FOOTNOTES TO ALGEBRA: Uncollected Poems 1995-2009
Eileen R. Tabios is a prolific poet. In the past 14 years, she has released 16 print, four electronic and 1 CD poetry collections, an art essay collection, a poetry essay/interview anthology, a short story book and a novel. Yet these prior book releases do not capture the extent of her output. Spurred by the forthcoming release of her first “Selected Poems” project (THE THORN ROSARY, Spring 2010), she decided to look through her haphazard files and within hours was able to put together FOOTNOTES TO ALGEBRA, a new book from previously-uncollected poems written since 1995. These include a special trio of poems from a summer spent hangin’ out with Philip Lamantia, the poem “Pygmalion’s Embrace” which is a de facto architectural plan for a physical poetic space she is creating on Napa Valley terrain, her first (and so far only) translation of a poem into her birth tongue Ilokano, ekphrastic “baby poems”, the poem “Justice” through which she’d achieved a goal of garnering for her wine cellar a jeroboam of the Judds Hill Winery cabernet by winning its annual poetry contest, and the series “Girl Singing” which generated 141 multi-genre responses or translations from 37 poets worldwide to create the anthology 1000 Views of “Girl Singing” edited by John Bloomberg-Rissman and released by Leafe Press (U.K.).
While the poems in this manuscript do not represent 100% of Ms. Tabios’ previously uncollected poems (she’s lost track of many poems through a poor filing system and a messy global e-desk), they provide an indication of the depth of the poet’s commitment. The poet also hopes the new book is a source of reading pleasure.
“Triptych for Philip” burns with love for the late great San Francisco poet Philip Lamantia. Written during the summer of 2001 when Tabios spent much time with Lamantia, the three poems prove that a meeting between poets can spark an incandescent fire of imagination. Rich with taken-from-life details and Tabios’ own insights and images, “Triptych for Philip” marvelously evokes Lamantia’s exceptional energy and spirit. ¡Viva Philip Lamantia! ¡Viva Eileen Tabios!
—Steven Fama, the glade of theoric ornithic hermetica
Footnotes to Algebra: Uncollected Poems 1995-2009 shows the tremendous range and styles that Tabios engages as a poet. Some sections like “Chant for Kari,” show Tabios’s interest in interlingual poetics. As Tabios explains in the introductory preface to the poem: “[I]t was the first time I’d translated a poem into Ilokano, my frst language. I had never thought before about translating into Ilokano because I don’t consider myself fluent in it anymore; I was ten years old when I left the Philippines to become 100% immersed in English” (51). “Chant to Kari” works best because it takes a numerological approach to the poem and engages in a repetition that functions as the “chant.” The most interesting aspect about the background to the poem, in my mind, is that she enlisted some of her artist friends to help actually perform the chant. The section entitled “A Filipino Accent” is the most autoethnographically inflected section from Footnotes to Algebra. Some representative lines from “Shove Those Lollipops” appears as thus: “But Imelda starved/ my people for the strings of pearls she flung at/ Hollywood hacks and Italian peasants pretending/ blue is their blood. You’ll never see me slip on a t-shirt/ labeled ‘DKNY’” (95). One of the most interesting poems here is the “General’s Report” is basically a poem that’s been redacted almost completely, showing the amount of censorship that shrouds the military in secrecy and darkness. The few words that do appear, such as “Abu Ghraib” and “stripped, abuse, and sexually” (97) tell us just enough to show the incendiary context of the poem. While this “collection,” obviously does not show thematic unity, it certainly provides a strong sense of Tabios’s poetics as a whole and would be a great place to start if someone wanted to dive into her work.
—Stephen Hong Sohn, Asian American Literature Fans (Full review HERE)
“Eileen R. Tabios: Amazing Discovery”: 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….
—Emmanuel Sigauke, Wealth of Ideas (Full review HERE)
An inventive, form-stretching delight, this is “yet another” collection from a poet who has found her voice repeatedly, but does not seem to repeat herself. Eileen Tabios never bores, though she’s managed to publish more than Philip Levine, or William Stafford, who found their voices as well, but continued to issue weaker and weaker impressions across a smaller number of volumes.
Case in point: The “Chant for Kari” in which Tabios explains her method of translating a Kari Edwards poem (via genderless number) into an IIokano chant. Tabios does Cage doing Oulipo, and she does it convincingly.
…In short, far from being a volume of tailings, or chips and spalls swept up from the workshop floor, there are some challenging, and at the very least, interesting poems in these pages that belie the usual connotations of an “uncollected” collection.
—Jesse Glass, Ahadada Books
[Tabios’] “poetry” may be “inherently a matter of interconnections,” but the principle of “a word arbitrarily place next to another” is not going to guarantee the collection of generative interconnections; the poet needs to have written the poems carefully and then to have thought vigorously enough to establish effective groupings. And she did.
When Tabios’ poetry simultaneously enables the reader to contemplate the significance of the “frame” of words and to “see/ Beyond the frame” to “another possibility,” its algebra is most enticing and acute.
—Thomas Fink, Our Own Voice (Full review HERE)
This is a very deep book and by that I mean it is a book that contains multitudes; with apologies to Allen Ginsberg but perhaps not, it is large. If you were to review the collected works of W. H. Auden would you say it was faint? Courageous? Certainly you would say it was a great work. Eileen Tabios and BlazeVOX [books] have put together an uncollected collection that covers many areas. In my mind the most important and the most sympathetic is the section entitled “A Filipino Accent.” But don’t let that sway you from thinking that the entire book doesn’t have plenty to offer. For instance, in the poem, “Pygmalion‘s Embrace” are the lines, “Poems make stones breathe. Within my eyes / poetry, nature, art and wine // converge for a life beyond stone.” Does this mean these four things enable a prolonging of the senses? An enabler of life? A life beyond stone could perhaps mean breaking free, and if that’s the case you could look at it in the words of Octavio Paz in his poem, “The River,” “The poem is deserted esplanade, what’s said is not said, the unsaid is unsayable.”
—Chris Mansel, The Halo-Halo Review Mangozine Issue #2, February 2016 (Full review HERE)