Eileen R. Tabios: Amazing Discovery


I Take Thee, English for My Beloved and Footnoes to Algebra by Eileen Tabios.

Whenever I use the word "discover" (that is, when I become aware of the existence of a writer whose works I may enjoy) I always find myself thinking of it in terms of how it was used by Christopher Columbus when he discovered America, or David Livingstone discovering Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River. For me, the process is grand...in other words, very important, because I quickly realize that I have discovered what has always been there....

My latest discovery then is the Southern California poet, Eileen Tabios, who recently sent me two of her poetry publications: Footnotes to Algebra (containing her poems from 1995-2009) and a thick volume entitled I take Thee, English, for My Beloved. Thank you, Eileen.

About the discovery. I knew nothing about Tabios until recently, when I reviewed Intwasa Poetry (amabooks, 2008) for her publication Galatea Resurrects, a rich online venue for poetry reviews. After seeing the past issues of GR, I could tell that Tabios has a passion for poetry, but I did not know yet (shame on me) that she herself was a prolific and adventurous poet. I am enjoying her poetry, which is as inspiring as it is awakening. It's the creative risks she takes, the way her poetry sort of violates your readerly comfort zone, and as you move from one poem to another, it's the feeling of familiarity, the "yes, yes" feeling you get. Of course, the poetry is not that easy either; often, you have to read a piece twice or thrice to conquer it, because, as San Francisco poet Barbara Jane Reyes has pointed out, "Tabios not only welcomes, but encourages her reader's active participation in determining her poem's meanings...Hence there is no one 'wrong' or 'right' reading." In fact, you may think some of the poems are meaningless, but those who have read Zimbabwe's Dambudzo Marechera, or America's E.E. Cummings will remember that there is nothing called a meaningless poem, or, shall we say, nothing meaningless about poetry....

Barbara Jane Reyes. I know her work. She read at the Sacramento Poetry Center two years ago, and I was there taking photos, and I bought her book. Her husband was there too; he read from his book, and I bought it(you have to buy these books once in a while). The two poets were really cool company, and now to discover that they know the Southern California-based poet, Eileen Tabios, is quite thrilling.

So here is the point. There is a niche I have "discovered" in American poetry, the Filipino-American poets. Like most other hyphenated poetry, this poetry seeks to reconcile, sometimes to make sense of, the America space in which it emerges. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a big deal, because such poetry adds a rich core to the total American experience. And I happen to appreciate, to fall into, it.

One of these days I will try to find out if Tabios may be available for a reading at the Sacramento Poetry Center. In the meantime, I will read these two books, focus on enjoying them, on helping determe their meanings, and, when I am ready, write short,friendly reviews, because if you have penned even a single poem, a really good poem, most of your reviews will be friendly.

Eileen Tabios, who was born in the Philippines and grew up in the United States, has released 16 print, four electronic and one CD poetry collections, an art essay collection, a poetry essay/interview anothology, a short story book and a novel. Her first poetry collection received the Manila Critics Circle National Book Award for poetry. Her love for English stems from the fact that American English is her first language (the only language she is fluent in), she is still asked, "Do you speak English?". As we learn from the blurb of one of her books, "Not only does Eileen R. Tabios speak English but she loves English", is wed to it. She calls herself a transcolonial poet, a term that describes a "post colonial perspective that goes beyond the referenced context of colonialism." She has invented "hay(na)ku, which is a community-making form where the community encompasses both Filipino and non-Filipino poets gathered together for the love of poetry.

Interesting poet, indeed, described by Ron Silliman in these words: "Tabios tries for more in one page than many other poets would attempt in 20. And she pulls if off."

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