Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Unexpectedly had to take Mom to hospital today -- 2nd visit to emergency in last month or so. She's fine but at near-80, she's certainly fragile.

Which only made it more meaningful today that I received a months-long-effort by poet-scholar-activist-editor Joi Barrios: her essay that will serve as "Afterword" in my forthcoming THE THORN ROSARY. Joi's generous essay is welcome for contextualizing my work in the history of Philippine literature -- it is an aspect that would have been near impossible for THE THORN ROSARY'S editor, Thomas Fink, to address. Tom Fink, as many of you peeps know, is one of the deepest thinkers out there writing criticism on contemporary poetry (he also edited "A Different Sense of Power": Problems of Community in Late-Twentieth Century U.S. Poetry, and (with Joseph Lease) “Burning Interiors”: David Shapiro’s Poetry and Poetics).

As editor of THE THORN ROSARY, Tom writes an Introduction. While it's gratifying to have his support -- and necessary since Tom probably knows my poems/poetics better than anyone including moiself -- I've been fully aware (and wise Tom has, too) of the problematics to a Filipina woman artist being "introduced" by a white male critic. That's all solved by Joi Barrios' involvement (which wasn't planned so much as simply delivered onto moi lap by Poetry's kind angels); I'm still sort of hyperventilating over what Joi's come up with to say over my poems -- it's so unexpected. If you don't know Joi, here's a bio:
Joi Barrios (Maria Josephine Barrios Leblanc) serves as a Lecturer teaching Filipino and Philippine Literature at UC Berkeley while on leave as an Associate Professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD). After completing her Ph.D. in Filipino and Philippine Literature at UPD, she taught at the Osaka University of Foreign Studies, UCLA, and UCI. She then returned to Manila to serve as Associate Dean of UP College of Arts and Letters and Coordinator of the Graduate Program of the college. She is the author of five books, among them, the poetry collection To Be a Woman is to Live at a Time of War, and her research From the Theater Wings: Grounding and Flight of Filipino Women Playwrights. She has won fourteen Philippine national literary awards and, for her contributions to literature, was among the 100 women chosen as Weavers of History for the Philippine Centennial Celebration. In 2004, she also received the TOWNS (Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation's Service) Award.

Back to Mom -- after taking her home from the hospital, I gave her Joi's essay on my poems. Her reading and engagement with it delivered unexpected frisson. The essay led her back to ruminating over the early days of English-language literature development in the Philippines. When she noted that Joi received her doctorate, she recalled one of her early mentors -- Edilberto Tiempo -- who had pushed her to get her own doctorate (after she wrote a Master's Thesis that became the first critical look at "local color" in English-language Philippine literature). She couldn't go for her Ph.D., Mom recalled, as money was tight and she didn't want to put anymore pressure on her mother, a widow then struggling to educate four children. With Mom's history, it was thus so moving for her to read about her daughter (and so moving for her daughter to watch) that a scholar seemingly surfaced from nowhere ("nowhere" in the sense that I had had no idea that Dr. Joi Barrios was even paying attention to my writings) and had this to say:
One could perhaps consider Eileen Tabios to be the Angela Manalang Gloria of the 21st century, her poems all at once, crisp, flowing, interrogative, tender, innovative, funny, thought-provoking, sensuous, revolutionary. Manalang Gloria (1907-1955), author of the collection simply entitled Poems, 1940, was known for her snapshot-like poems on unconventional women (the "old maid" walking down the street, the querida or mistress, the woman who fell in love with a priest), and her fearless approach to themes women dared not speak of during her time—such as marital rape ("Revolt to Hymen"). Both Tabios and Manalang Gloria had the ability to use the English language in writing lyrical and powerful verses and the fearlessness to articulate silences.

However, comparing Tabios with Manalang Gloria seems to be an exercise in stating the obvious. This is similar to arguing that perhaps Tabios channels Jose Garcia Villa (and his comma poems) simply because she wrote about The Secret Life of Punctuations.

Instead, in contextualizing Eileen Tabios's work, we could look into the following: Leona Florentino (1849-1884), the 19th-century Ilocano poet; the unanthologized Tagalog women poets who published in Liwayway and Taliba in the 1920s and 1930s, during the United States occupation of the Philippines (1899-1942); and the binukot, the storyteller from Panay of pre-colonial Philippines.

Contrast the above references with some of the (of course equally valid) references in Tom Fink's essay as regards other poets and artists (the latter because Tom aptly explores the role of ekphrasis), in no particular order: Gertrude Stein, John Ashbery, Ron Silliman, John Yau, T.S. Eliot, Jasper Johns, Mondrian, Joseph Albers ...

I reslish how my work doesn't fit into publicly recognized categories (even as I rarely if ever contradict how others might categorize my poems). With receipt of Joi Barrios' essay, I not only made Mom feel that Life has been -- is! -- wonderful with its turning-of-circles, I can now feel comfortable putting the manuscript to bed. And, as I informed Mom, if someone like Joi Barrios can see in my poems what she saw, I will now feel comfortable just sitting on moi butt for the rest of my life in my new career as slacker. (Thank you, Joi!)


P.S. Oh, and today, I also got an acceptance for my second novel to be published: SILK EGG. But I still plan to be a slacker...


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