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.


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