Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Rushing around preparing for my trip to South America (heh). Among other things, this trip means I'll probably extend the submission deadline for the next issue of Galatea Resurrects by at least a couple of months (I'll post more on it later); meanwhile, if any of you are interested in doing a review, please know I'm only here to snailmail you review copies for another 2-3 weeks. So you might want to check out GR's List of Available Review Copies now and email moi at

Meanwhile, amidst the flurries, I did manage to fit in one interview by a Netherlands-based Peep (love the transnationalism of the internet!) -- here's an excerpt from the interview that should be out next week:


Question: In "The Light Sang as It Left Your Eyes", there's a strong connection to history in particular the Martial Law Era. I found it interesting how in sections you identified yourself as a daughter of the dictator, would you like to expound a bit more on this?

I’ve just always been curious as how to a child reconciles with having a dictator as a parent—and particularly a very intelligent child (or so she seems to me) like Marcos’ eldest daughter, Imee Marcos. The poet-scholar-critic Thomas Fink, who was actually once a classmate of Imee at Princeton University, recently finished an essay on my poems and cited the primary poem in my book “The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes”. That poem is entitled “What Can A Daughter Say?” and has the persona weaving back and forth between being “Eileen” the author and Imee. The poem collages some statements Imee has made about her father’s legacy, and some of the statements come off as an apologist’s, but compassion surely has relevance here if a person is talking about a beloved parent? Fink states, in part:
Most obviously, Eileen “is” Imee to the extent that both are Filipina daughters of Filipino fathers. The central (male) political figure of a country assumes the symbolic position of that nation’s “father,” and in a household conforming to patriarchal arrangements, the father is the “leader.” In her formative years, a daughter would experience a father’s impact in ways comparable to how a nation’s citizens would be influenced by their president or dictator. But these are just preliminary generalizations.

When Tabios collages what Imee Marcos says, she underscores the problem of articulation in the prose poem’s title. For Imee, herself a member of the Philippines’ House of Representatives from 1998 to 2007, to acknowledge her father’s prodigious thievery and other crimes against Filipinos would be incredibly difficult.

(Tabios has never met Imee. In 1975 the dictator’s daughter and I sat next to each other for a semester in the front row [center] of Professor D.W. Robertson’s Chaucer class at Princeton; I sat on the left and Imee on the right. We agreed that Robertson was hard to hear. Whenever the professor let out a marvelously eccentric laugh while explicating off-color passages in The Canterbury Tales, Imee and I turned to each other and smiled. When we once asked each other’s majors and I heard that hers was Politics, I said, “That makes sense.”)

Long after a collective judgment has been rendered on her father, Imee Marcos wishes to defer assessment. Imee’s appeal for Filipinos to “‘study. . . the Marcos era,/ before, during, the Martial Law period,/ applying intellectual rigor over emotion,/ scholarship, not partisanship’” uses the rhetoric of disinterested research to mask the vexation she must feel about hearing her father condemned. She does not interrogate a basis for objectivity in assessing historical causality or account for the role of one’s subject position in developing interpretations. When Tabios responds to the passage above, “How much do we need to know to master the past?” one can ponder the difference between the verb “master” and the verb “understand.” In Nietzschian terms, Imee does not admit her “will to power” in invoking historical analysis, which can depend more on not knowing and/or evading knowledge than on presenting what one knows:

Then Mr. Fink goes on to cite excerpts from the poem quoting some statements Imee has made about her father’s legacy:
She says, “Exile has been merciful/ [for allowing me to] remember/ my father as well,/ strong, playful and brilliant.” . . .

She says about being “a child of a dictator”—“I don’t remember.” . . .

She says, “I think it should be clear/ that to torture was never/ a matter of policy./ He didn’t order the military/ to do these things.” . . .

She says, “Martial Law/ was like/ another lifetime.”

So, obviously, the position of being the daughter to someone who’s vilified as a dictator is a very complicated one. And I am attracted, as a poet, to complicated—often unresolvable—positions.

Question: "The Blind Chatelaine's Keys" provides a very intimate view into the process of adoption. I was wondering if you'd ever considered writing a memoir on the process (aside from what's in “The Blind Chatelaine’s Keys”). (On aside, I really like the honesty in "The Light Sang As It Left Your Eyes" and “The Blind Chatelaine’s Keys”.) Have you ever considered writing a memoir and offering it to a major publisher?

I actually once tried to write a memoir which was more structured to be more commercial (I even had promising discussions about it with a major trade publisher). It relates to my move from New York City to Napa Valley and how in Napa I’m trying to build a home called “Galatea” wherein would lie the intersection of “nature, art, poetry and wine converg[ing] with much love.” If that phrase sounds familiar, that’s because that’s also the tag to my primary blog at Given the humongous successes of wine- and/or country-house-related books based in Provence and Tuscany, and now the wine areas of other parts of the world, I thought a wine country-related memoir would do well financially (and I could use the proceeds to finance my mostly poetry-publishing press Meritage Press!). I haven’t yet finished the book partly due to time. But I also have set it aside because I sense I’m not ready to do it in the way I wish to do it, which is to integrate poetry into the project while still retaining the interest of an imagined reader who might have come to the book out of interest in wine and other matters besides poetry.

This is also to say I think it’s premature for me to be writing memoirs except relatively narrow, specialized ones. But I suspect that, at the end of the day, I’m not really interested in revealing that much about my life (except for, as I said, specialized areas like the intersection of wine and poetry into what I call “wine poetics”). This may seem ironic given my work in biography—but if you take a look at that work, it’s to disrupt the form of (auto)biography rather than because I feel I have such an interesting life that it’s worth writing a book about it.

That’s one of the things Poetry’s taught me: the Paradox.


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