Monday, January 30, 2006


[First published in BOOKMARK, 2005]

Review by Thomas Fink
Poems by Eileen R. Tabios
Marsh Hawk Press, East Rockaway, N.Y.
$25.00, 502 pp, Paper

In her poem “I Do,” Filipina-American author Eileen R. Tabios’s assertion “I do know English” is followed closely by the line, “I do know English and still will not ask permission”). But why does Tabios, in her book’s title, perform a kind of marriage vow to English, the language that was instrumental in the colonization of her native land between 1898 and 1946? “I Do,” which contains ironic references to the 2000 U.S. Presidential election and efforts to wring some honesty or feeling from a game-playing lover, also includes the information: “Because I do know English, I have been variously called Miss Slanted Vagina, The Mail Order Bride, The One With The Shoe Fetish, The Squat Brunette Who Wears A Plaid Blazer Over a Polka-Dot Blouse, The Maid”. Wouldn’t marrying English accord European-American masculinity patriarchal privilege over Filipina otherness? Instead, this kind of wedding brings a “knowledge” (in both the cognitive and erotic sense) of English that bespeaks the woman’s agency (despite the colonial and patriarchal past) and equality (especially in the refusal to “ask permission”). It also acknowledges that the poet has lived in the U.S. most of her life, speaks and writes, at this point, only English, cannot return to some pristine “origin” of the Philippines, as it does not exist, and gives herself the right to use the English language in a way that resists residues of colonial power relations.

If this sounds “postcolonial,” Tabios would rather be known as “transcolonial”: her work implicitly acknowledges colonial oppression and her people’s postcolonial difficulties stemming from prior and enduring exploitative relations, but she insists that this must not be the only subject matter: she must be able to write “across” these challenges to take on whatever aesthetic and social realms her imagination and elective associations bring her. The poet insists upon the freedom to seduce English, be seduced by its pleasures, and transform it in ways that produce effects and structures that the old colonizers could neither fathom nor countenance. For example, her “Clyfford Still Studies,” a suite of prose-poems with some verse-lines, spotlight Tabios’s ekphrastic mode, a dominant feature in her 2002 book of prose-poems, Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole. These texts do not literally convey the dark, jagged fields of the abstract expressionist’s big paintings but use them as a departure point for emotive journeys: “You know what I mean, that feeling of the very air pressing against you, the leaves whispering snidely overhead, the bees conspiring on what should be only a randomly-executed attack” (“On the Limits of Context”).

Indeed, Tabios’s work is more frequently abstract and disjunction-studded--in a word, “experimental,” and so it is helpful that, along with poems and prose-poems, Tabios provides ample discursive clarification of social, political, and aesthetic contexts. Tabios devotes space to her weblog explorations of poetics--which are well known in the cyber-poetry world--to accounts of her poetic processes (including “poem-sculptures”), to her invention of the “hay(na)ku),” a cousin of the haiku, and to her orchestration of “happenings,” involving many people and various other art forms, that constitute her belief in poetry as performance, not merely dramatic but worldly. Filipino-American poet Nick Carbo’s interview with Tabios is also included, as are e-mail exchanges with other poets. The book ends with a close reading by Ron Silliman, not only a pre-eminent Language Poet but a widely “hit” blogger.

As for the organization of the poetry, prose-poetry, and other elements (including a few of Tabios’s actual wedding photos) in the book, this is part of the “performance” of poetry/poetics. The first section spans 214 pages (more than twice as long as the average poetry collection) and includes 10 sections, each of which has a particular thematic or formal rationale. Section III, “an autobiography” that is not an autobiography, comprises a verse novel (“The Definitive History of Fallen Angels”) about a female character’s adventures in love and longing that offers many flashes of psychological insight without a traditional novel’s recognizable plot structure and closure.

For someone so intent on establishing ways of situating her poetic production, Tabios also manages to sound like 70s Reader-Response literary theorists, even more than the Language Poets, in insisting that the reader, not the author, “completes” the text. She even includes a section of “Footnote” poems that appear on the bottom of otherwise blank pages. As noted on the back cover, “the texts which generate the footnote-poems are not included, thus enabling a space where readers play the role of speculating what story(ies) is (are) being footnoted.” Even contextual specifications about race, ethnicity, international history, and (for that matter) gender and class cannot fully control the instability of reference in such texts as the “Conjuration” poems, where multiple “ands” and blank spaces disrupt any sense of continuity, and the “Epilogue Poems,” where ampersands abound and some lines are simultaneously present and crossed out.

I read many of Tabios’s poetic explorations of romantic/erotic themes as a testing of the claims of freedom and deterministic constraints. “Rapunzel’s Deaf Eyes” rewrites the old western fairy tale to articulate an imprisonment of self within others’ idealized expectations ("I live in a turret now/ No stairs, no hair// Reading yourself/ into a stranger’s poem// for a ‘hidden track’/ lying// beneath lemonade days/ envied by all// except their owner,” but it ends with the possibility of an overriding illumination:

meat withers
in the freezer

children and spouses
lose innocence

Only the moon
remains to write

me of something
the rumors profess

is called “light.”

Moonlight is both a (traditional) external source of inspiration and a trope of internal fortitude that “writes” the poet’s unflagging determination to exceed socially imposed limitations, to persist in the “transcolonial” goal of “transit” expressed in the title of one of her poems: “Fly Luminously, Please”


Thomas Fink, a Professor of English at CUNY-LaGuardia, has published three books of poetry and two books of criticism.
A Different Sense of Power (Fairleigh Dickinson UP) appeared in 2001. His paintings hang in various collections.


[For a lecture at Cuny-LaGuardia, 2004]

Some Paragraphs on a Paragraph by Eileen Tabios
by Thomas Fink

The concluding section of Eileen Tabios's Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole (New York: Marsh Hawk Press, 2002) is "A Triptych for Anne Truitt." and this "triptych" exemplifies the conceptual density, imagistic richness, and subtle narrative layering of the book as a whole. The title of the third prose-poem in this triptych, "The Continuance of the Gaze" (117-119), announces the text as an anthem for the viewer and the artist's endurance, and indeed, the artist is "always already" a viewer, and visa-versa. The "you" in the opening paragraph might be an art lover, a lover of human beings, an artist, two or all of the three, or yet others, but I am interested in reading this paragraph as guidance for a contemporary painter hungry for a clarification of his/her painterly poetics when the usual "trial and error" is too trying and error-laden:

Can you see with such compassion that I might mistake your lucidity for the high line of a clearing sky, when instead it is the song of foam cresting a distant wave? Can you pay the price for risking perception and imperceptibility? Can you be surrounded-- sink into, then be uplifted -- by the singularity of a color emanating from a teal painting tiny enough to stand on one hand? I have felt Michelangelo's slaves surge out of stone. I trust in radiance. Let: Us. (117)

How does the artist assume the challenge of "seeing" what is unfolding, let's say, in her/his canvas or sculpture with "compassion"--with the ability to set aside personal gain and self-flattering gestures in order to make a contribution to the perceptual experience of others? Is it to "trust in radiance," to pay attention to that unfoldingpatiently until "radiance" manifests itself?

The co-presence and equivalence of "let" and "us," rather than the obvious "let us," urges the artist to "let" the artmaking process lead to "radiance," so that the felicitous intersubjectivity of an "us" can be established. If this successfully achieved "compassion" is posed as a cause not only for significant "perception," like the ecstatic release of "Michelangelo's slaves" from the "prison" of his "stone," for miscommunication-- the viewer's mistaking the intention of one tropological imagistic/figurative possibility for another--"imperceptibility" is not necessarily a negative result of the artist's "risk" but the inevitability of endlessly proliferating imaginations.

Further, "imperceptibility" may not be caused by flawed rendering; the very mystery of what is considered imperceptible enhances the appeal of the artwork for the viewer and the artist who cannot, as interpreter, contain effects produced by her "creation." Both of these participants in the art-making process can be psychologically "surrounded" by emergent "radiance"--paradoxically in a spatially tiny area--and then experience aesthetic immersion, a further relinquishing of control that makes them "sink into" a kind of quicksand, and finally, realize the reward of being "uplifted"--relieved of the discomfort of surrendering the ego by a lightening of psychic gravity, an exquisite simultaneity of plenitude and weightlessness. And if the "song of foam" lasts only a moment, it can come again in other "emanations" of color, shape, and motion.

Tabios's notion of "compassion," then, is as far from self-sacrificism as it is from self-indulgence. Its "trust" in "radiance" nurtures the open, patient cultivation of possible causes and conditions of perceptual "lucidity" in selves and others.


[First published in THE ASIAN REPORTER, Oct. 26, 2004]

Two Poetry Collections Celebrate Philippine Heritage Month
By Dave Johnson

Menage a Trois with the 21st Century
By Eileen R. Tabios

Museum of Absences
By Luis H. Francia

As part of the celebration of Philippine Heritage Month, here are collections by two poets that reflect upon the history and culture of the islands and push vigorously on the stuffy envelope of poetry itself.

While it is easy to find references to his ethnic origins through museum of absences, it’s also exciting to join Luis Francia on the broader literary playing field. I his big-hearted, pull-no-punches verse, Francia takes on the personae of a Manong (Pilipino for older brother), a lyrical revolutionary behind the enemy lines that interlace our glove, and the re-embodiment of Walt Whitman singing songs o fhis brothers, sisters, and himself.

In "New York Mythologies: For the undocumented victims of the Twin Towers collapse," he melds history and legend into art:

In the aeries of an ever-evolving city
In the strets of a revolving text, wher ea

Derelict contemplates the Bhagavad-Gita
A messenger dreams of running through Machu Picchu

Our bones are marrow’d with hope
Our childhood gods and duendes in tow

Cradles an dgraves on our backs.

Manhatta, you who no one can own

In the days that whisper of the past
In nights without history

Our bodies are your capital

Our lives and deaths your new mythologies

An eloquent rebel against all warmongers, Francia wishes in "Meditations, #7: Prayer for Peace":

May a bird kill a cannon
and a baby destroy a gun
May buildings banish missiles
and children stop tanks
May a mother’s love bury bombs
and hand grenades
May palm trees and olive groves
overwhelm planes with their
beauty and bounty

And, closer to his homeland, the poet muses about:

Our odors, our foods
Our violent tempers and gentle manners
Our delicate bones, our
Millenial colonial contradictions
The humanity of the subjugated

These are the thoughts of a brown man
Indomitable in the season of aridity

Francia is the author of the semi-autobiographical Eye of the Fish: A Personal Archipelago, which earned him 2002 PEN and Asian American Writers Workshop awards. An essayist, editor, and journalist, Francia writes, in New York, for The Village Voice and The Nation, and in Manila for The Sunday Inquirer Magazine. He also teaches at New York University.


Forty-three centuries ago, Enheduanna, a Mesopotamian poet-priestess, wrote hymns to the love goddess Inanna or ishtar. In 1763, after the assassination of Diego Silang, who started the Ilokano Revolt against the Spanish, his wife Gabriela Silang, who continued the rebellion, was captured and subsequently hanged.

In Menage a Trois with the 21st Century, Eileen R. Tabios voluptuously resurrects these two women and offers them to the reader to form a ménage. It’s a scholarly affair with a bounty of historical details, a romp in the upside-down meadows of Dada, an da fantastic romance between the present, past, and future.

It’s also an honest self-portrayal of the poet who not only channels historical figures but leaves her own psyche exposed and vulnerable to the reader’s eye.

The result is a brilliant juggle of realtime and innerspace that reminds me of poet Sharon Doubiago’s matchmaking when she brought Marilyn Monroe and Jack Kerouac together on a sandy beach in southern Oregon, and Ray Brandbury’s ephemeral encounter with Pablo Picasso on yet another shore in France.

Tabios’ style is elegiac and breezy. In "Italics: As Gabriela Continues to Stand," Tabios ponders the use of commas as well as …

We can never anticipate
what shall make corners

of a room stretch instead of crouch--

I, do, not, wish, to, ovulate,
for, mystery’s, overrated, charms--

I wish to enter a room,
see rose petals yawning

like girls
(like the daughters I may never loosen)

and flick my finger at
macrodactylus suspinosus:

set the peasant beetles soaring
over the windowsill

Tabios left a career in economics and international business to write, edit, and publish poetry. Inspired by the visual arts, she has explored ways to create poetry using multi-dimensional space. This pursuit has led to performance art, “happenings,” and mixed-media installations. Well-known for her controversial poetics blog,, …she lives in St. Helena, California where she grows grapes and operates Meritage Press.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


KQED Radio Show Pacific Time (2002/3)

Host intro: Time now for our book review. Leza Lowitz joins us this month with her take on ..."Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole:" poems by Eileen Tabios.

Imagine yourself... at home in America.

Hard to do? It is for poet and editor Eileen Tabios, who left the Philippines for America when she was ten. Martial law and corruption changed her homeland, so she can never go back. But Tabios never really feels "at home" in America either. Even when she's most comfortable, there's a sense of feeling alien because she looks "other." She grapples with dislocation, being asked even today, "Do you speak English?" Especially after 9/11. She worries about the dissolution of civil liberties. That's why there's no flag on the flagpole. Even, or especially, in these days of enthusiastic flagwaving.

VOICE [for poem excerpt]: "What does it say about me when I ask for asylum in places where people wish to leave? I try to find meaning in flags. But they repel me when buffeted by an incidental breeze."

So she pledges allegiance to her art. And the act of writing is a political one, staking out territory word by word.

VOICE: "And because I don't know what else to do, I flee to an alien land whose history has become like you-impossible to be grasped. To escape chaos, the Greeks created art with abstractions. It is a familiar approach, having long used geometry to deny myself caresses."

Tabios is at home with abstractions. Her prose-poems are fiercely intelligent, though they're lush, musical, sensuous, mysterious. Yet it is in he erotic landscape of the flesh that she seeks refuge. But that geography, too, is not without its territorial disputes:

VOICE: "It is so difficult to find innocence in accomplished men. There is always something to be paid. Once, someone asked for my views on fidelity.Upon confirming the questioner was not discussing radio waves, I nodded and proclaimed with gusto, "Sexual fidelity is an admirable trait. I believe all my lovers should possess it."

This is not the world of fixed identities, and its language is neither Tagalog nor English. It's a different world, whose poets are forging a cultural identity that is post-colonial, revolutionary, universal, and peaceful. Theirs won't be a unifying flag under one god, but one that's as various as the hands that raise it.

Host Outro./credit: Leza Lowitz is a writer and editor, author of Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By and Reviews Editor for Manoa Journal. Her selection this month was...Reproductions of the Empty Eileen Tabios Published by Marsh Hawk Press.


[First published in Poetic Inhalation, 2004]

Let Us Now Praise Famous Women . . . .
Book review by Ric Carfagna

As in the 19th century when humanism sought to break the grip of the theocratic hierarchal influence pervading society, it seems it's now time (high time) to move, or at least adjust, the spotlight away from the patriarchal domination that overshadows so many aspects of our world; and it is the art (poetry) world that I'm particularly interested in here. So now it is time to Praise, or at least acknowledge with gratitude the accomplishments of women. Eileen Tabios and her new book, Ménage A Trois With The 21st Century does this quite nicely. And although the women Eileen 'acknowledges' might not necessarily be household names or even personages whom we have ever heard of before, their accomplishments in society and the world is significant, as we realize upon reading Ménage. Eileen's book comes on the heels of another work, Catherine Daly's Da Da Da, that prominently features the undertakings -- some overtly obvious, some more subtly hidden -- of women through the ages.... Eileen and Catherine's books provide a good one-two punch to the petrified patriarchal institutions that set themselves up as consummate 'taste-makers' and authorities. Hopefully the positive trend these two poets have initiated will continue and to some degree 'even the score', if such a thing is possible, tracing such literary and other practices back to Eve! Eileen in her wisdom understands this, featuring as her heroines two women from diverse time periods: one ancient (2300BCE) and one more modern, well modern in a relative sense (18th Century). I will speak in some detail on these personas momentarily but first I would like to expound the 'physicality' of Eileen's book in general.

xPress(ed) has been offering first rate quality e-books since 2002. Jukka-Pekka Kervinen is the editor of both xPressed and x-Stream, the companion e-zine of new poetry vistas. What makes this new release so special is that it is the inaugural foray of xPress(ed) into the world of the 'empirical' book. Ménage A Trois With The 21st Century is an appropriate jumping off point for xPress(ed) so soon into this new century. It sets the stage for what will hopefully be a long illustrious publishing career. Jukka, who is a first rate poet and cutting-edge poetic experimenter, is also proving himself to be a top-notch editor. He possesses a keen eye for uncovering and disseminating new and exceptional poetic talent, and 'exceptional' is most assuredly the word I would use to describe the poetry of Eileen Tabios.

Ménage sports a unique cover, designed by Jukka: it bears a ghostly image of Eileen embedded in a random computer generated sequence of alpha-numeric characters. It seems as if Eileen's voice is emanating from behind a din of garbled mechanistic background noise. On the back cover the image is reversed and Eileen's image is fore grounded with the random code fading into near invisibility. The book contains 3 works: a three page preface poem and two longer sequences taking up the remainder of the book's 120 plus pages. In the review copy Eileen sent to me she included a lovely, personal message: "For Ric, To poetry as a way of Life." Indeed, Eileen does approach poetry as a way of life. Her words speak from the depths of her being, emanating a truth and beauty that is simply brilliant. Even when Eileen delves into abstractions and transcendent speech she has an inimitable way of relating it to the pragmatic world we inhabit. The reader never feels lost in an etheric haze of non-tangibilities. One can savor each word and image she creates as a tasty morsel being part of a bigger feast. Her poetic vision is a unique experience:

If, as I have dreamt, I possess twenty-ten vision, I then can see wind shift along an ocean's silver surface. Or the curl of a leaf dropping a few miles away. . . .

. . .

this poem
whose reality is the ideal
for you in me


"Venus Rising For The First Time in the 21st Century" serves as an epigraph, an opening poem which sets the stage both physically and spiritually for what is to follow. It takes us back to the first time we saw the evening/morning 'star', Venus, rising above the horizon in this new century: so silent and unassuming, swimming in a celestial sea far removed from all the joys and tragedies acted out on this small insignificant speck of dust called earth. Through the still air we see our 'sister' planet, a radiant sentinel in the sky. We choose to acknowledge it or not. Maybe we think of Botticelli's Birth of Venus and knowing how appropriate an image that might serve: her emergence into the world of 'flesh', her conception brought to full term and its fecundity gracing our eyes with its beauty, its perfection:

fleshed creature
once hiding
in a sea's dim depths

towards a sun
in whose light
scars reveal themselves

However we envision it, 'it' is life manifesting, attempting to teach the terrestrial mind to transcend earthly binds, seeing light and love removed from the shackles that 'mankind' so ignorantly places it its hearts and minds:

you want to see
her seeing
herself. You want

her seeing
her wanting
you behind the wave
. . .

We next encounter the first of the two large poetic sequences: "Enheduanna In The 21st Century." It is divided into twenty sections with an introduction. It is a work that draws us viscerally in by its massive proclamation. Its length and breadth rises from the poetic depths like a great leviathan threatening to devour the reader in a great flourish of poetic passion. In the opening pages we are introduced to Enheduanna (born 2300BCE). She is considered the world's first recorded poet to have her work preserved on cuneiform tablets. She is a moon princess and daughter of the King of Sumeria. She was known to summon Innanna (or Ishtar), the Sumerian goddess of love who would descend to the earth in response to her invocations. But we are told that once Innanna deserted Enheduanna and Enheduanna removed herself to a leper colony to mourn. Eileen has taken that event and moment in time to explore, in her words, "the sensibility underlying this period of Enheduanna's anguish: desire."

Through its twenty sections Eileen weaves for us sublime tapestry of beauty and perfection. By looking upon and meditating upon her words, we are transformed and translated-fused to both the present moment and the ancient arcane past. We enter a realm beyond the pedestrian ego's ability to imagine and become enveloped in a state of an unfolding enlightenment. Eileen speaks not only as if she is exploring and meditating upon this ancient princess but as if she has taken on her actual identity, enshrouded in the flesh, an incarnated oracle appearing to impart an ancient, clandestine wisdom and how it relates to this current century. Ultimately she reveals how all things change, yet how all things remain the same:

And because I see today how the sky waxes and wanes between white and grey, I know you have become uncertain. How difficult it is to remain impassive before the sight of tremor? You are learning how a secret contains seemingly infinite depth . . .

. . .

Tell me, you who reads me: are you as unmoved as your reticence implies? Unmoved as you witness me "lose myself from (my) view" of you? . . .

Each of the twenty sections takes on the appearance of a meditative personal journal, an internal conversation. There are musings on current modern situations, the architecture, the technology and the landscape, and how Enheduanna might herself react when placed in the author's current timeline and circumstances:

And are you thinking of me while you pace the streets of a city whose sidewalks have
memorized the atonal rhythm of my footsteps? Surely you have walked through the spaces I have hollowed out from air left behind in anticipation of you.

. . .

There, now. When you turn this corner and feel Baudelaire's "infinite expanse" at the sight of a sky thinned by two parallel skyscrapers . . .

There are times I am reminded of Olson: how he took Maximus of Tyre as his spiritual-poetic mentor, placing him in the Gloucester of the 20th century. Eileen's circumstance is not too dissimilar a situation. Where the two differ is in the messages they both 'receive' from their respective muse, and then 'translate' that message to us the reader. Olson sought to bring forth a historical account rooted in empirical facts. His 'message', entangled within his infamous lists of 'stuff', his profiles and accounts of the Gloucester's place and personalities currently and throughout its history, this colored by his attempt to expound "The Tale of The Tribe", to quote the title of Michael Bernstein's book. Eileen differs in her approach. We come to know her mind in a more intimate, compassionate way. She probes with depth and questions her surroundings, relating them back to her ancient muse, thereby placing Enheduanna in the present day. She seems at times to be entranced, totally absorbed in 'otherness'. This 'experience' reaches beyond the mere cognition of facts and figures, it assumes the nature of a mystical/transcendent phenomenon. We come to know that all occurrence emanates from the reality the mind manifests; and this is a 'true' reality to the eyes and emotions of the author, and vicariously, to the reader.

Should we pause this expressionist brushstroke so I may ask: What can I do to break a certain pattern? What can I do to avoid the birth of regret in this space you and I have fashioned from moon, light, wind, sky, mules, paintings, rainbows, diamonds, chocolates, "aggressive speculation," and the wings of six fallen angels?

Moon, light, wind, mules, rainbows, angel wings, etc., quite a different itemization than an Olson 'list' of things. These are the trinkets and jewels that capture Eileen's eye, mind and imagination. Although Olson did speak of jewels and miracles,they were off-shore, by islands; Eileen's are within her being.

There is a curious note in "Enheduanna #20," which also happens to be the longest section in the poem. It begins with an epigraph from St. John of the Cross:

"I live without inhabiting myself"

Eileen has surrendered a part of her identity to bring to life her ancient poetic counterpart. She has resurrected this kindred spirit through her will and through Eileen's eyes Enheduanna sees again and probes all that transpires in her new surroundings. There is the questioning, the quest and the longing to understand the driving force behind desire, behind anguish, their outward manifestations and the inner facets, how they intimately shape who we are. And though time and distance might seem to separate one from another, ultimately it is a common ontological/metaphysical inheritance that is shared, This is one of the mysteries the self seeks to unravel in the relatively short amount of time allotted to this physical existence. Eileen puts it so perfectly:

I have memorized this girl's tale
for its location in a city
you once shared with me

in the same time zone,
a period both our memories failed
to grasp so that I may write

this Poem
whose reality is the Ideal
for you in me


In the third of the poems, "Gabriela Silang Couple(t)s With The 21st Century," Eileen once more 'entangles' herself with a historical personage. This time it is Gabriela Silang, the wife of the slain Philippine revolutionary Filipino Diego Silang. The setting is the 18th century Philippines and the revolt against forced colonization by the Spanish authorities. Gabriela, was more a revolutionary than her husband, leading, in Eileen words, "one the longest (possibly the longest) local rebellion against the Spaniards." Although historically significant, the revolt was short lived. Gabriela and her followers were captured and hanged; Gabriela was thirty two years old. The poem is an extensive testament continuing sixty pages. In her treatment of an 'unsung' heroine, I am reminded of Susan Howe's work on similar themes. The design of the poem does stay true to the title: couplets; also the play on couple(t)s shouldn't go unnoticed. As in the previous poem, Eileen transforms the past to present, this time via someone not so far removed from current day. Eileen states in the intro "I wrote these poems to create a new life for Gabriela Silang in the 21st century." This Eileen accomplishes in her of structure of 'coupling' with Gabriela. The style and approach is different than it was for Enheduanna. In Gabriela Eileen states that she has "inserted details from my life because I sensed that I could best speak for/about Gabriela by not denying who was then speaking on her behalf." These personal inserted details augment our understanding of both Eileen and Gabriela. They show us the mind of Eileen at work, her imagination, compassion and sincerity. These and other qualities fuse with the historical personage of Gabriella, creating for the reader an ongoing conversation, an anamnesis and a revelatory experience:

She keeps losing
this ancient lesson:

"white" does not signify
a bleached bone

and an orchid petal
share each other's complexion --

she keeps losing
this same lesson

No metaphors exist
for genocide --

Eileen's work serves as a historical testimony to Gabriela's revolutionary courage. We witness her reaching beyond the safe haven of insular self in her attempts to 'break the back' of the will-to-power: the subjugating force that threatened to oppress her people:

The Book of Genesis
Authorizes men

"to have dominion
over the fish of the sea

over the fowl of the air
over the cattle, over the earth"--

Like many other things
enforced upon my people

the gospel of invaders
offers no succor--

It is interesting to note the similarities of the words genesis and genocide, how one denotes a beginning and one denotes an end. This did not escape Eileen's notice, and even though the above two excerpts are separated by thirty pages, the message comes through with a ringing clarity, not obfuscated by superfluous rhetoric.

In "Domestic," Eileen ruminates on ". . . If A Revolution Had Not Interfered," what Gabriela's life might have offered her:

I am a stranger
to laced-edged aprons--

My melons
are rarely ripe--

My dining room boasts
a long mahogany table

whose silk flowers
offer the fragrance of dust--

Just in the first two lines we get an idea of Gabriela's nonconformist, revolutionary spirit, the unease in her heart and her innate knowing that there is more to life than domestic prattle and the trivialities that consume so many others:

That I have money
for perfect hems

like martyrdom--

Here we sense another facet of her disquietude: her innate realization that all materiality is transient, a momentary glimmer and then a passing to dust:

Perhaps I hold the potential
for a poem keening

for the sun
to irradiate the sky

until we all inhabit
the same room

in Walt Whitman's
expansive ocean--

Here we have Eileen/ Gabriela coming to a realization of the inherent potential for transformation that indwells all existence; a rising above the insignificant ephemeralities that fill our world. There is the aspiration at the core of every person to find the 'meaning', to ultimately understand the reason why, and the purpose of

The "fragile balance"
between "sterility"

and "sensuality"--
. . .

She would have compromised
for fortitude


"Gabriela Silang Couple(t)s With The 21st Century" and "Enheduanna In The 21st Century" are diverse, multi-faceted and eclectic in their construction and their offering. They cover the spectrum from tragedy to ecstasy and every emotion in between like the changing hues and patterns in a fine embroided fabric. The reader comes upon these shifts in sentiment and sensibilities and is compelled to adopt a new frame of reference, a new landscape in which they must navigate. But the compass remains always in the hands of Eileen's good sense of structure, logic and fluid readability. This allows the reader to easily flow from one transition to another:

And perhaps you are looking today at a sky whose blue sapphire radiance often makes her sing, and you hear her singing now. . . .

. . .

And you suddenly become a statue in the midst of a crowded street, a horde of black-clad strangers dividing itself about you (making you remember, even as you continue to fall into this dream, a photograph of nuns lifting their skirts as they run towards the edge of a wave). . . .

. . .

I remember the rice fields
sometimes melancholy at dusk

. . .

I am empty
and emptying

. . .

pellucid bliss
engendered by beauty


What I find fascinating is Eileen's ability to incite us to explore the many aspects of our emotional makeup. Her poetry displays a higher level of creation, one that takes our consciousness beyond the mundane world of a diurnal immediacy, out of our 'quiet lives of desperation' and lifts our awareness, seating us in the upper echelons of a transcendent reality. Eileen's poetry also serves as a 'reverse' prophetic utterance. She is more than a historian spewing forth dry facts and dates. She understands human nature, she expresses in her writing the burden of freedom, of beauty and knowledge of the sublime nature existing at the core of all things. Her visions are articulated with a graceful poetic poise and though she at times relates the cruel and godless aspects of humanity, she never wanders far from her center of peace. This comes across wonderfully and honestly to the reader. The closing lines from the poem Wedding Veil best serve to describe Eileen's poetry and Eileen:

Only beauty,
Beauty --


[First Published in Second Avenue Press, 2003-4]

Review of Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole. Marsh Hawk Press. 2002.
ISBN: 09713332-8-9. $12.95

Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole is Eileen Tabios’ first book of poetry to be published in the United States and this volume of art-inspired prose poems should bring to an American audience what the Philippine and Southeast Asian publishing world has already known for several years: Eileen Tabios is a world class poet with serious talent. She has had three previous books of poetry published in the Philippines since 1989. They are Beyond Life Sentences (1989) which won the Manila Book Critics’ Circle National Book Award, Ecstatic Mutations (2000), and My Romance (2001).

Reproductions begins with the poem “Eclipse” which asserts the poet’s intimate connection to the world of art, “To escape chaos, the Greeks created art with abstractions. It is a familiar approach, having long used geometry to deny myself caresses.” Many of the poems in the book are inspired by works of art like “The Kritios Boy,” “Jade,” “Adultery,” “The Color of a Scratch in Metal,” “The Wire Sculpture,” “The Fairy Child’s Prayer,” “The Destiny of Rain,” “My Saison Between Baudelair and Morrison,” “Muse Poem,” “Franz Kline Kindly Says About Three Gersture-Laden Brushstrokes,” “Insomnia’s Lullaby,” and the whole last section of the book entitled “Triptych for Anne Truit.” Tabio’s approach to these poems is pure ekphrasis. In ancient Greece, philosophers defined ekphrasis as a vivid description intended to bring the subject before the mind’s eye of the listener.

The author of this book is ultimately successful in this artistic enterprise of bringing the subject before the mind’s eye of the readers and these readers will not only be enlightened but informed.


[First published in THE PHILIPPINE STAR, Manila, February 21, 2005]

Excerpt from a column:

By Alfred A. Yuson

A synchronicity tax, oh yes, thank goodness we don’t have that yet. Otherwise I might have landed in the poorhouse last week when, starting on this column-review of certain titles that should enhance our current drive toward regaining excellence in the English language, what should fall on my lap but this heavy tome straight out of California, titled I Take Thee, English, For My Beloved.

Why, wunnerful!

The book is authored by our friend Eileen R. Tabios, poet, editor, ekphrasis expert, publisher, proselytizer for Fil-Am literature. An all-around Wonder Woman, she also tends an orchard at Napa Valley when she’s not consuming bottles of produce as a bibulous epicurean cum blogger on the comparative merits of the red-or-white stuff.

The hefty, 504-page volume, published by Marsh Hawk Press in New York (, is quintessential Madame Eileen, starting with its charming cover that features a young bride, brown and very pretty, pairing of with a dashing groom, Caucasian, for a highlight photo-op climaxing that sacrament called matrimony.

The contents are also quintessentially Tabios, which is to say that it’s something like manifest destiny turned manifold. To call it a grab bag is to do postmodern palaver an injustice. Let’s say multi-disciplinary, assembling as it does, rather ambitiously, her extraordinary output in several literary genres: poems, prose poems, essays, exegeses on others’ works as well as on her own, by others, etc.

There’s a scenario that’s section-titled “Obviating the Proscenium’s Edge’ and piece-titled “But Seriously, When I was Jasper Johns’ Filipino Lover …” -- where she plays herself as a character, while a Kali artist and a Bride are supposed to be played by her fellow Fil-Am poets form SF, Michelle Bautista and Barbara Jane Reyes.

There’s an ars poetica essay, “Six Directions: Poetry as a Way of Life,” that’s illustrated by photos documenting a performance “happening” that featured what Tabios billed as a poem sculpture -- the interactive “Poem Tree” which required the participating audience to pi poems on Eileen’s very own, now vintage, bridal dress.

There’s an interview of her by poet Nick Carbo, an epistolary Poetics via e-mail, “Sculpted Poems,” and “hay(na)ku” poems which are a Pinoy take on the haiku in a stepladder tercet form that Tabios initiated.

Why, the handsomely designed book even has all of 90-odd pages that are nearly, concretely, blank, but for one-to-two-line footnotes at the bottom. I suppose this extravagant feature presciently addresses any possible allegation that the multiplicity of dazzling entries constitutes a top-heavy offering.

Yet indeed, spectacularly over the top is the direction Eileen Tabios seems to have always gravitated towards; she is a Baz Luhrman of an entrancing, entranced poet-aesthete. And her Moulin Rouge of exultant literary treats is run by a first-class Madame, graciously, elegantly, exquisitely at all hours.

But this is not to say that Tabios’ fundamental verse belongs to the province of frippery. Space considerations dictate that I offer but one quote; for this I select the first few lines of the emblematic, native hark-back that is “Season of Durian,” which starts with epigraphs from Joey Ayala (“Durian defies categories.”) and Jacques Derrida (too long to be quoted here). “Somewhere/ a crop/ teases a wet opening/ to soften bones// Nipples nail a man/ into silence. So loud the stars,/ for once, are audible…”

We hear you, Eileen. Loud-speakers blaring or muted, your marriage ot poetry ,to English, to universes beloved and betrothed, scan only signals joy, ecstasy, and fulfillment. Hear! Hear! And we are all so much less benighted.