I TAKE, THEE, ENGLISH, FOR MY BELOVED
Recipient of a 2005 Calatagan Award from the Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc.
Publisher’s Book Description:
I Take Thee, English, for My Beloved contains and melds the forms of poem, memoir, art monograph, play, novel and questionnaire. Here are four discrete collections that would stand on their own but which, together, form the vibrant expanse of a book that affirms: not only does Eileen R. Tabios speak English but she loves English. This collection is a “quar(quin)tet” partly because it contains a hidden (fifth) book—that book referenced by the series “Footnote Poems.” The texts which generate the footnote-poems are not included, thus enabling a space where the readers play the roles of speculating what story(ies) is(are) being footnoted. This reflects Tabios’ belief that a poet may begin a poem but the reader completes it. The resulting structure also manifests the paradox of how poems by themselves cannot capture the significances of Poetry as experience: that this book’s true page count, like Poetry’s expanse, is not fixed and, thus, is infinite. Although Tabios’ first poetry collection received the Manila Critics Circle National Book Award for Poetry in the Philippines, where she was born, she has lived for over three decades in, and is a citizen of, the United States. The initial impetus for this collection stemmed from her meditations on being fluent in only one language—but a language that colonized her birthland and about which she is still asked the question by strangers as she travels throughout North America: “Do you speak English?” This bespeaks the consistent “Other”-ing experience imposed by many on people of color, even second- or third-generation Americans. Nonetheless, Tabios—a “transcolonial” poet—refuses to allow adverse socio-political elements to deter her from what she feels she must do as a poet, particularly as a poet of eros: to love her raw material of English. From such love, she not only crafts poems denoting a unique vision, but writings that transcend inherited literary forms. Tabios considers the term “transcolonial” to describe a postcolonial perspective that goes beyond the referenced context of colonialism. One result is the “hay(na)ku,” a poetic form which Tabios invented as a community-making gesture; here, the community encompasses both Filipino and non-Filipino poets gathered together through a love of Poetry. This collection features the first publication of “The Official History of the Hay(na)ku.” This collection ends with a close reading by respected poet Ron Silliman of one of Tabios’ poems. Silliman concludes, “Tabios tries for more in one page than many other poets would attempt in 20. And she pulls it off.”
In his “Discourse in the novel” Mikhail M. Bakhtin writes: “The poet must assume a complete single-personed hegemony over his own language, he must assume equal responsibility for each one of its aspects and subordinate them to his own, and only his own, intentions. Each word must express the poet’s meaning directly and without mediation: there must be no distance between the poet and his word.
[…] To achieve this, the poet strips the word of others’ intentions, he uses only such words and forms (and only in such a way) that they lose their link with concrete intentional levels of language and their connection with specific contexts.” // Bakhtin’s description of the poet approaches Eileen Tabios’s active involvement. I Take Thee, English, for My Beloved (2005) is a phantasmagoric journey of 504 pages into one of the most interesting embodiments of contemporary poetry.
—Anny Ballardini, Jacket #35 (See full review HERE)
The contents are quintessentially Tabios, which is to say that it’s something like manifest destiny turned manifold. To call it a grab bag is to do postmodern palaver an injustice. Let’s say multi-disciplinary, assembling as it does, rather ambitiously, her extraordinary output in several literary genres: poems, prose poems, essays, exegeses on others’ works as well as on her own, by others, etc. // …spectacularly over the top is the direction Eileen Tabios seems to have always gravitated towards; she is a Baz Luhrman of an entrancing, entranced poet-aesthete. And her Moulin Rouge of exultant literary treats is run by a first-class Madame, graciously, elegantly, exquisitely at all hours.
—The Philippine Star
“BEAUTIFUL AMBITION” TO TAKE ON ENGLISH: I’m reading through I Take Thee, English, for My Beloved, jumping around through the pages and like it very much. Particularly … with couplets like these:
End with Part 1. End to begin
all over again. No one ever teaches
what the end of the circle reveals…
The title alone has got me very interested and is so brilliant because of how it undermines certain conceptions of what English is, while acknowledging its place as the global language, but going (through the poems) into the beauties of that particular language. How to weigh its pleasures and dangers. Of course, the cover photo makes me giggle,too. There’s an ambition in publishing such a massive book that I really respect. To take on English and do it in 500 pages is a brave act and one Tabios does beautifully.
—Guillermo Juan Parra, Our Own Voice
I read many of Tabios’s poetic explorations of romantic/erotic themes as a testing of the claims of freedom and deterministic constraints. “Rapunzel’s Deaf Eyes” rewrites the old western fairy tale to articulate an imprisonment of self within others’ idealized expectations (“I live in a turret now/ No stairs, no hair// Reading yourself/ into a stranger’s poem// for a ‘hidden track’/ lying// beneath lemonade days/ envied by all// except their owner,” but it ends with the possibility of an overriding illumination:
in the freezer
children and spouses
Only the moon
remains to write
me of something
the rumors profess
is called “light.”
Moonlight is both a (traditional) external source of inspiration and a trope of internal fortitude that “writes” the poet’s unflagging determination to exceed socially imposed limitations, to persist in the “transcolonial” goal of “transit” expressed in the title of one of her poems: “Fly Luminously, Please”
—Thomas Fink, BOOKMARK (See full review HERE)
Eileen Tabios, an Ilocana immigrant [and] an indefatigable poet, editor and publisher, authored a poetry collection a few years ago titled I Take Thee, English, For My Beloved. // The cover had her in a bridal gown embellished in that old-trad Pinoy fashion, with peso bills slipped into its folds by well-wishing wedding guests. We can easily imagine her having the first dance with a language not our own, but one that has long been made (and romanced) into our own. As with all the so-called Fil-Am poets and writers, the favored weapon of combat in that highly competitive arena is English. These first- and second-generation writers who still trace their roots, themes, concerns and imagistic motifs back to the motherland are now legion, and increasingly successful…
—Alfred A. Yuson, The Business Mirror
the work is massive, containing poetry, criticism, theory, drama, and other forms; moreover, tabios’ language is at times stunning, sensual, violent, accusatory, and profound. her voice in my ear is like a mix of whitman and levertov. as with whitman in calamus, i want to jump in and join him, but all the while i hear the absense of love that levertov captures in works like the evening train. more than with typical poetry books, i feel that in reading this text i have encountered an alternate way of life, i.e. tabios creates a world in which poetry matters or does not matter in that it is a part of life.
—William Allegrezza, P-Ramblings
Ma-tsu, an 8th century, a.d., Ch’an master, once asked a student (Pai-chang) to explain the actions of a flock of wild geese in the sky. The student replied that the geese were flying away from him—a typical human response. Correcting the student with a whack to the head, Ma-tsu emphasized that the geese weren’t flying away from anything, but were flying into their own existence. This example is quite appropriate, when considering the poetry of Eileen Tabios, a Filipino, now residing in California, and winner of, among other honors, the Phillippines’ National Book Award for Poetry and the Pen/Oakland Josephine Miles National Literary Award. Her mammoth work I Take Thee, English, for my Beloved is a strong gathering of many forms that expresses her serious theme: escape. Her version, like Ma-tsu’s teaching on the flight of geese, is more focused on escape into than escape from. Escape, as theme, is deftly illustrated by the trope of flight. This gives the work, despite its size of five hundred pages, a weightless quality—in terms of possibilities.
The book’s layout in five major sections and numerous subsections was both appealing and challenging to me. I should add that the main sections—and many subsections—are, in effect, collections unto themselves, more than able to stand on their own; yet, all function harmoniously as part of the whole. My initial response was that I was at the beginning of a great journey, and that expectation has been rewarded. Tabios’ writing style strikes me as varied and reader friendly; also, the recurrence of specific imagery and language, while adding resonance and depth to the beauty of this work, is haunting.
—Sam Rasnake, Sam of Ten Thousand Things (Full review HERE)
I know the subjugated past she speaks of, and see the irony of the ‘colonized’ writing well in English, thereby prosodically ‘colonizing’ it.  Except that Eileen gives it a twist like no other writer. She tinkers with it until it maieutically forms into verses like the hay(na)ku; imposes on its boundaries the greatest longitudinal stress until it goes ‘Six Directions’ without tearing apart. And then she does the almost-incomprehensible, she marries it and truly makes it a way of life.
—Aileen Ibardaloza, Moria Poetry (Full review HERE)
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)
I opened I Take Thee, English for My Beloved, my fingers first arriving, serendipitously, (out of the immigrant shipwreck of his many lives), to “In The Empty Throne Room”—and later dipped here, there and elsewhere, and will continue to do so like a bee pausing at each flower as the bee’s want, in the gathering of pollen and nectar, as if laying down kisses on newly found love—not knowing what he might bring back to his hermit’s hive, solitary worker that he has become, caring for the invisible queen—so now in prepare of winter’s sustain, alongside the clover, honeylocust, and buckwheat flowers; the lavender and thyme of his garden, your own heady honey now thickens and distills, not to say ferments in him—rich and dark and of the herb and spice of heretofore unvisited lands, and of how in compare he feels pale and bodiless, but having tasted such and refreshed, suddenly feels that he might actually want to live again.
A Three-Question Interview on I Take Thee, English, For My Beloved
at Marsh Hawk Press Blog, Dec. 3, 2014
2) Please share some responses to your book that’s surprised you, or made you happy or disappointed. If your book is relatively new, share some of your hopes for how readers might respond or how the book finds its way in the world.
The book—which bears the nickname “Brick”—is thick at 504 pages. The thickness was part of my conception of the book. In part, I wanted to disrupt the notion of the slim poetry collection which length I feel is influenced by the dross of commerce: the poetry book’s commercial market. I also noticed that the majority of THICK poetry books seemed to be by white male poets (if not dead white male poets) and so I wanted to subtly disrupt that element….
Part of Philippine Expression’s National Poetry Month Celebration in 2020: