Monday, February 06, 2006


[First published in MUNTING NAYON, Netherlands, February 2006]

Eileen Tabios, Poet and Writer

In her book, I take Thee English, My beloved, Eileen Tabios writes:

“I consider Poetry to be a practice, a way of living. For me, living as a poet requires maximizing awareness of the world in order to be effective as a poet. By “effective”, I refer to my hope that my poems create spaces for experiences that readers find meaningful if not pleasurable.” -Six Directions: Poetry as a way of Life -

Reading Eileen’s poetry requires more than a cursory glance. Her poems have a compelling effect on the reader so one is called back and back again to read and reread lines and verses. Her work evokes an emotional and physical response in the reader. One never tires of reading it. With regards to her poetics, its effectiveness is in how her work extends beyond the written page.

Eileen Tabios’ work moves the reader to beyond the page, beyond thought into action. Whether that action implies picking up the pen, awakening to the vibrancy of an undeniable heritage and doing something about it, or buying more books by Filipino authors is what the writer leaves to the reader.

Born in the Philippines, Eileen moved to the U.S. when she was ten years old.

A graduate of political science, economics and international finance. As an undergraduate, she spent most of her time working for the college newspaper, Columbia University’s Daily Spectator which, while a college publication, was a legitimate professional daily -- the eight largest daily in New York City.

After receiving her MBA, she went on to work for nearly ten years in the finance industry. In 1995, she gave up a life of finance and embraced life as a fulltime creative writer.

Today, she has ten poetry collections to her name. Among them the much acclaimed, I Take Thee, English, For My Beloved, and, Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole. A modern day poet, Eileen’s works appear not only in print publications, but also on electronic and cd publications. She has also released a short story collection, and a collection of art essays, as well as edited or co-edited five books of poetry, fiction and essays.

Aside from writing, Eileen also edits and publishes collections written by other poets. Founder and Publisher of a multi-disciplinary publishing company, Meritage Press. She is at once writer, poet, editor, critic, publisher and cultural activist, all these in order to achieve her goal of advancing and promoting poetry.

To someone reading Eileen’s work for the first time, it is impossible to ignore the influence of heritage on her work. In her book, Reproductions of an Empty Flagpole, Eileen writes

“I am called “Balikbayan” because the girl in me is a country of rope hammocks and waling-waling orchids -- a land with irresistible gravity, because in it, I forget the world’s magnificent indifference. In this country, my grandmother’s birthland, even the dead are never cold and I become a child at ease with trawling through rooms in the dark. In this land, throughout this archipelago, I am capable of silencing afternoons with a finger.”
-excerpt from Corolla, Reproductions of an Empty Flagpole -

There is so much in this book that resonates with readers like you and me. In the poem, “Eulogy”, she speaks of consistently travelling “to search for what will touch off an implosion in my heart”, and in the poem “The Empty Flagpole” she asks “What does it say about me when I ask for asylum in places where people wish to leave?”

It is statements like these that reach out and cause us to face the truth of our lives as wanderers and travellers, far from home, but still at home. Perhaps, these are questions we have asked, and perhaps these are statements we could have said.

In her blog,, Eileen Tabios speaks of going home to a people and not to a country. Regarding identity, she says the following:

I am reluctant to define identity because I feel identity is not stable, or that it's in flux (or perhaps this instability is my definition of it). And such instability, I believe, would exist regardless of any immigration issues. But, synchronistically, this seems to fit with how I sense my position as a diasporic Filipino: that is, without denying my "roots", as you put it, I feel that ultimately I am rootless. By this I mean that my "Philippines" is a place in my mind and heart, which may or may not fit the actual country identified today as the Philippines.

Certainly, the Philippines that existed when I was still living there (from ages 1-10) no longer exists -- it was before Marcos declared Martial Law and I still hold dear within my memory the sense from that time that the Philippines was at the brink of major progress. Well, what's transpired with and after Marcos has not been, on many levels, progressive, and I've not come to any accommodations with this in part because I've not really returned there. So I'm left with my childhood memory, and often dismay at what I've observed has happened with and since Marcos....

Politics, of course, are not culture or the people. Where I feel at home with Filipinos often has to do with my relationship and engagements with other Filipinos. To the extent that certain races are more warm-hearted than others, I do feel a warmth and gentleness from Filipinos that I sometimes don't experience with non-Filipinos.

So how despite growing up in the United States, in a culture that is different from what we know, how is it that Eileen retains a strong connection to her roots, an awareness of culture, history and heritage that resonates in her work.

Eileen: Poetry brought me back to my roots. Since age 10, I grew up as an "Americanized teenager" and didn't really pay much attention to Filipino culture until age 35 when I rebirthed myself (if you will) as a poet. I think the return to one's culture is logical -- if art is inherently about identity, then I would have been a blockhead if I hadn't begun to explore my Filipinoness. What I hadn't expected was how that search would create more questions than answers.

In Reproductions of an Empty Flagpole, she calls our attention to historical facts we might have forgotten, such as the Philippine-American war and how English which is sometimes called by Filipinos to be the borrowed tongue would be more accurately called the enforced tongue.

Referring to “subverting the language”, Eileen says:

My intentions as regards that phrase has changed over time. When I was a younger poet, I was interested in subverting English because of its historical role as a tool for U.S. imperialism in the Philippines. But over time I've also come to find that position to be limiting. When I subvert language nowadays, which is to say, attempt to use it in a more fresh or an unexpected way, it's more of an aesthetic decision rather than a political one. Basically, language is alive and so I'd like to use words beyond the contexts in which I inherit them, e.g. when one uses a word not based on its dictionary definition but based on its sound, image against the page, or how they feel against your tongue or mold the insides of your mouth.

And again in reference to herself as a poet straddling two cultures, she replies:

Actually, I've decided to avoid having my identity be limited by this notion of straddling two cultures. My imagination, especially as a poet, needs a larger expanse than this notion for purpose of identity.

Having said that, I don't mind being called Filipino because that's what I am. But I don't actually believe in the hyphenated Filipino phrase, whether it's Filipino-American or Filipino-European or anything else. I believe in just the single word "Filipino" and that it's a large enough word to be applicable anywhere around the world -- it's a position of faith that I proactively take up because I am a poet who believes in the power of words, specifically how the Word can expand instead of limit.

Named as one of the foremost Filipino American poets of the 21st century. I asked her what this statement means to her, and her is what she said in response to my question:

Absolutely nothing. One should never believe one's p.r., though this phrase is something that others applied to me versus something I say about myself.

And, actually, in thinking about this phrase a bit more, I've decided it's irritating. I'm sure the author of the phrase meant well, but the nature of this phrase's approach is something I find limiting. If I'm to have ambition as a poet, it's to be, to use the phrase's jargon, foremost among all poets of all time. (Not to say that's my ambition, but I'm just deconstructing the phrase as presented....wink).

Hmmmm. Or maybe I should just shut up and accept all compliments with a simple "thank you." It's not like poets get so many compliments about what they do, you know what I mean?

Anyway, the only time I take any poetry-related compliments seriously is when I have to sell a book or promote a gig. But that's called marketing, not poetry -- or my poetry anyway. I often have to promote so many poetry projects (not just mine but also other poets') and so I've learned to be careful never to confuse marketing with poetry.

To the growing mass of Filipinos who are adopting other countries and other tongues, and to their children, she says:

That to learn and immerse oneself in a new culture or new cultures is not contradictory with remaining true to one's ancestral heritage.


Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a writer of speculative fiction, science fiction and fantasy. Her works have appeared in various publications. Aside from this column, she also writes a regular interview column for the U.S.-based electronic publication: The Sword Review. She blogs sporadically at

Sunday, February 05, 2006


[First published in HYPHEN, San Francisco, Summer 2005]

Surveying Recent Asian American Literary Anthologies

Ask any anthology editor the rationale behind organizing a together a new collection of work and you’ll get a wide and complex range of answers. Market need. The wish to showcase a new generation of voices. Political imperatives. The reshaping of the canon. When Bay area poet Eileen Tabios talks about her history of involvement editing various anthology projects, Tabios explains, “I've involved myself in editing Asian American literary anthologies for generally two reasons. The first is to expand previously narrow categorizations of "Asian American Poetry, helping to expand offerings to include the avant garde or other poetic forms that depart from strict story-telling narratives about overt Asian American experience. The second reason I've involved myself in this area is to address certain ethnicities that previously were not as fully presented in Asian American texts.”

In an era when the new crop of literary anthologies are edited by practicing writers and cultural activists for the communities in which these editors participate, The Norton Anthologies no longer hold poetic authority. This article will take a closer look at three literary anthologies which have recently hit the market and are slowly making their way into classrooms: Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation, Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images, and Pinoy Poetics. While there is some overlap in authors appearing throughout the collections to be discussed, each of these books makes its own unique contribution to the ongoing discussion of Asian American literature, reflecting specific political and editorial sensibilities.

Taking its cue from anthologies like Jim Daniels and Edward Costanzo’s American Poetry: The Next Generation and David Lehman’s Best American Poetry series, Victoria Chang’s Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation (University of Illinois Press, 2003) gathers together and canonizes the work of 28 poets under the age of 35, including Cathy Park Hong, Mong Lan, Tina Chang, Skrikanth Reddy and Paisley Rekdal, who are framed in the editor’s introduction as representing the “new generation of Asian American poets”. Chang writes of her desire to assemble together a collection of work departing from a “recognizable Asian voice.” While poets such as Reginald Gibbons and David Baker have publicly praised the collection, The Next Generation drew fierce criticism from the Asian American literary community for its closed editorial approach and its assertion of authority which has prevented dialogue around issues of editorial process, the lack of poets outside the academy and the exclusion of radically experimental and innovative writers notably absent from this anthology. To find work for her collection, Chang, a Stanford business school graduate who exists on the fringes of the poetry world, combed through dozens of literary journals from which she created a master list of poets to solicit work. Chang mailed out approximately 60 queries to ”friends, friends of friends, editors, professors, and anyone that would respond” in order to get recommendations. In total, Chang considered the work of nearly 140 poets for her project, ultimately narrowing her selection to 28 contributors, the vast majority of whom have MFAs or PhDs and have some involvement with academia. The poets are arranged in alphabetical order and placed in context by essays from Marilyn Chin and the project editor.

Winner of the 2004 Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award and Foreward Magazine’s Gold Award for Anthologies Winner, Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, 2003) has quickly caught the spotlight for its ambitiousness, vision, and range. Screaming Monkeys grew out of a call put out to a community of writers, scholars, and artists by Editor M. Evelina Galang to respond to an article that appeared in an issue of Milwaukee Magazine in which a writer reviewing a Filipino restaurant referred to the owner’s child as a “rambunctious little monkey”. The Screaming Monkeys anthology is organized into thematic sections (including a final section on “transcendence” -- works that both depart from and transcend a “recognizeable Asian voice”) and compiles together historical documents and timelines, media quotes, and news headlines alongside fiction, non-fiction, poetry, art, and commercial images of Asians as represented by mainstream media. The collection is diverse in its range of writing styles and voice, and across generations, pairing elder established writers, such as Marilyn Chin, Walter Lew, Garrett Hongo, and Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, alongside emerging writers such as Ricco Villanueva Siasoco, S.L. Kim, and Brian Komei Dempster. Loosely inserted throughout the book are artworks by Asian American artists including Barry McGee, James Yang, and Dindo Llana, and “found images” from sources including Apu from popular T.V. show “The Simpsons” to “go geisha” fashion images , which lack a clear editorial context or focus and more often than not distract from the textual works. Assembled by a collaborative team of editors under the leadership of Galang, Eileen Tabios, Sunaina Maira, Jordan Isip, and Anida Youe Esguerra contributed to giving shape to this collection, and scholar Leslie Bow provides a reading companion highlighting areas of inquiry to help make sense of the over 500 page collection. While Screaming Monkeys presents older work that has been previously anthologized or published before such as Li-Young Lee’s famous poem “The Cleaving”, the project of this collection was clearly to cast a wide as net as possible in gathering together a range of voices and to reframe these works in the context of the Asian American experience,

Pinoy Poetics: A Collection of Autobiographical and Critical Essays on Filipino and Filipino-American Poetics is published by Meritage Press, an independent publishing company founded by cultural activist Eileen Tabios who contributed to editing the Screaming Monkeys anthology, and who has also edited several other projects including Black Lightning (Asian American Writers Workshop, 1998) and Babaylan: An Anthology of Filipina and Filipina American Writers (Aunt Lute Press, 2000) co-edited with poet Nick Carbo. Conceptualized by Tabios and edited again by Carbo, Pinoy Poetics collects together the work of 40 international Filipino English-language poets. The poets speak for themselves, touching on issues of poetic craft, identity, and practice, approaching the call with a variety of strategies -- Vince Gotera conducts a self-interview, Paolo Javier plays with typography and the visual presentation of text in his anti-narrative essay “Marginalia”, Oakland based poet Barbara Jane Reyes discusses the process of writing and revising her long poem “Anthropologic” from her collection Gravities of Center, Jean Vengua talks about the experience of writing poems “in public” for the internet, and others speak of poets influential to the development of their poetic sensibilities, defining a personal poetic and presenting poems which mirror aspects of their practice. Carbo includes a literary timeline marking major events in the history of Phillipine writing and Tim Yu contributes an essay on the work of modernist poet and former “National Artist of the Phillipines” Jose Garcia Villa.

Keep an eye out next year for Carbo’s latest editorial project, Son of the Dragon: Literary Dialogues with Asian America Men, an anthology of writings on Asian American male identity and experiences which Carbo is co-editing with performance poet Marlon Esguerra of "I Was Born With Two Tongues" fame. The idea for this project grew out of a discussion over Whitney McNally’s "Gay or Asian?" piece that ran in the April 2004 issue of Details Magazine. The project will examine what it is to be male and Asian in America and both respond to and subvert how Asian American males are portrayed by mainstream media.


Other Asian-American literary anthologies for further exploration:

Going Home to a Landscape: Writings by Filipinas
Edited by Marianne Villanueva & Virginia Cerenio

Black Lightning
Edited by Eileen Tabios

Edited by Nick Carbo & Eileen Tabios

Watermark: Vietnamese Prose and Poetry
Edited by Barbara Tran, Monique T. D. Truong & Luu Truong Khoi

also see other titles available at the website


Shin Yu Pai is the author of Equivalence (La Alameda, 2003), Ten Thousand Miles of Mountains and Rivers (Third Ear Books, 1998), and two titles which are forthcoming in 2005, Nutritional Feed (Tupelo Press) and Works on Paper (Convivio Bookworks).


Filipino Poetics
By Cirilo F Bautista
Philippine Panorama, Manila, Sept. 12, 2004

Another book that explores the so-called “diasporic difficulties” of Filipino-American poets in the United States of America is Pinoy Poetics, edited by Nick Carbo (San Francisco & St. Helena, Meritage Press, 2004). Subtitled, “A Collection of Autobiographical and Critical Essays on Filipino and Filipino-American poetics,” it features some 41 Filipino and Filipino American poets who articulate the workings of their poetic consciousness leading to the production of a poem.

The essays vary in perspective and mode of presentation, but in content, they all reflect the westernization of the writer’s consciousness. They abound with quotations from European writers, references to influences by American poets, and the intrusion of the American landscapes and values -- the major elements which have created the Filipino psyche which is forever resenting its colonization while taking advantage of the new language it has acquired. The irony is that this has produced the inescapable situation of the Filipino writers in America -- though they may cling to ideas of their native land, they will be alienated from it; while they may adapt to the American culture and environment, they will never be completely American. That is the curse of using a foreign language -- you will never be part of it even if you think you are writing in it. You will remain faceless because you have no language and your identity has not achieved a settlement. The very hyphen in “Filipino-American” indicates a perpetual transpositioning between two places, never a coming home.

That is why these essays are interesting. They clarify the complex character of that psyche through expositions on the creative process. The styles are varied, from the philosophical to the polemical to the patchwork or cut-and-paste, but all offer unique insights into the craft. Sometimes, the writers themselves are unsure of how the process works; they strive to explain the inexplicable through poems that have other explanations. That is unavoidable because, though the process, the step-by-step physical crafting, may be graspable, the evolution of the inner being at the moment of composition possesses no specific system. It is the mystery in the process that seems to lie beyond understanding and utterance.

The ars poetica exploration is just one aspect of hte book's purpose; the main intention is to bring to a forum -- and examine the reasons for -- the prevailing neglect of the Filipino writers in America. For it is a fact that they have not, after all these years, succeeded in breaking into that country’s literary mainstream. Carbo complains that this is not their deficiency, but that there seems to be a sinister plot to keep them hidden from general knowledge. Though they have been trained in the best workshops in the world, Filipino poets continue to be ignored by editors and anthologies. This glaring marginalization needs clarification. Carbo asks, “What is causing this stubborn invisibility? Is it the Filipino poet’s own fault by not publishing enough poems in the U.S. or the Philippines? Can the poetry written by Filipinos be so bad that many Americans have refused to even look our way?”

To dispel doubts about the ability of the Filipino poets, Carbo traces their development and progress in the U.S.A. He comes to the conclusion that “the literary history of Filipinos in America is a hidden history…Is literary America ready to accept the notion that Filipinos have published poems and developed their craft at the same place alongside the American poets? Taking the known historical fact of slavery, racism, and colonial domination by America, it is easy to see why literary America may not be ready to relinquish their position of cultural nad literary superiority.” Carbo has answered his own question, and we agree with him.

Literary history is written by the literary winners. In fact, they really do not have to write it. By simply ignoring the existence of other literatures, they effectively truncate them and ultimately eradicate them. Out of sight, out of mind. They would not like an admixture to the mainstream, for it would dilute the richness of their achievement. This drives the Filipinos more and more to reach back to their island origins for cultural ammunitions that would support their imagined identity -- myths, legends, folk beliefs, etc. -- while trying to show that they could function as well as anyone in the American society. But they cannot rise to any position of power, being invisible. That is, they will find it difficult to alter the direction of American letters. Why? The poets in this book give a variety of reasons, and they all help us piece together a picture of a cultural and aesthetic struggle that is almost epical in its implications.


The Poetics of Being Pinoy
By Juaniyo Arcellana
The Philippine Star, Manila, October 18, 2004

There’s some kind of map being drawn in the largely diasporic world of Filipino poetry in English in the book Pinoy Poetics edited by Fil-Am Nick Carbo which gathers essays by Filipino poets and writers based in the homeland as well as in the United States, among other point sin between.

It is on the whole an ambitious volume filled with possibilities both profound and mundane, and its very existence stakes its own ground in the highly competitive publishing circles of North American, where about half of the Filipino writes represented here are based.

Carbo and partner in crime Eileen Tabios through this book have done much to fix demarcation lines on where exactly Filipino poetry in English in this our 21st century is and where it may be headed. Judging by the essays that appear in Pinoy Poetics, there is no other way to situate our work except in a wholly global (read: western) context. That our poetry has survived and even thrived through the decades despite stacked up odds having to do with race, gender, not to mention second language handicap, is enough testament to the perseverance and tough mindedness of the Pinoy writer in time.

Perhaps the most significant of the essays here are those written by Filipinos who reached maturity as writers in a foreign land, with added spice being if the writer had visited the home country to further sharpen the perspective, almost like Alice stepping back out of the looking glass. Because in poetry there is much romance and vagabond recklessness, the Filipino as poet cannot but feel at home in this medium, and in which a still place could be found for the crafting of verse.

Many years removed form Manila and his old Sampaloc district haunts, Eric Gamalinda comes up with an essay that is exhaustive in its scholarliness, complete with footnotes and properly attributed references, “Language, Light and the Language of Light” shows more than enough signs that he has grown well enough alone through the years, and has taken to heart the advice of a former teacher Franz Arcellana, that if one is to mature as a writer, one has to get as far away from home as possible.

Gamalinda’s colleague at the Philippine Literary Arts Council and fellow expatriate Luisa Igloria, uses a recent poem as a centerpiece for discussion of the creative process, in particular varied sources and a shifting point of view. Her poem “The Incredible Tale of the Ice Cream Cone Dog” spans the centuries by leaps and bounds, harking back to the World’s Fair at the turn of the century and fast-forwards in a modern conundrum that is the soda parlor juxtaposed with warm memories of azucena.

Another poet who spent most of his formative years in the home country only to migrate in adulthood is Mike Maniquiz, a natural in the language. Maniquiz recalls growing up in the middle class projects of Quezon City, and unearthing a book of Jose Garcia Villa at a public library while waiting to pass the time. He tells of a Caucasian woman who sits beside him on a place, and who is driven to tears when he lets her read from his book of poems. But is that the real reason why she weeps or is it her sensing here yet another poet far from home?

Corollarily of interest are the essays by those who migrated while they were young, and returned to the homeland only when they were well into maturity.

Eugene Gloria, now since relocated in an Indiana suburb ,spent some years here in graduate school at the University of the Philippines, which becomes the gist of his remembrance of a childhood in Avenida, Sta. Cruz. Of course the Sta. Cruz of his memory is a mere shadow of the Rizal Avenue circa early 1990s, time of his visit, underneath the clatter of the LRT and winding thorugh the dark alleyways preceding the good mayor’s buhayin ang Maynila program. But this is not simple nostalgia, rather a method of staying connected with his Filipino-ness, indeed no mean feat in a world of perpetual deconstruction. His Drivers at the Short-Time Motel remains a book of poems we’ve long wanted to read, and in the poem that ends his essay here we get to know the meaning of the word “scree.”

Oscar Penaranda did time in the grape farms of California and canning factories of Alaska, and so is familiar with the experiences of the first wave of Filipino migrants, one of whom became the benchmark of the Filipino American writer in the brave new western world, Carlos Bulosan. Penaranda posits correctly that the Filipino writer in America faces tremendous odds in a society where power is centered on the basically white, male and Protestant. Yet he knows whereof he writes and keeps faith in the root of the matter, those shifting concerns of a largely amorphous race.

The girl with the thorn on her side, Tabios in her essays gives a few hints on why she is writing not only as if her life depended on it but also as if there were no tomorrow. Lines between the genres and forms blur with Tabios, who uses performance and the visual arts as spark plugs for her poetry. For her poetry is the only way to live, and she intends to suck the marrow and everything else out of it.

There too are the poets who chose to remain close to home for the most part -- Gemino Abad, Ricardo de Ungria, Ruey de Vera, Krip Yuson et al. -- but on the whole we can glean that traveling and being Filipino or even staying put is a state of mind, in itself already a kind of elusive ars poetica.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


[First published in SENTENCE, A JOURNAL OF PROSE POETICS, Winter 2004]

Eileen Tabios. Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole
Marsh Hawk Press, New York, NY: 2002. ISBN: 0-9713332-8-9.
By Chris Murray

"She knows she said I won't reach out to you again. But even as I write this, I don't think I'll have broken that promise. You don't exist."
--Eileen Tabios, "Eclipse,"
Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole

Those smallish parts of language, pronouns, are a significant source of artful excess: they are representatives, or reproductions of various speaking persons. The fact that there is no material substance to any poetic relationship of "I" to "You" is not news--think Rolling Stones, "Paint it Black," for the abject in that kind of relation of presence to absence. In language use, material referents always seem to shy from, to recede from their pronouns, and vice versa. Think silent films, the swirling of light down to a pinhole, then nothing. In the rhetorical economy necessary for poetry pronouns are an especial focal point of recession and reproduction for their referents. The prose poem as form makes this even more interesting since requiring that the relations be sustained at length, although they can never be anything but partial.

The prose poems in Eileen Tabios's Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole (Marsh Hawk Press, 2002) are laden with loss, with the problematics of lyric, in terms of addressing the absent other, the loss of physical other, the various problem of missing someone in space and in time. No small order for poetry to fill. Yet it is those smallish parts of language, pronouns, in their relations, which are given the work of reflecting and poetically resonating with the larger metonymic, a problematic of situating parts to wholes.

The pronoun-woven quote above, from the book's opening poem, "Eclipse," resonates exponentially with both the promise and the loss of physical meeting, "She knows ... I won't reach out to you... " (13). Thus it highlights a certain pronomial eclipse (and literally, too, given the poem's title), an excess, a wandering swirl of voice(s) that suggests the promise of known people, people warm with identity and voice--yet these are never quite manifest nor fulfilling to the speaker: the addressee, the unspecified "you," does "not exist," so is eclipsed by the reproduction, the pronoun. This is one way that the contradictions eddying around pronomial relations nevertheless provide renewed ways to think about lyric poetry and the in-turning of to speaker, the first person voice(s): "But even as I write this, I don't think I'll have broken that promise." Promise resonates continually, yet never manifests. It is the very problem of writing itself, as this speaker also notes. A book of poems focused to that relation and how variously it works is always news for readers of poetry.

News, and yet also a mainstay of poetic tradition in terms of lyric poetry. Here is the opening of "How Cyberspace Lost Midnight," one of many places in these poems that tightly link and configure to maximum economy all of these matters: representations of material body, grief over its loss, the presence/absence of the other, lyric image and voice. What drives the poetic economy here is that the pronouns resonate with the work of indicating people caught up in poetic regions of excess, here, that very contemporary space of excess, "Cyberspace":

Petals cling to the wet pavement, forlorn in their solitude and with the insistence of their grasp. She tries to avoid stepping on them, then considers the intention silly. But she continues to avoid their pale flesh, seeking instead the stolid indifference of the pavement. In the fragility of a cyclamen's aftermath, she senses a storm's apology.

She is familiar with departures: the loosening of embraces, the forfeiture of birthplaces... . Before the millennium, this thing called the Internet sought to intervene... . She wrinkles her brow in understanding for the first time how much she is about to lose, even as she refuses to pull the emergency rope that would cease the train she discovers herself piloting. There are bodies laid on the tracks. (65-66)

There is a strong subtext of drama in this poem, of narrative driving the lyric, staging it, and in very effective ways. Throughout the book there is a metatextually feminist subtext, as well, as shown in that primacy of regard for both real and symbolic dramas of material body, its desires and limits.

The feminist voice here should not come as a surprise: Tabios has made it known that this book contains poems authored as a way of exorcising "the dehumanizing aspects" of her own past life in the finance industry. Of the poem, "The Investment Banker," she writes: "I realized that -- particularly with this poem's ending -- I had written it in an attempt to obviate the dehumanizing aspects of my finance career."(1) The poem dwells on loss of "avoidance," which should be "under control" in terms of the speaker's loss of self: "At 4 a.m. he is not displeased to be alone walking the streets. At 4 a.m., he feels that the hour offers a certain excuse for his loneliness" (70), yet no excuse for the anomie, the eroding of necessary, humanizing, connectedness to people, to life.

The poem resonates with issues of male-centered gendering. And on the metatextual level, something of a coup de grace: written by a woman in the voice of a banker, a man, exposing his personal longings and the vapid nature of his work, it is as if to say, I, a woman, do hereby exorcise this particular, dehumanizingly male-centered way of being through my art. Indeed, a very freeing, assertive mode given any gender orientation and cultural situation.

To my mind, the measure of a poetry book's success would linger over questions of intellectual usefulness--the book's continuing, viable rhetorical challenges. In that sense alone, then, volumes could be written about how and why Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole is important both for purposes of study in creative rhetorics or poetics, and as a most satisfying, pleasurable read.

(1) Eileen Tabios, "Humanizing a Dehumanizing Career," article posted to Tabios' weblog, Chatelaine-Poetics, Archived Sunday 28 Dec 03, 9:25 a.m.