Sunday, February 17, 2008


[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.


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