THE OPPOSITE OF CLAUSTROPHOBIA: Prime’s Anti-Autobiography
Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, Newton-le-Willows, U.K.
Copyright Date: 2017
A KFS “Editor’s Pick” and a 2022 Recommendation by New York Magazine
Available through KFS’ Book Page
£8 to U.K. Residents; £12 outside the U.K.
Startling, not just for the method but for the lines of breathtaking beauty resulting from it. These poems are tender, wistful and humorous, an incantatory catalogue that is spiritually tethered to the body and the earth, where everything is vital and important, and incites wonder, melancholy, and gratitude.
— Eric Gamalinda
While Georges Perec famously gave us a work of literature that began “I remember…”, Eileen Tabios gives us a very human sounding algorithm that lists for us what “I” has forgotten. In the backgrounds of paintings like those of Lucas Cranach, Bosch, Durer, Da Vinci, are castles, ruins, caverns. Each one is an invitation, a window into which I’d like to peer. In just such a way each of the lines of Tabios’ new work is an invitation to seek within the sfumato for a miniature clarity—sometimes the blinding light of a furnace, sometimes an old movie set swarming with quotation marks, sometimes lines that, with their specificity, invite us to linger and to imagine the margins full of novels, short stories, memoirs of: “Marisa peeling the skin from a blue-boned fish…Luisa who squatted beside betel-chewing crones with crooked front teeth, and Marjorie who swallowed the scarless sky over Siquijor.” Some lines are mere rungs for the hands and feet of angels and these I recommend to you most of all.
— Jesse Glass
New York Magazine, May 2022
Featured at Blackpool Illuminations Festival 2016
Excerpts were featured at the Blackpool Illuminations Festival 2016, with support from the Arts Council of England. Lights will flash out:
Here are more photos by Alec Newman from the Festival:
Eileen R. Tabios’ THE OPPOSITE OF CLAUSTROPHOBIA is reminiscent of Ginsberg’s “Howl” with the constant refrain of “I forgot” instead. This collection encompasses a huge range of content, from intimate reflections to broader observations about different cultures, places, religions and people. When I was reading, I simultaneously felt as though I was lying beside Tabios like a lover or confidant, as well as moving through the generations of her family or the past of her country. There is a continual pulling closer to and then transportation to miles away from a foreign land with a potentially dark history.
—Nikki Dudley, The Halo-Halo Review, December 2017 (Full Review)
There are passages of rare beauty, there are striking phrases and cadences, and there surprises on every page:
I forgot meagre pity.
I forgot omission as confession.
I forgot dungeons waste marble.
And always, throughout the sequence, there is an abiding sense of mystery:
I forgot her hobby of attending to death
beds – afterwards she always lusted for
hotel lobbies stuffed with crystal chandeliers
By generating these poems, and by using her own past poetry as raw material, Tabios has breathed new life into the “I remember / I forget” form, in a way typical of this inventive poet.
—Alan Baker, Leafe Press/Litter Magazine, Jan. 27, 2017 (Full Review)
The very words in this collection seem to breathe –
“I forgot I saw a city breathing beyond the window
I forgot the musk of evenings quivering into post-elegance…..”
The poetry of Eileen Tabios invites us to look at what it truly means to be part of the human race, not merely a fragment of it. Challenging in its width and breadth, I would highly recommend this collection – it is at the same time startling and unnerving, not always comfortable reading, but every page/every line is an adventure in itself. If you are prepared to travel with her you will be astonished at her creativity and will close the last page wanting more :
“I forgot the perfume of fresh bread outside a panetteria, the vinegary tang floating from a wine shop, heaven as the scent of roasting coffee from a grocer, and the necesssary reminder of those different from us through the stench of street drains.”
—Valerie Morton, The Poetry Shed, Jan. 25, 2017 (Full Review)
The Opposite of Claustrophobia: Prime’s Anti-Autobiography is a tender blend of modernist, de-colonial and procedural code in which poet Eileen Tabios elegantly defies Plato’s prescient warning against the dangers of web-connected memory, and that relying too heavily on external memory (he was referring of course to writing at the time) would have irreversible consequences on our ability to remember.
—Jonathan Mulcahy-King, X-Peri, Sept. 27, 2017 (Full Review)
Memory can be open to interpretation. Many lines in this book contain images or references to things that evoke memory such as scent (scarlet roses; sprays of rose, peony, hydrangea and gladiola, gardenias crushed for perfume, the perfume of fresh bread, heaven as the scent of roasting coffee from a grocer, etc); music (lullabies from the wings of fireflies); travel (Mindanao, Berlin, Melbourne, Amsterdam, Istanbul) and food (sausage fat sizzling with the passion of cultists). There is some keen observation here (I forgot ice relaxing its contours into liquid gold); striking imagery (I forgot the blades of helicopters slicing air into thinner and thinner strips); and amazing beauty (I forgot a sarong fell and a river blushed). Many of these images have a habit of staying in the mind long after the reader has closed the book. They, in turn, are absorbed into the reader’s memory. None of these lines gives too much away. They paint a brief picture, sometimes just a brushstroke, and leave the reader to work on the rest of the canvas. From these small, intriguing details, we are all invited to build the bigger picture. This is why it is subtitled as an “Anti-autobiography” – it is not so much about the author but more about the way in which the reader brings his or her own experience or memory into play.
—Neil Leadbeater, Otoliths, Nov. 1, 2017 (Full review)
“I forgot a sarong fell and a river blushed.”
Eileen R. Tabios’ new collection of poetry, The Opposite of Claustrophobia, is just stunning. Luminous. One of my favorites!
—Sheila Bare, Goodreads
This collection has a style which is reminiscent of Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’, with the constant refrain of ‘I forgot’ with image upon image provided; from intimate reflections to broader observations about different cultures, places and people. I particularly loved some specific lines, for example: ‘I forgot the horizon is far, is near, is what you wish but always in front of you’ / ‘I forgot you falling asleep in my skin to dream’. I really enjoyed this collection and I look forward to reading more of Tabios’ work.
—Nikki Dudley, Goodreads
The Book’s Persona: