Tuesday, September 09, 2008


It is fitting that Eileen R. Tabios' first Selected book should consist of prose poems, as the bulk of her first collection and recipient of the Philippines' National Book Award for Poetry, Beyond Life Sentences (Pasig City, Philippines: Anvil, 1998) and the entirety of her second, Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole (New York: Marsh Hawk Press, 2002), are prose poetry. While Tabios is also noted as the inventor of the concise diasporic Filipino poetic form, the hay(na)ku, she has steadily produced prose poems throughout this decade.
--from "Introduction" by Thomas Fink

Sometimes I'm dense. I don't know why it took so long for me to figure out that my (forthcoming) Selected Prose Poems book should be titled


rather than A ROSARY OF THORNS. The latter be so clunky, yah?

Anyway, I'm putting together the manuscript which includes poems published in early books by Philippine publishers, which is to say they've not been read much in the U.S. or elsewhere beyond the Philippines' borders. And as I put together said manuscript, I realize I'd forgotten that I first dived into the prose poem form through the doorway of writing poems where each line is a complete (or almost complete) sentence. Thus, one section from my first book is subtitled "Life Sentences"....and contains the epigraph:
She was beginning to understand
some pale bravado
in her horizontal line
-from "Pack Rat Sieve" by Mei-mei Berssenbruge

Pack Rat Sieve was also once published as a teensy chap; I remember carrying it in my purse until it literally wore apart. I retaped it several times before, finally, the physical object totally evaporated and the poem continued its life in me as a dream.

Here's the first poem in "Life Sentences", probably written in about 1996 (remember I only started writing poems in 1995):

The Forced Departure

I consider the woman's choice in liberating a red dress with pale-green sandals.
My penury depresses me into a staring contest with a melting ice cube.
A friend excited my husband with an invitation to pilot a boat with powerful thrusters.
My gift of chocolate in pink cellophane failed to make the blonde smile.
Consequently, I remind the party-goers that Trans World Airlines distributed stars in the sky.

I could be happy in Alphabet City, buildings crumbling around my notepad.
I could be happy sipping iced tea while admiring the seamless face of a pool.
I could be happy gurgling back at an infant dribbling green saliva down his chin.
I could be happy downing Absolut gimlets (ice-cold, no ice) in a neighborhood bar with pool players providing the music, or a hotel whose walls are laminated with mahogany and where tuxedos prevail.
I could be happy with your hand on my waist as you try to identify the scent hollowing my throat.

An entire landscape in Antarctica disappears--evaporates until salt becomes the only debris.
There are keys to everything, even handcuffs.
You could have been happy, too.

Poor disappearing glaciers -- I was weeping over y'all more than a decade ago...

Elsewhere in his Introduction, Tom Fink notes (and the referred "Purity", btw, is one of the poems in moi first U.S.-published book, Reproductions of the Empthy Flagpole):
When the prose poem's aesthetic freedom took hold of Tabios in the mid- to late-nineties, she was not yet aware of how "Language Poets," building on earlier work by such figures as Gertrude Stein and the John Ashbery of Three Poems, had developed new possibilities in this hybrid genre. She had yet to read, for example, Ron Silliman's "The New Sentence," and yet "Purity" and similar prose poems in this volume-had they existed in the eighties-could have served as excellent specimen texts for that crucial essay.

So, while I had developed my prose poem body of work under the influence of trans-colonial and ekphrastic concerns, it's easy enough to rewrite my work's context as *post-Langpo* (not that I mind it), if a critic were inclined to do so. This, of course, exemplifies what many non-American poets have referred to in the past when they complain about U.S.- or Euro-centrism in the writing of literary history. And such also is why I'm blessed on many levels when Tom Fink desired both to edit and write an Introduction to THE THORN ROSARY. Because he appropriately refers to decolonialism as relevant to my work -- a sensitivity that allowed him chops to do something like his book of criticism A DIFFERENT SENSE OF POWER (Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2001). ). That seamless recognition of worlds beyond perceived canons bespeak why Tom, too, is such an effective poet.

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