Saturday, June 14, 2008


[First published in Philippine News, June 11, 2008]

I once had a college classmate who was so exceptional as a student that our professor exclaimed, with tongue-in-cheek, that she could submit a paper with absolutely nothing written on it and still receive the highest grade. I can easily say the same for artist, poet, writer, and publisher Eileen R. Tabios. Of all of her admirable pursuits, it is her poetry that has proven her artistic worth. Her poems are transcendent, expressive, and provocative. What is more is that they are human, all too human to borrow from Nietzsche, in the emotions they evoke and in the wisdom they reflect.

Tabios’s The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes: Our Autobiography,” is an eloquent testimony to her artistry as a poet and to the sublimity of her verses. It is also rich and extensive in its subject-matter, covering the historical, the spiritual, the social, the literary, and the personal.

More than anything else, The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes is the story of two lives told in verse. It is the story of Eileen Tabios herself and that of her deceased father Filamore B. Tabios, Sr., a victim of brain cancer. Having to cope with his illness and subsequent death was quite an emotional burden to bear for Tabios. However, if there can ever be a silver lining in the death of a loved one, it is that private suffering can emerge as a source of creative inspiration. This notion forms much of the basis of the book’s poetry.

While love and devotion for her father runs throughout Tabios’s poetry, her book is by no means an unequivocally starry-eyed paean to the man who sired, as Tabios calls herself, “the most prodigal of daughters.” The reader can almost feel Tabios’s emotions pulsing as she struggles to make a clean breast of her troubled relationship with her father. Describing her mind as “an open wound,” Tabios plaintively asks how did her relationship with her father reach a juncture where “he could not feel my love to be guaranteed?” She compounds this question with another heartrending one: “How did our relationship come to encompass so much loss?”

It takes her father to fall into a bedridden state for Tabios to find the opportunity to repair the damage caused to their relationship. It is under these circumstances that she has “finally returned” after having “left him nearly 30 years ago.” Content in the knowledge that she has reconciled for the most part with her father, and cognizant that he doesn’t have much longer to live, Tabios writes of wanting him to be “immortal” because “hell, we finally like each other!”

In the multifaceted, philosophically-edged poem “What Can a Daughter Say?” Tabios’s poetic genius intersects with the weight of contemporary history, particularly that of the Philippines. Here, in her own, creative way, and as a Filipina who was born into the Marcos era generation, Tabios speaks for Imee Marcos, the former dictator’s daughter. In a fictional voice that is complemented by a dose of pathos from Tabios, Imee jumps from rationalization to denial to a loving daughter’s affection and back again, in what would seem like a reluctant attempt to evaluate the legacy of her father, Ferdinand Marcos. More than not however, Imee’s fictive ruminations segue into the realms of what Tabios envisages as the “flux of language” and the “logic of amnesia.”

The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes is intended to be a postmodern blending of eclectic themes, images, and words. As hallmarks of the postmodern style, Tabios’s poems steer people away from simple-minded assumptions and towards being more contemplative about things, about ideas, about life in general. That is why readers should understand that the divergence and subjective impressionism in her poems are what make them not only distinct works of art, but also a significantly meaningful body of verses.

Categorical readings in art or literature should never be raised from the bottom of the interpretive receptacle. Meanings are subversive things, always ready to supplant the interpretation that was previously arrived at until they too, are subverted in turn. Tabios’s poetry is built on the same foundation.

It is within that approach that Tabios keeps the spirit of her beloved father alive in the pages of her extraordinary book. It is a spirit and memory that will never die out thanks to a daughter’s belated, at times painful, journey of self-discovery.


  • Hi Eileen,
    My name is Ametha Williams and I am a blogger and poet. I have really enjoyed reading your blog and would like to offer you and invitation to read mine. The name of my blog is Get Some Sense and the web address is .
    Feel free to visit the site and leave comments at anytime.
    Ametha Williams

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:08 PM  

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