Eileen Tabios has produced a selected prose collection (with new poems), published by Marsh Hawk Press. It leads me to some divagations.
Eileen’s published oeuvre is prodigious, so selection seems like a devilish task. I see it more as a recontextualizing of previous work. Eileen’s work owes much to series. The serial urge is an urge to complete, at least in some sense. Complete and yet to invite furtherance. I mean, when a series ends, invisible threads continue to stretch, the process does not stop. That is how I see poems in series.
I have already read much of the work here, because I have a number of the representative books. I said her work owes to series, but I mean more like concatenation, linkage of poems to each other, series to each other. The familiar here from the books I have reads differently in this new context.
The stresses have changed, words echo in new ways.
Eileen’s work is planted in a critical context. Thomas Fink, who selected the work, provides an introduction, and Joi Barrios adds an afterword. This situation of her work within context is essential in Eileen’s practice. Her writing rises from relational situations, historical, cultural, familial, and critical. These contexts are fluid and overlapping.
This selection, as noted, is of her prose writing. One might clarify by saying her prose poetry, but then we sink into a morass of terminology that may be more confusing than useful to explore. Or I should say, it is interesting to explore, but such an exploration is not a necessity to the enjoyment of these works, and may be a distraction.
I mean, what is poetry and what is prose?
Some 11 years ago, I shook off my accrued sense of poetry. I studied under Robert Grenier who, despite his obvious preference towards a poetry that would be identified as LANGUAGE poetry (not that that lump sum term can really define any territory properly), was very supportive of the discovering writer. I performed a slow discovery, over years and years, of where my writing came from and burgeoned towards, until I finally realized that the sentence worked for me. That the metre of the sentence could preside over the words that I knew.
I began making poetry, then, in prose. It is poetry because it is not just guided by the mentor called Good English (or good whatever language, but English is what I use). I allow disjunction, and fragmentation, and linear discontinuity to make their reports. Poetry, I see, insists on timely subversions. I learned that from Emily Dickinson.
Eileen uses different insistencies to provoke the heart of language. Her sentences are largely straightforward in their report, yet she maintains a relentless twining. Themes are immediate and conjunctive. And adjunctive. That is how this book, that is sifted from other books, is a NEW book. The returns are instructive and spiral to new vantage.
Eileen’s subversions are headturning. The curious embrace of Ferdinand Marcos’ daughter, in the office of writing towards her late father, is a feat of telling surprise. Eileen is a cork bobbing in the meeting of streams.
The Thorn Rosary is a handsomely turned out affair. It’s a hefty handful sized something like 8”x10”. I like the design, especially (and surprisingly) the use of a calligraphic font for headers. The book looks fresh and inviting.
As always with Eileen’s books, there are notes and bibliography and that sort of Olsonian process brought directly into the work itself. I love that! The experiment that is Eileen Tabios is fascinating to witness.