The Secret Lives of Punctuations, Vol. 1


xPress(ed), Finland
ISBN: 952-99702-0-X
Release Date: 2006
Pages: 176
Distributor: OUT OF PRINT but with occasional copies through Amazon
Price: $14.95

Publisher’s Book Description:

xPress(ed) is pleased to announce the release of Eileen R. Tabios’ poetry collection, THE SECRET LIVES OF PUNCTUATIONS, VOL. I, which reveals for the first time the secret lives of those gestures so small that they are often taken for granted or overlooked: punctuations.

Volume I of PUNCTUATIONS reveals the resonant—and quirky—lives of the semi-colon, colon, ellipsis, parenthesis, strike-throughs, question mark, and the blank line.

The book also offers a decolonialism scholar’s perspective on punctuations by Dr. Leny M. Strobel, as well as a visual art relationship with punctuations through the paintings of Eve Aschheim. Finally, the book offers postcard-art and a performance project entitled “The Secret Lives of Blank Lines” by the author who is not just a poet but also a conceptual/performance and visual artist.

An essay on one of its sections, “On the Path of the Shona to Sculpt the Masvikiru Quatrains, is available online at Moria Poetry, Vol. 7, 2005.

Selected Reviews:

“In Derridean deconstruction, the parergon or periphery often becomes the center, the parenthesis the main focus, and in the work of poets like David Shapiro, original and translation swap places. Tabios in her ‘Notes’ demonstrates how her brief ‘Parentheticals’ are the product of a double displacement… A critique of presumptions of transparent referentiality and unproblematic narrative—coupled with the aesthetic pleasure of stretching the imagination with formal innovations—has been an important feature of all of Tabios’s poetry.”
—Thomas Fink, Jacket (Full review HERE.)

Tabios follows a less-traveled path here as she investigates the effects of semi-colons, colons, parentheses, ellipses, strikethroughs, and question marks on words and readers. She brings punctuation marks out of near-invisibility by bringing them into the foreground. Like Eve Ascheim’s powerful, understated cover art, Tabios’ work here is a mirror that both hides and reveals. … // In a section titled “The Masvikiru Quatrains,” Tabios addresses implied meanings and forms. These revelations of the mind’s eye were inspired by Finnish poet and composer Jukka-Pekka Kervinen’s computer generated soundscapes, based more on word sound than meaning. In these quatrains comprised of seemingly unrelated words, the blending and cadence of sound is meaningful when read aloud. Incredibly, The Masvikiru Quatrains are ekphrasis, inspired by studying Shona sculpture. // Ms. Tabios’ work in this book is scholarly in nature, yet enlightening and understandable once the reader’s mind is opened to it.
—Midwest Book Review

Tabios’s devotion to an individualistic-centered strategy of poetic interpretation can be encapsulated in what she calls a “long-held poetic interest of mine.” That interest involves, as she puts it, “writing poems that can be read forward, backward, left to right or right to left.” Tabios’s poetry can be transmuted into the notion that beginnings are ends and that ends are really beginnings, to borrow loosely from T.S. Eliot. In the hands of an unabashed rule-breaker like Tabios, Eliot’s universal idea of ends and beginnings tears apart coherent narrative patterns. Indeed, to understand Tabios’s poetry means having to do away with easily-discernable signifier-to-signified interactions between words, phrases, and sentences, and thus between poems and their essences if it can be said there is such a thing. Perhaps this is a reach, but if one had to find comparisons in her unregimented verses to the productions of a particular visual artist, Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock and his disorderly, nonrepresentational “drip” paintings would seem to fit the bill.
—Allen Gaborro, Philippine News (Full review HERE.)

“a process that makes me think of Olson’s sense of archive. genre distinctions are muted. there are poems, collaboration, and reflection in this book. I like how that works, all tied together. her thesis, to call it that, is a use of punctuation, a conscious controlling of the poem’s space. I think this is a useful consideration, or what I mean, that punctuation isn’t often seen in its larger meaning, or meaningfulness.”
—Allen Bramhall, tributary (Full review HERE.)

“scholarly in nature, yet enlightening and understandable once the reader’s mind is opened to it.”
—Our Own Voice

“peruse lovingly: the words, the lines, all these which seem to invite the reader to respond, and engage in conversation with the poet… What a beautiful new book. It’s absolutely scrumptious.”
—RC Loenen-Ruiz, Raindancer’s Map of Memories (Full review HERE.)

“Eileen Tabios, in her Secret Lives…, has progressed from start[l]ingly regular brilliance to everyday genius with this fricking wonderful book. [One of]… three books [that] link up for me because they innovate fearlessly, and do so with crazy, persistent—and very rare—kinds of love.
—Soluble Census

“If being memorable is one essential element of strong poetry, then the following is certainly powerful. Here’s another witty, highly musical poem resonant with not only intimacy and memorability in the interrelations between writer and readerly audience, but also ‘punctuated’ by bringing us into the severest of political realities”
—Chris Murray, Texfiles

“Rife with the stuff of Language Poetry, disseminated here in the investigatory practices of a secular grammarian, Tabios takes for her organizing principle the diacritically punctual gesture….Supporting such columnar effects rids us of the indices of affectation; serials, editorial drafts, and asides open and flex here in the full catalog of our representational enquiring.”
—YELLOW FIELD (Full review HERE.)

“…wide range of forms that we’ve come to expect from this dazzling writer ….gems…. beautifully designed”

“…these poems could also be seen as another illustration of the conflict between nature and the constraints of civilization…”
—The Feminist Review

Jeannine Hall Gailey reviews A SLICE OF CHERRY PIE anthology, Ed. Ivy Alvarez, which contains Punctuations‘ poem “The Collapse of the Last Log”—”enigmatic, swaying collection of phrases”
—Blue Fifth Review

Tim Thorne reviews A SLICE OF CHERRY PIE anthology, Ed. Ivy Alvarez, which contains Punctuations‘ poem “The Collapse of the Last Log”—”In the end, of course, whatever its origins, poetry has to stack up as poetry. The real test here is the impact these poems will have on readers who are not familiar with the TV series or the film…. I found the pieces by Jared Leising and Eileen Tabios passed my test easily”
Famous Reporter #37

“You can never hear what you read.” I would say that is enigmatic, but it works. A book that mirrors your life that is ambiguous–that would fit. Life is ambiguous. Or as Ms. Tabios writes in her poem, “The Estrus Gaze(s),” “some poems, yes, should be silent when lifted from the page.”
—Chris Mansel, The Daily Art Source

Selected Reader Responses through “The Secret Lives of Blank Lines”

Many poetry books feature “blurbs” on their back covers. The back cover of The Secret Lives of Punctuations, Vol. I seeks to subvert this problematic structure by presenting blank lines, along which readers can inscribe their own blurbs. Two examples are the following sent by readers:

Stephen Hong Son:
“The Secret Lives of Punctuations, Vol. I” dramatically unmoors the paratextual markers that structure the English language, pushing the reader into a labyrinthine lyrical landscape of infinite reading possibilities.

Adrienne J. Odasso:


One of the poems in The Secret Lives of Punctuations, Vol. 1 was excerpted into an epigraph by Mg Roberts in her debut poetry book, not so, sea (Durga Press, 2014):




The Secret Lives of Punctuations, Vol. 1 is among the Eileen Tabios books in a bookstore in Malmö, Sweden:




After being exhibited along with other Eileen R. Tabios books at the June 2019 Cebu Literary Festival, all books will become part of Silliman University’s Library (Philippines).