark somersaults and in-your-face audacity. He employs the F word and the Tagalog rendition of the MF word, curses like anything, sexes up his themes and topics by marrying the medieval to the macho mundane: "... Legend has it, Merlin still/ screams his blueballs through the forest/ after sixteen-hundred years and nobody/ gives a shit. Nobody.// Just beat it, kid. Beat it, be done, and walk on." (from "Eating Merlin")

There's a lot of tough talk, of Gonzo verse (after all, he's also a journalist), of adroit lyricism when consumed by lust, tender to cariño brutal: "He thumbs the air behind her: a dark./ Comma, a cipher for the hidden cameraman/ adjusting the focus on his bare butt." (from "D'Pure Sight of Fior's Panties")

His titles are relentlessly engaging: "Shopping Maul"; "The Boredom of Borges"; "Brasserie Speak"; "Dildo Shopping"; "Four O'Clock Nipple"; "Det for the Next World"; "Cream, No Pussy"; "Ophelia's Water-Method to Ecstasy"... Like a savvy rock band composing for a shock-jock CD, he sallies forth on riffs given as much to urban legend as to apocalyptic apocrypha.

I like his sleight-of-hand tricks, the diverse rhythms and forms he employs, nay, plays with. He is poet as homo ludens, not taking himself seriously except in the spirit of play. Why, he can even console himself in such a poem as "How to Lose a Poetry Competition" — which I heard him read in Singapore's Wordfeast, a couple of years ago, as part of a circle of grass lawn picnickers.

Yes, it's a picnic with poetry for Gulle, and we catch him even doing and serving up the barbecue. In "Making Love to Ingeborg," he implores in self-mockery: "I'm going to die impaled on a limp metaphor./ They'll throw my body on the grassy lot to rot./ Will you be the yellow-haired bitch who eats me? // Please."

He quotes from Janice de Belen as he does Czeslaw Milosz, National Artist of the Philippines F. Sionil Jose ("Poetry? I can't even pronounce it."), and The Catholic Almanac/Quick Questions/Online edition, among many others, from fore to aft in a ship of tomfoolery. He even ends a poem with "Baby, yeah!"

And in some poems he goes dark and nearly Gothic, such is the range he exhibits: "Close the gate, watchman, shut the gyre on those/ souls forever. Let the dark winds whip and flay/ the, black flags in a night without names." (from "Inspiratorium")

Gulle is at his best when he commands, or reminds his audience, such as of a to-do list, as in "Ten Things to Remember in a Nuclear War in the Philippines." His voice certainly commands attention — to his growing prowess as a Gonzo commando who takes no prisoners but himself. In that sport, he surrenders to an all-knowing jauntiness, and we are all made captive.