Eileen Tabios reviews literature and art. This site will be updated over time to reflect her enjoyment of these worlds.
At times, people talk about her reviews: “Thomas Fink With Chris Pusateri,” The Conversant. And “Eileen Tabios Reviews Bradbury’s Hsia Yu”, Notes on the Mosquito. And “Changing the Way We Read: A Review of Hsia Yu’s “SALSA,” translated by Steven Bradbury,” Paper Republic – Chinese Literature in Translation. And “About Eileen Tabios” by Maxwell Clark, Noema. And “Exchange on Jane Joritz-Nakagawa’s Recent Poetry,” Dichtung Yammer.
POETRY: She published most of her poetry-related reviews as engagements in Galatea Resurrects (A Poetry Engagement). A list of poetry books and projects engaged for Galatea Resurrects is available HERE — as of December 2018, she has reviewed 414 poetry or poetry-related books.
The following presents reviews at other sites:
periodicities: a journal of poetry and poetics
Review of Vincent Katz’s BROADWAY FOR PAUL (Knopf, 2020)
GLASS: A JOURNAL OF POETRY
Review of Moria Books’ “Locofo series” edited by William Allegrezza, 2017
THE HALO-HALO REVIEW / Mangozine
Review of “Avocado,” a painting by Pacita Abad
Review of “Hawak/Hold,” a drawing by Katrina Bello
Review of Magdalena by Cecilia Brainard (PlainView Press, Austin, TX, 2001)
Review of Jose Elvin Bueno’s novel SUBVERSIVO, INC. (CreateSpace, 2014)
Review of Noelle Q. de Jesus’ short story collection Curses and Other Stories (Penguin Random House Southeast Asia, 2019)
Review of THE BEAUTY OF GHOSTS: FIVE VOICES: A Theater of Poetry by Luis H. Francia
(Ateneo de Manila University Press, Quezon City, 2010)
Review of Lolas’ House: Filipino Women Living With War by M. Evelina Galang (Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2017)
Review of the essays by Maria Victoria A. Grageda-Smith and Barbara Jane Reyes in OTHERS WILL ENTER THE GATES: Immigrant Poets on Poetry, Influences, and Writing in America edited by Abayomi Animashan (Black Lawrence Press, 2015)
Review (viz Foreword) of YEARNINGS by Ayo Gutierrez (sp, Philippines, 2018)
Review of Maps for Migrants and Ghosts by Luisa A. Igloria (Southern Illinois University Press, 2020).
The Artist as Culture Producer edited by Sharon Louden (Intellect / University of Chicago Press, 2017)
Review of TRICKSTERS & COSMOPOLITANS by Rei Magosaki–with review focus on Jessica Hagedorn (Fordham University Press, New York, 2016)
Review of Reine Archache Melvin’s novel THE BETRAYED (Ateneo de Manila Press, 2018)
Review of PLAY FOR TIME by Paula Mendoza (Gaudy Boy, 2020)
Review of The Conquered Sits at the Bus Stop, Waiting by Veronica Montes (Black Lawrence, 2020).
Review of Fictionary: New and Award-Winning Stories by Jenny Ortuoste (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2016)
Review of BALIKBAYANG MAHAL: Passages from Exile by E. San Juan, Jr. (Philippine Studies Center, Washington D.C., 2007/2017)
GLIMPSES: A Poetic Memoir (viz Foreword) by Leny Mendoza Strobel (Paloma Press, 2019)
Review of Puñeta: Political Pilipinx Poetry (Moria Books/Locofo Chaps, Chicago, 2017)
Review of Grace Talusan’s memoir THE BODY PAPERS (Restless Books, 2019)
JACKET & JACKET2
Review of Kindergarde: Avant-Garde Poems, Plays, Stories, and Songs for Children, Editor Dana Teen Lomax (Black Radish Books, 2013), with a focus on the visual poem “done” by Rachel Zolf
“Redeeming my faith in ekphrasis,” review of Serious Pink by Sharon Dolin (Marsh Hawk Press, 2003)
Review of The Passion of Phineas Gage & Selected Poems by Jesse Glass (West House Books & Ahadada Books)
Review of Four Poetry & Art Books by Basil King: Mirage — a poem in 22 sections (Marsh Hawk Press); Warp Spasm (Spuyten Duyvil); The Complete Miniatures (Stop Press); and Devotions (Stop Press, 1997)
Review of iduna by kari edwards (O Books, 2003)
TEN, The Literary Magazine of The Asian American Writers Workshop
(First poetry review written!)
Review of Forbidden Entries by John Yau (Black Sparrow, 1996)
OUR OWN VOICE (Written as Contributing Editor for the Arts)
“Patrick Rosal: Sketching the Energy of Breakdancers,” Our Own Voice, January 2015
“Meditations on Ilokano Abstractions (with a focus on VC Igarta),” Our Own Voice, January 2001
“Behind Santiago Bose: The Emptied Page,” Our Own Voice, April 2003
“Art As ‘Special Tasks Involving Attention’” (with a focus on Stephanie Syjuco), Our Own Voice, July 2002
“Post Visual: Jean Vengua’s Haptic Drawings,” Our Own Voice, June 2013
“John Patrick McKenzie: Drawing Words to Transcend Definitions and Make Words More Meaningful,” Our Own Voice, April 2005
“Emmy Catedral’s Invitation to her ‘Dances in the Dark’,” Our Own Voice, June 2005
“Ay, Nako!! Thomas Fink’s Visual Poetry: The Hay(na)ku Paintings,” Our Own Voice, August 2008
“A Meditation on Identity: ‘Suite Nothing’’May Sound the Same—But is Not the Same—as ‘Sweet Nothing’” (with a focus on the performance art group Mail Order Brides), Our Own Voice, March 2004
“Overcoming Aesthetic Apartheid (with a focus on Christina Querrer’s Paintings),” Our Own Voice, January 2003
“Remy ‘Mima’ Cabacungan: After Postmodernism Comes Post-Buttonism,” Our Own Voice, December 2008
A SELECTION OF BLURBS:
(mostly offered in first draft (which may not be the published version) to limit mediation of her responses)
THE SASQUATCH WALKS AMONG US by Mark Young
These are poems conscious of mortality’s fate. What results is music as would be played, not in but by, dusk. Thus, wryness, anger of the type refusing to go gentle in the night, acceptance, humor, irony, and more until “the noise / divides & / the song /breaks through.” They form a read so compelling that instead of “reading out of books,” you “read things into them.” Specifically, you read your life into these poems so that you can only hope your life will have contained enough of what creates the lyric: “A light moves on the north sky line … & a world is covered with jade,” or “the moon got in / under his finger- / nails like a fragment of / a Bach cantata.”
ALMOST LOVE by Pierre Lepori, Trans. by Peter Valente
Because the language is so disciplined, thus ravishing, the reader is able to transcend grief as undertone and focus instead on “the threshold of life” where tentativeness can be a small light towards an opening. Certainty can be a “stupid column” and this poetry surfaces from the ecstasy of a language attuned to how the lover’s image is what is reflected on “a beam of light / the breath kept / in the hollow of the hand” as it writes.
The Wuhan Shuffle: New and Selected Poems 1990-2020 by Nick Carbó
Throughout his poetic life, Nick Carbó has been skewering history and culture as they deserve. But that his espada ropera occasionally melts to tender lyricism reveals the huge heart that must be the saving grace of great poets. Despite the “burden of bodies”—that includes one of the 20th century’s great poems, “The Boy In Blue Shorts”—this poet still discovers “lemons dreaming their yellow dreams” and “flowers dancing flamencos in red dresses.” His poems enlarge their readers’ lives. We must respond fulsomely with nothing less than Love.
The Velvet Protocol by Julia Lewis and Nathan Hyland Walker
When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, her doctor said, “If we live long enough, we all get cancer.” This is the world we’ve created: where life ends precisely because of living. To live is to die. Is a better world possible? In The Velvet Protocol, a new treatment protocol for metastatic breast cancer is envisioned as a series of dishes given to nourish rather than poison the patient. Such upending mutates language: “We respire it.” Such upending, as unfolded by Julia Lewis and Nathan Hyland Walker, brings us to poetry refreshed and enlivened: “A little feral besting the eggs, salt” for the “tired bodies, / they are fried in the deep sense of tried” until, ultimately, “in the dominion nausea, / see saffron crocus sings autumn, / and the crows flower a darker lilac crocus sunlight.” From homophonic translations of ugly meds—Zofran into Saffron—these upended recipes result in poems of hard-fought luminosity.
CITY OF SHADOW & LIGHT by Diane Sahms
Diane Sahms’ City of Shadow & Light opens with the loss of two sons and continues to hearken more challenges as the book unfolds. But as she quotes from Jung in one epigraph, dark shadows only heighten the brightness of light. Thus, the book’s ending of “light” is hard-earned, and the fortitude is as inspiring as the “brave Raven, who stole light / from total darkness // for everyone.” The reader is left gladdened that this poet managed to retain her voice and that, despite everything, that “voice, still sings.”
GOLDEN MILK by Sheila E. Murphy
In many cases and as aided by an in-beat lyricism, the silk of Sheila E. Murphy’s poems offers transparency through a lack of punctuation especially ending punctuations like periods. How appropriate given how she carves out new doors for readers’ imaginations, e.g. “any time you walk vocabulary words down lanes the empty sidelines shepherd riverways where livestock and the sunlight chasten quietude”—as in quietude being the opposite of continued engagement by and with those “vocabulary words.” When “vocabulary” becomes an adjective of “words,” one notices how words don’t need to rest in static definitions but can point to new ways to engage—a basic purpose to poetry if expanding vocabulary is a means for acquiring knowledge. These turns to exploring, rather, re-exploring language as a haunting—“my window is a syllable at least one time”—are illuminating, steeped as they are by experience and maturity. Sheila Murphy is incandescent through a prolonged and “effervescent fealty” to poesis that melts previously-defined words into something ineffable but so discernibly sweet: “Memory differs from reasoning. Trees pruned allow in light I know by heart.”
DESKARIL: 5 STATIONS IN VERSE by
Xenia-Chloe Henson Villanueva
Xenia-Chloe Henson Villanueva’s debut collection ends with a last poem entitled “Tried Painting. Hated the Colours.” That title bespeaks one of this poet’s strengths: a deadpan mischief that will reward the reader.
SYNONYM FOR HOME by Michelle Murphy
Quite often, rain camouflages. Rain can blow objects across your vision that may (partially) mask what’s before you, or make you tilt your head to the detriment of direct sight. Then there are the raindrops themselves: to see through them is to look as if through a gauze, a shimmer, a veil…. But there are those who can, to paraphrase the lucid artist Agnes Martin, look between raindrops. That’s why Michelle Murphy’s poems grieve, because they see beneath desire to understand the world is not fixed: “you say what you mean to say, still the stories crack then leak.” It’s perhaps a miracle then that this book also contains so many “flashes of grace when least expected”—so that Home remains ever a possibility, despite and against all odds.
OCEAN PLASTIC by Orchid Tierney
Each iteration ends with a last word: respectively, petromonster stomachs stomachs flesh filters gyres stomachs sympathy sympathy gyres gyres gyres gyres gyres nylon-riots. Which is to say, begin with the petromonster and the inevitable interconnection of all things will give even Buddha a stomach ache. One hopes we will riot against feeding the monster like nylon metaphorically protests against itself strangling the planet. For this poem, while powerful (and moving when chanted out loud), isn’t worth its root source.
LEAVING THE SHADOWS BEHIND US by Elmer Omar Bascos Pizo
Elmer Omar Bascos Pizo’s “Identity” posits to be one “wiggling in the beak of a maya bird, / … the desperate earthworm / struggling to be free.” It’s an apt metaphor for the Philippines beset by corruption, poverty, hunger, and a “common people / pining for a genuine people-serving government.” Yet the beauty of these poems make them like “the gardenias, ylang-ylang, waling-waling, / sampaguitas, and camellias [with] coveted nectars.” With their unforgettable imagery that can elicit empathy from a wide variety of readers, these powerful poems become like bagoong “smelling like a mouse / rotting in a pool of brackish water” and yet that remains a “favorite dipping sauce.” Dip into these poems for an important read. I’ve been aware of Pizo’s poetry for years, and LEAVING THE SHADOWS BEHIND US is a long-overdue debut: “where blood / drains in its purest state.”
RIVERRUN by Alan Baker
“on the surface a uniform grey / but in the depths an inner life”—such scaffolds how Alan Baker’s poems run deep, spill wide, and linger to become everlasting song. Here, the river is history and (despite history) hope so that the poems, too, bespeak desire. How can we not be moved, even if the poet cautions about the river: “it isn’t human, it doesn’t care about us”?
Y’ol by Birhan Keskin, Translated by Murat Nemet-Nejat
“the other calls the one who isn’t there / that’s how magic becomes magic” — there’s no getting around it. To live is to desire, thus, ultimately to anguish. In Y’ol, the world is unstable, even untrustworthy. But this only makes love more important: “the sky i return, return return / return to is you”. Love—defined in these poems through an endless yearning—could have been denied but instead is upheld, even as these poems of fortitude must scorch their pages. The title “Y’ol” means “the road of/towards becoming.” This Y’ol presents the jagged music of metamorphosis and to read these poems is to discern songs made possible only with silence set on fire.
ROSWELL by Judith Roitman
Judith Roitman’s Roswell makes me wonder whether it’s possible for humans to engage aliens without the former humanizing the latter. The poems, after all, claim “surviving alien remembers its descendants,” ”surviving alien remembers nourishment,” and so on as if the human Roitman can inhabit non-earthling point of views. Such may be considered empathy. But for these poems relating to 1947 events to come out in 2018 is also to emphasize how little empathy is displayed today by the U.S. administration for “aliens” of a different sort but within the same species. How far humanity has fallen. These poems accomplish what good poems do: go beyond themselves into other matters as they make the reader think.
OUTSIDE/INSIDE … Just Outside The Art World’s Inside by Martha King
Martha King’s writing brims with a forward propulsion that makes her memoir a page-turner, until you deliberately slow down to relish many passages. You end up appreciating a well-lived life, even if you are not familiar with all of its characters. She says early on that she, perhaps unfashionably for today, lived/lives a life (partly) in support of her partner rather than in self-focused exploration. That’s not something to criticize when her partner, painter-poet Basil King, manifests an integrity that earns any support for it. Besides, hindsight shows that Marthe ends up fulfilling her own potential as a poet and writer. The very last word of the memoir sums up Martha’s life — it is a word worth discovering in a book worth reading for her definition.
THE WET MOTORCYCLE: Selected Writings by Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino
When you collapse cause and effect between  image and/or narrative and  significance, you get something like Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino’s poetry. One hears of the “I” in the writing of poems but not so much in the “I” reading poems. What St. Thomasino’s poems effect then, for the reader, can be, not just the reader reading but, concurrently tracing some other’s response to what’s being read. A challenge. But when the reader’s receptiveness comes to fruition, it thus can be double—which is to say, more—satisfying than what’s considered a normative read. How fitting: who knows what’s normal in poetry except that it’s something to disturb? In such disturbance can be a widening in perception—and isn’t such partly what poetry is for?
CORPOREAL by Jean Vengua
To “[r]emember how / to touch our bodies” is to embark on the inevitable: “there was / a plot; / [you] did not / escape.” As Jean Vengua notes in Corporeal, the journey contains peril: “Aswang repairs her wound / with bone and thread.” But, as ever, knowledge is its own good: “but / grow to love the scars.” These poems are scars from bodily interactions—with ourselves, with others, with environs, and even with language. What for? Perhaps “a new angel, thrashing / on the wings”? That Vengua articulates “angel” implies hope. From a body intimate with suffering, such hope presents potential for ecstasy—in these poems, the poet’s “wrists are magic” and the receptive reader can be led to grace if not bliss: “some kisses are / sweeter than wine.”
Woeman by T. De Los Reyes
By correcting normative spelling to be the more accurate “Woeman,” T. de los Reyes speaks Truth. The He in one poem reminds ,”You can’t spell meaning without the word man.” Truthfully, one can’t spell “meaning” without the word “mean” and too often the adjective is not for significance so much as it is for anguish. These poems reveal pain as the condition precedent to too much, including holiness, beauty and awakening. Synchronistically, the poems’ internal music makes, say, “desire” rhyme with “bonsai,” a tree whose growth requires being controlled. It is no wonder that when you “Think Vesuvius,” you have these poems which reveal why “It takes a lot to love the world.”
Apocalyptics by C. Derick Varn
When each heartbeat is a floodlight, poems erupt like those in C. Derick Varn’s Apocalyptics. Wittgenstein said, and as used as epigraph to one poem, “You get tragedy where the tree, instead of bending, breaks.” Some of these poems “bend” but some also go all the way to “break.” The results transcend tragedy, though. How can it be otherwise when the results are poems, including some that set “language on fire”—as in “You’re always / claiming the high road as it washes / away.”
On ninth iota by Irene Koronas
Irene Koronas’ poems explain why humans want to craft something like civilization. It’s not just that the uncivil can be fearsome — it’s that they make many recoil. If you’ve already smashed those rose-colored glasses, the better to see, these poems won’t repel and may even amuse you. But those still lingering (and preferring to linger) in the dimness of the cave may look at these poems with suspicion—that wouldn’t be the poet’s fault. Koronas did her job in order to write these poems: she studied and analyzed human history, including naturally its myths. The result offers unique insights with erotic charge as a bonus.
On Parts of love by Dina S. Paulson-McEwen
Methinks “g (space) hyphen (space) d” would not mind these poems: it’s charming, after all, to be considered “like an art project, / something to jump through, / a song that continues to be played”—lines that also operate as an ars poetica for these enchantingly skittering poems. “The ritual” is the collection’s tour de force partly for indicating rationale: Pangea, and by implication the lostness of Pangea which begot that strain (and religions) within humanity of making connections. The result are poems uplifted by its loving motivation: “for love, include: / binoculars. oprah. / megabytes of / forgiveness, / a vase of memory / strapped to our heads, /like miners. one rsvp card. /it passes between our hands /until it becomes liquid.”
A Searching for Full Body Syllables: fragmented olio by Felino A. Soriano
—Even “bones [that] have begun the algebra / of breaking” cannot impede Felino A. Soriano from singing—exactly like jazz that, to quote J.J. Johnson, “won’t stay put and it never will.” In singing, Soriano continues a longtime practice of “relocating the lyric”—a way where “shatter improves stillness.” His poems come from “a voice / [that] spreads the ears, wandering before the / vanish.” If this collection is a form, it is “the form / of light”—a warm light, singing gently yet assuredly through a fracturing rain.
Pierced by Night-Colored Threads by Dean Kostos
To bring a poem into the world is to bring the world into a poem. Dean Kostos achieves this marvelous result with well-wrought poems in Pierced by Night-Colored Threads, and it’s all the more welcome because the presented worlds are varied. His poems shall linger in the readers’ memories, such the poem “Unforgotten” which begins, “A child steps from a silhouette of fire, / pleating paper into egrets of flame.” and aptly ends, / “Dean pleats his ashes into a boy / who emerges, bearing the debt of flame.”
EGOCENTRICITY: TIME SPIN by Phyllis Ann Shaw
Phyllis movingly describes a life in these poems, a life that blossomed through “the growing pain of growing.” As she notes, “things … / cannot remain constant.” With empathy, she meditates over life’s moments and comes to share valuable lessons for the receptive reader. It is apt—and believable—that she ends her collection by sharing, “it has been told / … that things of gold / glitter // but I find / that other things shine.” Phyllis, herself, shines with these poems.
BLUE by Westley St. Jo and Reme-Antonio Grefalda
Never mind fairy tales! Reality can offer enchantment! As in BLUE’s unique tale of the luminosity in a pair of eyes expanding to blue the world with all the shades and nuance of a color that’s apt for many things literal or metaphorical: sky, sorrow, the ocean, sunlight, a telephone, “some yesterday tune,” and “belonging obviously to you” …
STORMY MONDAYS by Skip Fox
Skip Fox’s STORMY MONDAYS reveals a pensiveness borne of long and deep experience. Fortunately, what also is revealed is infinite desire for. For love. For life. For humor. For awe. For blasphemy. For wit (never forget wit). For your existence, Reader. And Skip Fox gets your attention with poems that do many things including enchant—“…enters through pores of music. Moment complete. Universals goosing each particular”—as well as memoir-prose that recalls things you, too, want to remember—“What was it like to have found it (poetry, open and fresh, incarnation pointing forward and back) as it came over the first years of the world’s horizon, when you could still search out Kerouac, say, and give him a blow-job if he wanted (purely out of respect).” There are gems here: it’s Skip Fox’s Monday. Push through and get into the smoke. Whatever happened before Monday, Monday also means a beginning. Read to feel the future lives offered by these fascinating word-doors.
Memory Cards: Thomas Traherne Series by Susan Schultz
—As each poem by Susan Schultz begins with a line from Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations, the strengths of her poems honor their source, offering a fresh reason for Traherne’s meditations remaining relevant as centuries unfold. Schultz’s poems are prose poems like Traherne’s paragraphs but are located in her and our (as readers) time. Sadly, this means referencing the homeless, “Kabul,” the Walmart worker’s low wages and even “Trump.” Fortunately, Schultz keeps our attention, even on topics that one might wish to bypass, through resonance (“Lavafall at Pahoa’s transfer station; someone lays red petals on its black”), imagery (“loss, like a rope in my stomach, turning to braid”), even whimsy (“Await the typo for that is where tooth lies”), and finally wisdom (“The weed whackers insure an absence of quiet. Quiet must be made; it’s not a taking away but an addition to.”) With their layers, often combined in pleasingly unexpected ways, these meditations—and poems—offer an immensely satisfying read.
After projects the resound by Kimberly Alidio
“The exhausted object have no body of work,” says one poem in Kimberly Alidio’s After projects the resound. But that’s just surface. Ever lurking and in ALL CAPS even are potential poems that would affirm, “LOL AGENCY AND THE COURAGE TO SPEAK.” From the “howling on YouTube” to “Igorots at St. Louis” to the “new sardonic” to “a heart hit twice by shrapnel,” the poems skitter over, infiltrate, radiate, revolt from, and apply “karaoke studies” to interrogate both history and contemporary culture, especially cracks and what lurks within them. These poems are attuned to as many zeitgeists as reveal themselves. From Alidio’s dissecting eyes and focused hands—the “I [who] can sense the space around objects in the room because I’m often unnoticed”—the Filipino trait of Kapwa (interconnectedness) enables poems to arise and they bespeak: “This is exactly what gentleness is // dragging everything up whole—”
GOSSAMER LID by Andrew Brenza
Fragments, deliberate incompletions, abstract spaces, sound-based meanings, vizpo—such are not uncommon in contemporary poetry. But Andrew Brenza brings something fresh to the terrain, and it is up in the air and even outer space. “Scutum” sums up the strengths of this collection with radiance—“the light here / is a fine dizziness / to semblance a self on / to a towards of / another(’s) knowing” —and an attached visual element of literally connecting dots. With all of its poetic strengths, these poems also wax philosophically to show the richness of light and the various lifescapes desirous of illumination.
THIS HERE by Jim McCrary
The obvious gold here include recollections of days with Burroughs, Corso, Acker, Dorn, Blackburn. Less obvious is how the whole reflects the times as they are when it’s likely that 2/3 of humans will be dead in a hundred years, that within the next 30 years there will no mammals in the wild larger than a rat, that the seas will be full of one celled animals and jellyfish, et al. Thus, do we stumble over lines like “Desires for public bombs that go bang on a screen / Then disappear, we think, and thank again for good” or “you better open up and see / you can bet in ti fada fada / gonna stand up over the big / fence you got” or “Page three is lost / Page four is lost.” Fortunately, there’s poetry here and there’s still a “Page five [that] is spell bound.”
MESSAGE FROM THE MEMOIRIST: POEMS by Paul Pines
If the origin of consciousness is a wound, would it not be logical that someone looking back might observe (like Robert Redford in one poem) that life has been mostly sadness with moments of joy? What to do with such a conclusion? Perhaps it depends if and when one acknowledges this possibility’s reality. For then there would be time to lighten such darkness by forging the “ability to contain the tears in things.” Such a path would be understood by the “Memoirist” as defined by Paul Pines: someone who “understands that Memory is not a bin where pieces are stored and retrieved but a field in which the Soul’s narrative continues to unfold.” Poems—such as the ones in this book—are effects from the unfolding of a Soul’s narrative. They are a welcome read for they emanate from Pines’ deeply-considered “time / For quiet Contemplation” that will result in “All books will Be written.”
NESTS AND STRANGERS / ON ASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN POETS (featuring Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Nellie Wong, Myung Mi Kim and Bhanu Kapil) Edited by Timothy Yu with an Afterword by Mg Roberts
The depth and breadth of poetry presented by merely four Asian American women poets attest to Kelsey Street Press’ own expansive vision — a rigor wise enough to be enervated by compassion. What I first thought would be a coincidental combination of very different poets and poetries unexpectedly reveals a logical trajectory from 20th century Asian American activism to radically innovative poetry. These poets don’t just defy erasure or silencing of their individual or chosen-as-collective identities—they create and recreate selves unimaginable to those who would have subsumed their voices. The terms “Asian American” or “Asian American poetry” can be unsatisfactory for reducing difference. But after reading this collection, I actually opened myself up to the possibility of accepting the label: “Asian American woman poet.”
A’s Visuality by Anne Gorrick
Some poems are written slant. They surfaced because their poets didn’t have an idea they imposed on the poem to develop. They surfaced because the poets respected the raw material—words—enough to get out of the way to let the words speak for themselves. When the approach works, language becomes poetry by, in part, transcending the limits of the poets’ conscious imaginations. Such has resulted from Anne Gorrick’s A’s Visuality which presents a section of poems translated from prior positionings as visual art and a second section of poems taking off from the found language of a website’s description of paint colors. The first section, Folios, is rife with surfaced wisdom: “a map / as small as / astronauts” where guidance (map) is not the astronaut’s limits (knowledge) but the astronauts’ task (and desire) to explore or expand the limits of what’s known. In the second section Chromatic Sweep, never has color become so palpable (at times even edible or radioactive): “when black and white mix, there is a lower sound” or “red play back our own choking.” Gorrick trusted the words (“No editorial / preoccupied with”) and their reciprocation are lush poems that thoughtfully invite.
MEANS by lars palm
lars palm rolls with song titles and makes dissonance harmonize: “i / will not be food / for your cats” he stresses, before suggesting instead “that old school nazi / who took your / house keys / & forged them / into a statue / depicting surreal sex.” These are brief poems with huge expanses — what a discerning mind sees and sings after he “reel[s in] lines” to “see what’s on / the hook.” All to the heavy beat of one subversive enough to proclaim: “i live in / towns or cities / not countries.”
SYMPHONY NO. 9 by Rick Carfagna
Speech is not just a means of communication. Speech may also be an attempt to engage with an other or, in Ric Carfagna’s Symphony No. 9, many Others. Speech however, often falters in the face of its desires. And perhaps for certain matters there simply are no words. That Carfagna nevertheless brings forth a poem—a long poem—signifies how Poetry is more than speech. This moving poem aspires to address the entirety of the universe even if it often lapses to dream-speech: “by eyes / in a windowless prison / at an ocean’s edge / or it is a vase / of withered orchids / turning to ash.” Wisely, the poem also knows to question its ambition: “why / the forgotten heart / aspires in silence / to fill the chasms of emptiness / which lie at the core / of its reticent being.” Since the quest produces so many luminous lines—so many thresholds into emotional interactions—the poem not only rationalizes its existence but makes itself a welcome addition to postmodern and deconstructed romantic poetry.
ON THE ALTERACTION OF SILENCE: RECENT CHILEAN POETRY (La alteración del silencio: Poesía chilena reciente) edited by Galo Ghigliotto and William Allegrezza
Once, the historian Arnold Toynbee apparently named Chile as a “country of the future,” which Adan Mendez calls “inexplicable” in one of his poems. The explanation, though, might be the moving bounty of poetry continuing to come out of Chile since she birthed “the first Spanish poetic expression known in the Americas,…La Araucana by Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga,” as well as Latin America’s first two Nobel Prize winners Gabriela Mistral (1945) and Pablo Neruda (1970). For Chile’s contemporary poets are writing energetic poems with fresh forms, musics and perspectives which deserve wider exposure on the global stage. Chile’s poets are pushing forward the known limits of poetry with compelling poems–if these poems’ invitations to be inhabited are eagerly accepted, they also will share something about the hunger, astonishment, radiance, grief and desire that stews together to form Chile: “The blazing light of the sun /…Pouring heat on my body / Letting it live burning it gradually // Come see this burning.”
PLURAL by Christopher Stackhouse
These poems break down because they seek to extend poetic expanse. And they want to expand the poem because they want to mirror a very “multiple” world, much of which the poet did not create but wants to acknowledge. They acknowledge by eliciting a new “trace” of activities which exist outside of authorial determination. The activities referenced encompass paintings, literature, conversations — but they’re all just part of what’s being acknowledged through exploration: humanity. That’s how a short poem entitled “Short” can come to move seamlessly from being short 75 cents to gazing at computer porn, from standing in a Korean deli to seeing the image of a white ass imprinted on one’s inner eyelids. In other poems relying more on fragments, the fragments cease being parts to become parts-of. Despite fragments, breaks, and ruptures, the achievement of these poems is that their totality mirrors humanity as inherently unified. We are all parts of.
THE DANGEROUS ISLANDS by Seamas Cain
Words tell the story, yes. But the words, one senses in Seamas Cain’s The Dangerous Islands, were not just authored but also precipitated by immediately preceding words or phrases. This is to say, the energy flowing through this novel is so powerful it sometimes dances away from a narrative thread(s). The result is an author going beyond the limits of self, and a story that is not just “pleasure [but] is a violent pleasure.”
LOVE IN A TIME OF PARANOIA by Howie Good
As with positing—that is, poem-ing—that “a crumpled napkin / was all Degas needed / to do a sky,” Howie Good only needed to be attentive to his world to create the many, varied universes possible through poems. That is, from the smallest of details he creates the deepest implications, and does so with a pleasing finesse.
a womb-shaped wormhole by j/j hastain
This is one beginning for a world attempting to make itself in advance of its articulation. But it can be articulated by scents, which is to say, traces … like musk, patchouli, mustard, “split truffles,” or even attar of long-dead altars and imagined memories. In this beginning lie the orgasms of fractals, revealing how fractions require flesh as condition precedent to existence—for who we may not at first recognize is nonetheless not that different from you and me.
THE SACRED RIVER OF CONSCIOUSNESS by Tom Hibbard
Empire so often come to this: “potholes imitating frozen potholes.” The poems in Tom Hibbard’s The Sacred River of Consciousness reflect on various crimes by humanity by simply reporting them. That Hibbard’s language is poetic rather than journalistic does not mask the realities being referenced — how “At times life does unfold / as though civilization were garbage.” The suffering disenfranchised, the suffering environment, the corrupted governments, the dysfunctional relationships — how did compassion evaporate? That question is but one of many begot by these poems. For the poems also ask “at what time does the candle make crimes unredeemable.” The answer could be: upon the lighting of the candle or consciousness of those events, hence the import of Hibbard’s poems. If these poems facilitate the consciousness where the New York Times et al has failed, the river may yet turn sacred again. For the sake of the world, open yourself up to these poems.
HOMO SENTIMENTALIS: A GUIDE IN VERSE TO MODERN EMOTIONAL INTIMACY by Nicholas Manning
In Homo Sentimentalis’ epigraph, Milan Kundera notes, “As soon as we want to feel (decide to feel…), feeling is no longer feeling but an imitation of feeling, a show of feeling.” How might that be reconciled with the actual poems wherein may be found such effectively moving text as “the moment your hair / ’s height falls * down covering / my lit body in threads / of unthinking / light”? Perhaps that it is as difficult to be artificial as it is to be sincere? Perhaps that intention (e.g. a privileging as Kundera describes the raising of “feelings to a category of value”) may not manifest itself when the raw material, words let alone poems, is so subjective (or, to paraphrase one poem, are doppelgangers to their referenced realities)? The genius of Nicholas Manning’s Homo Sentimentalis is that one is moved to deliberate on these questions and care about such answer(s) as they surface or not. It is pure poetry — ungraspable but nonetheless meaningful, just like those asterisked stars interspersed throughout the poems for glimmers of, though they may not actually be, light.
Disclosure by Dana Teen Lomax
Dana Teen Lomax shows her ass and makes you want to kiss it.
THE INCOMPOSSIBLES by Carrie Hunter
Every poem in THE INCOMPOSSIBLES is “an utterly unique void.” What seems consistent is a rhythm of certainty, even as the poems posit uncertainties; these are musics impossible to categorize. Read a line like “The indecipherable spoken aloud”* and you can’t help but read again, then again. As you continue reading, you realize you’re searching for something you might discover but will defy memory-zation if only because the context of a reading changes each time. I guess that’s the (or, one,) point of these poems—it encourages the search itself and the discovered beauties in the process make the uncertainties welcome. That’s what fabulous poems can achieve: the suspension of belief into language for its own sake. Thus, do “obscurities hold hands…”
Gaha (babes) Noas (of the abyss) Zorge (become friendly) by Jesse Glass
Rollicking jesterous spawn of … who knows? Here, the Q might as well be A and the A might as well be Q for Jesse Glass’ “Gaha (babes)…” upends language…and if the receptive reader loses linguistic preconceptions such as cause-and-effect, what then results is music’s seduction into senselessness because the punchline can be: “IN THE LAND OF MY FORMER ENEMIES / a shaft resets time.” Such wondrous things occur when a skull gives up its identity to a crystal ball.
QUATERNITY by Scott Glassman and Sheila E. Murphy
The dictionary bows to Glassman and Murphy’s seductive diction: “No curve to infinity can mimic bells.”
good behavior by Lars Pal
These are wonderful parenthetical novellas. Within “a snap of … fingers,” these inquisitions—ranging over Pinocchio to addressing cats to white colonialism in Zimbabwe—provide a welcome “kick in the head”.
POSTCARDS TO BOX 464 by Amanda Laughtland
Created from postcards sent to long-time family friends over a span of 50 years, Amanda Laughtland’s Postcards to Box 464 offers manifestations of affection which so enchant that we are pulled into their intimate space. We feel as if we were “the Coopers”, recipients of the original postcards—reading these poems makes one feel liked as much as obviously loved! Distilled into a chap with fittingly spare but evocative drawings by Jen May, the poems read like a travel diary as well, and as such a journal is a page-turner. The “found text” even transcend their original context through inadvertent humor: “Through some / misunderstanding, the hotel / didn’t hold my room. At present // calling around for a bed tonight. / Way it looks, I’ll end up in Berkeley.” Laughtland’s craftsmanship and emotional commitment makes this project luminous—in her “labor of love,” her generous love achieves what poetry can: a seemingly effortless making of attraction.
DISPLACEMENTS by Michelle Cruz Skinner
Evocatively written. Deftly offers how life can unfold as a series of uncertain transitions. But redemption can surface when one realizes through these stories how much we share with each other—an effect made possible through full-blown characterizations that allow for nuanced portraits, thus reader empathy.
THE SPACE BETWEEN by Aimee Suzara
The poems in Aimee Suzara’s THE SPACE BETWEEN should make their author proud. They together offer a voice that’s captivating and with something worthwhile to say. “If home were a song” is a nice way to complete the circle of the path unfolded by each individual poem.
GUARDIANES DEL SECRETO / GUARDIANS OF THE SECRET by Lila Zemborain, trans. by Rosa Alcala
Lila Zemborain’s power subverts paper: her words turn pages into films of blurred or incomplete images. The references are specific (geezus: even “Danielle Steele”!), but what is happening remains stubbornly a question, defying the definitive answer except for what a reader is moved to speculate. The technique of reader involvement is not unique, but what’s special about these poems is how they seduce you into wanting to connect with them, in part by opening up to allow the entry of some sort of fever. For it’s within such a heightened space where focus begins and the relationship between reader and words can unfold. If lucidity is not possible without the inner gaze (e.g. “an ancestral space”), what Zemborain reminds is that intimacy is a prerequisite, in the way—to paraphrase her—a partly blind person can glean what is being seen by way of touch. There indeed are secrets within this book—but their discovery requires more than reading. The reader must allow the secrets to “enter[…] another way” than “through the eyes.” If you are lucky, you will read these poems and discover something about how you were made, as well as possibilities of what you may become. These poems’ secrets are within you.
CHIMES by Adam Fieled
At times so painful and lovely and fragile that Chimes made my mind’s eyes weep. My body’s eyes, however, refused to cry as they did not want to stop reading—Chimes paradoxically is a page-turner even as the words compel you to linger on each page. Chimes is one of the most moving autobiographies I’ve read—actually, language’s beauty makes it irrelevant whether this is fiction or non-fiction; its authenticity is felt to be true. It is language dreaming of song and so it sings until the most tone-deaf reader can, through dream and a most gentle delirium, inhabit its world. For the reader, too, Chimes thus is “not an is but [a] being.” Adam Fieled accomplishes what The Catcher in the Rye did for him and that he wished to replicate: that by “words demonstrat[ing]…potential for continuity,” he “give[s] people back themselves.” Quite logically, the book’s ending is a beginning: the being as forever a continuance. That is, “continuance…an excitement and a way of still existing.”)
silk string arias by Mary Kasimor
“Mary Kasimor’s latest collection is aptly titled. Narrative ellisions are not so much slippery as silken smooth. Textual distilliations manifest into strings of text, but strings bearing the steel scaffolding of witty alchemy. Arias are for readers to complete with their engagements. Hence, “”apples rose from the roses with / its special skins / gleam tooth gleam””. These poems are purrrrr-fectly pitched.
AFTER TAXES by Thomas Fink
“What’s left after taxes usually causes heartburn: so much effort for so little return! But in Thomas Fink’s After Taxes, ‘pogo loam’ becomes a symbol for a result that “exceeds forecast.” An “impossible swell/persists” –especially admirable in the longer poems—and it is music ever-ascending and all the more rewarding for the craft made visible by extraordinary diction. Fink’s poems discover sounds that had been veiled by contexts and meanings. Thus, ‘a vase/ smash rage’ and not the other way around as would be assumed by a lackadaisical culture. For as Fink notes, ‘There [was] something new/ and learned/ before you read/ the page’ and he determined to excavate. The rewards are ours if we recognize what this collection craftily and craft-fully achieves: bypassing the binary of operatic ornamentation or matter-of-fact tones to encompass both, thus effecting a 21st century Song.”
Full Deck (jokers playing) by Oscar Penaranda
Oscar Peñaranda chose Poetry to tell stories, most notably of the Filipino American experience. So why didn’t he choose fiction? Because the stories resonate beyond what can be expressed by words. What breathes between the lines of his poems is an ache-ridden love borne of the mating of loss and desire — a haunting that transcends such references as “There was this/ ragged iron bar/ that by accident crushed my/ toe/ when I with leathered gloves/ worked with steel/ in Alaska…” Fortunately, Poetry also chose Oscar Peñaranda, as evident in a poem like “A Song” where he sings, “So long as the world/ touches me/ my heart strings will never stop/ playing the music.”
Bright Felon by Kazim Ali (Judge’s Citation–Asian American Literary Award in Poetry)
It’s difficult to write autobiography as poetry and rely on sentences as part of poetic form. One risks not having done enough to evaporate language from prose to poetry. Some poets rely on lyricism for this path—and, certainly, Kazim Ali’s Bright Felon is lyrical. But the challenge—and occasional beauty—of poetry is how it can be more than words, such that its architecture by itself can facilitate poetry’s blossoming. Herein lies the genius of Bright Felon: how Ali creates a coming-of-age story using traveled cities as infrastructure; the result is a luminously larger sum than all the genre-parts utilized: autobiography and travelogue, as well as meditations on literature, politics, art, cultures and religion. Bright Felon makes a stranger-reader care about the life of this poet, even as the memory of what was read becomes not just the narratives upon which the work so relied but instead the haunting tones that surfaced as the reader was moved to linger between words. In those spaces that words can only evoke, poetic resonance remains pure with music and light. Bright Felon presents a brilliantly unforgettable “accretion of sentences and waking up.”
GRAVITIES OF CENTER by Barbara Jane Reyes (from Preface)
To experience Barbara’s poems is to learn about the specifics of a Pilipina’s experience. And it is also to experience the ‘universality’ of desire and loss—that is, despite the consistency of losses, the stubbornness of never-ending desire […] by engaging us all in the poetry of Desire, you need to be as present as Barbara is in her poems. So enter these poems, and stay a while.”
THE PRESENT DAY by Ernesto Priego (from Afterword)
Diasporics—those forced into as well as those who volunteer for exile—share a certain vocabulary. Like, when one hears fragments like One has to leave to find one’s self or One might choose—or accept—exile to know one’s self, response is tinged with familiarity. Poignancy transcends cliché.
I don’t know, but it seems to me that the voice of these poems is of someone who’s a song away from being an ecstatic.
As judge with John Yau and Seshhu Foster, selected 2010 recipients for the Asian American Literary Award in Poetry: Winner Poems of the Black Object by Ronaldo V. Wilson (Futurepoem Books), and Finalists The Gingko Light by Arthur Sze (Copper Canyon Press) and Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities by Kazim Ali (Wesleyan University Press)
As judge, selected as 2008 winner of the Poetry Center Book Award: The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest (ed. Hadley Haden Guest, Wesleyan University Press)
As judge with Beatriz Tilan Tabios, selected ARCHIPELAGO DUST by Karen Llagas for the Second Filamore Tabios, Sr. Memorial Poetry Prize (Meritage Press, 2010)
As judge with Beatriz Tilan Tabios, selected PRAU by Jean Vengua for the First Filamore Tabios, Sr. Memorial Poetry Prize (Meritage Press, 2007)