Monday, January 30, 2006


[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.


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