the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA
co-authors: Eileen R. Tabios and j/j hastain
Marsh Hawk Press, New York
Release Date: 2012
Distributors: Small Press Distribution, Bookshop, Selected Bookstores and Amazon
the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA is a ground-breaking collaboration of poems and poetics essays. “Began” by Eileen R. Tabios who crafted poems melding algebra and orphans, this unique project was “finished” by j/j hastain who echoed the poems first musically and then by way of meditations on Trans identity(ies). The collaboration presents several text approaches including essays addressing Tabios’ international adoption experience and hastain’s suggestion for more natural and less violent pronouns that transcend gender binaries.
Eileen Tabios’ ORPHANED ALGEBRA performs numerations of loss, want, abandonment, the conditions of the invisible. Riffing on middle school math story problems, Tabios works a mathematics of disorder, the unordering of poverty, these ‘stories’ a corrective to the “ascetic’s illusion of ecstasy, a measurement made possible by its condition precedent: a suffering so unmitigated it hollows the non-survivors from children to earthworms.” j/j hastain’s “visceral echoes” of Tabios, “gestures” both textual and visual, sound “an activism of hollowing out,” whose hollows form a new space of assiduity. In “stance”—instance—hastain “grapple[s] with ethics of place and space. Was a country the host body of a child found homeless in it?” Who and where are we, and what role has language in any of this? Against abuse, against hunger, against erasure, Tabios and hastain challenge silence’s dissonant ignorance. The poets sharpen language and intention, “Creating a permanent, rather than temporary implantable. An anti-obviate hutch or hearth.” A challenge, a new “home,” a pleasure, this collection puts us in the midst.
— Marthe Reed
Categories are not abstractions, they are bodies. Family is one such embodied category, gender another. What happens to bodies when they don’t fit the categories assigned them, when they lack families, when they criss-cross gender or genre lines? How can one calculate such change, compose equations to explain these trans-categorical shifts? Our very pronouns are at stake, as are nations, blood-ties, definitions to words like “dad” and “belonging.” As J/J Hastain writes, “There is a new lineage that we are trying to make more apparent.” Tabios and Hastain are trans-parents to a fresh embodiment of words and bodies, and to what they mean when they come together as books and persons. Their writing counts the change(s) in unexpected vocabularies.
— Susan M. Schultz
Tabios and hastain are most engaged in what happens when relation between persons occurs, or between genders within persons, namely in the TRANS of their “relational elations.” They are fascinated by displacements, yes, but also in “active placements,” whether those are adoptive relationships within families or within individuals whose gender-identities are not normative. These placements require new words, new pronouns, new definitions of family. They require new stories. // … It’s that “listening differently” that is the real TRANS in Tabios’s and hastain’s book; it’s a trans that risks appropriation. hastain is not, nor ever has been a “real” orphan, although xe has experienced gender (and generic) displacements. When a body rises into metaphor, it can easily be “assumed” to be something it is not. But better to take that risk than to leave these trans-travelers solely to their solitudes. It is the place “of someone finally watching” (66). This watching is not espionage but witness, not “at” but “with,” insofar as “withness” is possible.
—Jacket2 (Full review HERE)
The gift, we recall, of feminist theoreticism is the paradigm shift. Tabios and hastain place this at the eros of collaboration, and that’s its success: that the recognition of difference might make unlike circumstances empathetic frameworks. Begun through appropriated “word problems” from grammar school math equations, Tabios is able to ask, “What algebraic relationship moved you to bestow on mundane pigeons the halos of peace and other faux debris from trawling old memories of desire-ridden imagination that would come to plummet into ruin?” Transcendent then of equation, the series is able to interrogate “remainders” of information fallen outside the easiness of “whole sets,” or any given. In response, hastain posits xir own questions regarding the crepuscular—O favored of poetic words!—and relational identities: “Patina does relate to positing. Scratches secrets into the underside of blocks or blocs. That stone did hold that child’s expression.” The pairing also invites each poet’s critical reception of xir collaborator, as well as a startling sequence of stances through which hastain permutates “different set[s] of lovers” approaching the limit of Tabios’s partial problematic: What is a[p]parent?
—YELLOW FIELD 6
“…the rare book that Inspires us—forces us to see with a different set of eyes and subsequently change our Newly Provoked Thoughts to Actions, enlivening our heart and engaging our Humanity.”
—New Mystics Reviews
very special. I … urge readers to read and re-read this most fascinating of books I have engaged in a long time. Read and learn so many new ways.
—Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene
In the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA, [Eileen Tabios] has written poems that anchor themselves in mathematic terms or exercises and in using these models she addresses a subject in which she is intimately related—orphans. Reading her poems in this assortment is not unlike solving an algebra problem. Working in this manner attracted the attention of j/j hastain, a genderqueer writer ‘maker of things whose books deal directly with the transgressive body, deviant gender, eros and identity construction as necessary compositional methods to living with empowerment in what can be a diminutive and polarizing world.’ What results here is a true collaboration between two gifted and inventive artists, and while it may take time to absorb the meaning of this collaboration (and even the aspects of it that fill these pages), the fact that we the readers have been invited in and then forced to solve the problems set before us is unquestionably rewarding. // … sit back, read then re-read the digest and return and, as with all of Eileen Tabios’ projects, the brain and perception expand.
—Grady Harp, Amazon Hall of Fame Reviewer (Full review HERE)
It is easy enough to call this book prose poetry, but it is something far bigger than that. For all those connections to the tradition and its avante-gardistes …, the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA is both more solidly grounded in the prosaic reasoning it seeks to “upheave” and more adventurous in the poetics that allowed this collaboration to become embodied in poetry. Both writers have embodied aspects of their subject in their actual lives in ways that go beyond the old writing-from-who-you-are business. There is a physicality here that is creative not final…. //
There are two sets of poems at the beginning of this book, but there are more poems embedded in the “process” and poetics essay pairs that follow. Poems are adopted in the essays to express ideas. This fits the trans-formative effort of this collaboration perfectly and is underscored by hastain’s sentence: “More than anything else they were expected to be forced to learn to listen differently” (43). That’s a desire for us poets that can be contained by our poetic ambitions most of the time, but in this book it applies to both the writing and the lived experiencing reflected by both Tabios’ “Orphaned Algebra” and hastain’s “Ephemeral Alleles.” The essay hastain offers on that series calls up “three gestures” in it: “visceral echo,” a sound play off of Tabios’ poems; “stance,” explained here as “naming and fleshing out some of the complexities of queer identities … and their relation to ‘child’”; and “risks,” using the word “my” in seeking the “shared” rather than “imposition” of one’s “own” living. This forms a cogent analysis of the angles possible in a reading/writing exercise, but it first was the actual procedure by which the “Ephemeral Alleles More than Alleged or Invented Organs as Allies” poems were written. We see it working and then we hear how it was worked out. That third section is said to have been based on the questions: “how have I been orphaned? How have I orphaned? How can I offer to [the] orphaned spaces?” (65). Rather than impose, this rather short section exposes the key concept: “Child as image and as relation” (47). This fits fully with the second section’s expression of “’child’ as place” and “as personage.” There is a little confusion possible in this fusion, but if we turn to hastain’s broader poetics essay included in this book (“Engaging My Trans”), we get the big idea. I won’t try to re-explain this elegantly worded engagement here, but I will say that there are brave big ideas in this book and you should go read it.
—T.C. Marshall, Galatea Resurrects (A Poetry Engagement) (Full review HERE)
… depths are also found in a variety of other contemporary writers who have been led to question the aesthetic approach. Eileen R. Tabios’ work with materials from her adopted son Michael’s school studies makes brilliant use of re-framings that keep the context shifting and meanings slipping. The integration of her work “Orphaned Algebra” with pieces spinning off from it by j/j hastain goes even further. My early review of this work attempts to detail some of that. Tabios’ subsequent 147 Million Orphans (MMXI-MML) also invites other writers to engage with this material and the haybun form. The variety of angles achieved this way serves to open contexts and readings even as each haybun unfolds a haiku of words taken from Michael’s studies. It is simply elegant.
—T.C. Marshall, Galatea Resurrects No. 27 (Full essay HERE)
Eileen Tabios and j/j hastain have carried doubling into a collaborative text that combines her “sense of physicality” with hastain’s trans identity and “the idea of the poem as also a body,” all while working with her adopted son’s school life and the condition of orphaned bodies (v. my review in GR #20). This seemingly labyrinthine combination was for her “a useful scaffolding for managing personal biases and emotion so that they did not get in the way of creating the poem.” She ends this book with “A Poetics Fragment” that expresses the belief that a poem is “completed elsewhere” by others, beyond the poet’s realm of control, and that “one poem can have many different completions.” This is the essence of the noetic, where questionings and contradictions put off conclusions.
—T.C. Marshall, POST-CRISIS POETICS (Full essay HERE)