THE THORN ROSARY: Selected Prose Poems & New (1998-2010)
Selected, with an Introduction, by Editor Thomas Fink. Afterword by Joi Barrios.
Marsh Hawk Press (New York, 2010)
ISBN (hardcover): 978-09841177-4-1
ISBN (softcover): 978-0-9841177-2-7
Release Date: 2010
Dimensions: 8” x 10”
Price: Hardcover: $34.95; Softcover: $19.95
Distributors: Small Press Distribution, Selected Bookstores, Amazon, among others.
THE THORN ROSARY gathers a selection of prose poems by Eileen R. Tabios that were released between 1998 and 2010 by publishers in the U.S., Philippines and Finland. While Ms. Tabios writes in many forms and actually created a popular minimalist poetic form called the “hay(na)ku”, much of her work has been in prose poetry. The bulk of her first collection and recipient of the Philippines’ National Book Award for Poetry, Beyond Life Sentences (1998), and the entirety of her first U.S.-published book, Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole (2002), are prose poems.
Tabios is a seamstress of the surreal, combining erudition and art historical references with flourishes of verbal color and surge. She is a generous writer whose enthusiasm for art registers brightly in her energetic conceptions. Propositions make correlative folds in a vividness of amalgamation. Ramifications at the fringe of consciousness thread brocades of textural ardor in a luster of compound interest. Her work (to borrow one of her own phrases) is “a blissful difficulty,” a quest akin to threading a letter with a metaphor, a perception with a nerve.
—John Olson, Backscatter: New and Selected Poems
From Introduction by Thomas Fink:
“When the prose poem’s aesthetic freedom took hold of Tabios in the mid- to late-nineties, she was not yet aware of how “Language Poets,” building on earlier work by such figures as Gertrude Stein and the John Ashbery of Three Poems, had developed new possibilities in this hybrid genre. She had yet to read, for example, Ron Silliman’s “The New Sentence,” and yet “Purity” and similar prose poems in this volume—had they existed in the eighties—could have served as excellent specimen texts for that crucial essay.
“Tabios is probably the first Filipino/a poet to bring experimentally tinged post- and trans-colonial concerns to the genre of prose-poetry; specifically and uniquely, with the influence of abstract art, she disrupts ways in which narrative inherent in language acts as a colonizing tool. She also figures as one of the first Asian-American poets to publish work in this experimental vein.”
From Afterword by Joi Barrios:
Contextualizing Ms. Tabios within Filipino literature, poet-scholar Joi Barrios notes (full essay HERE):
“One could perhaps consider Eileen Tabios to be the Angela Manalang Gloria of the 21st century, her poems all at once, crisp, flowing, interrogative, tender, innovative, funny, thought-provoking, sensuous, revolutionary. Manalang Gloria (1907-1955), author of the collection simply entitled Poems, 1940, was known for her snapshot-like poems on unconventional women…
“However, comparing Tabios with Manalang Gloria seems to be an exercise in stating the obvious. This is similar to arguing that perhaps Tabios channels Jose Garcia Villa (and his comma poems) simply because she wrote The Secret Lives of Punctuations (2006).
“Instead, in contextualizing Eileen Tabios’ work, we could look into the following: Leona Florentino (1849-1884), the 19th-century Ilocano poet; the unanthologized Tagalog women poets who published in Liwayway and Taliba in the 1920s and 1930s, during the United States occupation of the Philippines (1899-1945); and the binukot, the storyteller from Panay of pre-colonial Philippines.
“Tabios’ poems seemingly speak of love and desire, and yet are powerful statements that participate in discourses on gender, class, and power.”
Selected Reviews & Engagements:
Some 11 years ago, I shook off my accrued sense of poetry. I studied under Robert Grenier who, despite his obvious preference towards a poetry that would be identified as LANGUAGE poetry (not that that lump sum term can really define any territory properly), was very supportive of the discovering writer. I performed a slow discovery, over years and years, of where my writing came from and burgeoned towards, until I finally realized that the sentence worked for me. That the metre of the sentence could preside over the words that I knew.
I began making poetry, then, in prose. It is poetry because it is not just guided by the mentor called Good English (or good whatever language, but English is what I use). I allow disjunction, and fragmentation, and linear discontinuity to make their reports. Poetry, I see, insists on timely subversions. I learned that from Emily Dickinson.
Eileen’s subversions are headturning. The curious embrace of Ferdinand Marcos’ daughter, in the office of writing towards her late father, is a feat of telling surprise. Eileen is a cork bobbing in the meeting of streams.
As always with Eileen’s books, there are notes and bibliography and that sort of Olsonian process brought directly into the work itself. I love that! The experiment that is Eileen Tabios is fascinating to witness.
—Allen Bramhall, Tributary (Full engagement HERE)
Eileen Tabios’ The Thorn Rosary: Selected Prose Poems & New showcases some of the most significant work that Eileen has published over the last twelve years. While I’ve read many of the poems in the original books, it was interesting to read the selected pieces again, and this time I read them after reading Thomas Fink’s excellent introduction to Eileen’s poetry**. In picking the poems, Fink did a nice job of highlighting some of the most interesting aspects of Eileen’s poetry and helps show her as a master of the prose poem. We see her move through postcolonial topics to personal lyrics. At times the poems have narrative clarity while at other times they seem abstract or opaque. They comment on the nature of poetry but also show us what it the prose poem is capable of through her use of myriad techniques. For someone unfamiliar with her work, this book would provide a nice first read.
(**Reading this book was more than a simple glance–more like daily glances. As with all of Eileen’s projects, this one is large and complex.)
—Willliam Allegrezza, P-Ramblings
When I first received Eileen R. Tabios’ The Thorn Rosary: Selected Prose Poems (1998-2010), I did a quick glance for a later better read but was already in awe of it — I felt reverence both towards the overall book and while reading paragraphs here and there, not to mention for the setup and the compiling of it.
Later, I would spend an afternoon reading it. It reads like an encyclopedia or a reference book for living and loving, but always with poetry in mind. I did not know the author was Filipino and was impressed by the way that was woven into the sensibilities of this volume. I also appreciated how elegantly and unassumingly the book is laid out and how well the author’s work interacts with that of other authors addressed in the book. Tabios is prolific and honest with sentiment and its expression.
In particular, I liked the following sections: Life Sentences, Homunculus, Conjurations and Clifford Still (who happens to be one my favorite artists). But I liked the contents of these sections, the approaches utilized, the opportunities they present, and the language. For example, the excluded word … stuffed animals looking wise … black flies out of the book of a poet.
Truly the thorn in the rosary is as much rosary as the rosary is thorn. We are grateful for that.
—Arpine Konyalian Grenier, Marsh Hawk Press Blog
In fact, speaking generally about Tabios’ work, this is one of the things I like best about it…. I’m always left with a bit of a mystery. Which I think is thought and emotion producing. Which is great.
—John Bloomberg-Rissman, The Halo-Halo Review, September 2015
Eileen R. Tabios is an extraordinary artist. Not only is she a very fine poet whose prose poetry has gathered a large audience from around the world (she is from the Philippines), but she is also the ‘inventor’ of a poetic form called Hay(na)ku. // …THE THORN ROSARY is a book filled with eloquent and very human poetry. It spans a long period for the poet. // For this reader the most powerful section in this very rich book is the section titled ‘The Blind Chatelaine’s Keys: Her Biography Through Your Poetics’ in which Tabios places on apposing pages prose poetry with hay(na)ku. On one page is document like verbiage from government institutions about orphans and on the facing page is some of the most delicately heartfelt emotions from the minds and lives of those orphans being politicized. It is a rare monument. She can be at once as delicate as a breeze or a harsh as a tsunami. She is definitely a poet of importance.
—Grady Harp, Amazon Hall of Fame Reviewer
As the rosary is a meditation on the decades and their mysteries, the mysteries of The Thorn Rosary involve more than a decade’s worth of meditations are engagements with language, form, culture, reason and human experience. Underlying both is a ‘purity of intention.’ Without romantically idealizing a post-colonial Philippines or the concerns of immigrant communities in a postmodern, multicultural society, Tabios redefines the word ‘Balikbayan’ (3).
I am called “Balikbayan” because the girl in me is a country of rope hammocks and waling-waling orchids—a land with irresistible gravity because, in it, I forget the world’s magnificent indifference. (4)
I have been ‘meditating’ with Tabios’ work for almost five years now and I find that some lines are simply immortal:
Part of mortality’s significance is that wars end. (5)
Some lines, like poetic stomach punches, are so unexpected they never fail to knock the wind out of me:
I am compelled to answer the many variations of the same question: Why do I weep before a square canvas depicting a square? Or a circular canvas depicting a circle? Have the Greeks attained purity? Attained perfection? Have I earned the moments I made my mother cry? (6)
Despite (or because of) the lack of line breaks, I hold my breath longer than I thought I could when I find the beat as startling as the poet’s ability to sustain the emotional impact in long sentences:
These memories are a single weight and you are the one with the extended palm, open and trusting the fall of light against the flesh that surrounds your life lines. (7)
—Aileen Ibardaloza, Litter Magazine (Full review HERE)
Archbishop Fulton Sheen: The Rosary is the book of the blind…the simple, the aged… this first epigraph to Eileen Tabios’ The Thorn Rosary: Selected Prose Poems and New 1998-2010, startles me. But I get it. It is apropos to open this book with this quote. The power of the rosary is beyond description … and this is true as far as it has been almost impossible to articulate the conflation of religion and colonial epistemic and psychic violence. Whatever has been written and said about this, something else is always left unsaid. In the Filipino experience, it is a rare poet who dares to do so.
Perhaps The Thorn Rosary is a trope for that stale tongue, how to find maps in snow (Fatima Lim Wilson) or as Paz Benitez would have it: If you are a good Catholic, you cannot write poetry; you have many confusions (21). But what to make of these confusions? Paz Benitez didn’t foresee that someday a poet would find a way to create Beauty out of such confusions. Eileen Tabios does.
The Thorn Rosary represents a decade (plus 2 years) of prose poetry by Eileen Tabios, selected by the book editor Thomas Fink. For almost the same number of years, I have engaged Eileen’s poetry as a lover of language, as someone who has learned to intuit meanings out of abstract language. What I have written about Eileen’s poetry  is an answer to the invitation of Poetry, to the power of language…
—Leny M. Strobel, Moria Poetry
A response through hay(na)ku and jewelry:
—POEMFLESH2 (Full engagement HERE)
According to Tabios: “Poems may be written in a variety of ways, and I don’t privilege any one approach over others . . . . However, I have found certain advantages to letting the poem stew internally before it comes out of its own volition as fully-embodied. This method helps me to maintain the energy of that initial impetus that would birth a poem.” (“Maganda”) From the very start Tabios writes without a set path in mind. Thus, it can be interpreted without censor. According to Tabios no interpretation is wrong, and it can be visibly seen in “Jade” as each stanza significantly differs from one another. Her poem seems like a schizophrenic retelling of a story, with a different ambience of each personality varying from stanza to stanza, and finally closing with a chaotic convergence with the last sentence. As for imagery, her poem can also be likened to Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.” The colors and moods change from each room, steadily darkening to a foreshadowing somber tone in Poe’s poem.
—Soffwana Yasmin, CUNY, N.Y. (Full engagement HERE)
I was impressed by the sheer scale of [The Thorn Rosary]; a large-format book of around 350 pages. I should have known it would be bulky, having previously received a copy of her book I Take Thee, English, For My Beloved—another bumper offering which contains four substantial collections. The list of works at the front of The Thorn Rosary show that Tabios is an ambitious writer who works on a grand scale…. She has a ready-made subject and constituency in the Filipino diaspora and post-colonial experience. As a writer, Tabios is more than capable of doing justice to that experience.
—Alan Baker, Litterbug
Leafing through THE THORN ROSARY and INVENT[ST]ORY, I am awed by her inventiveness, prodigious energy, humor, and surrealist exuberance.
—E. San Juan
POETRY AT THE SARI-SARI STORE
An article on distributing THE THORN ROSARY in Ilocos Sur, Philippines is available HERE:
WHAT THE BOOK LOOKS LIKE SHELVED AT THE NAPA PUBLIC LIBRARY