CHRIS MANSEL Reviews
Footnotes To Algebra: Uncollected Poems 1995-2009 by Eileen R.Tabios
(BlazeVOX [books], Kenmore, N.Y., 2009)
This is a very deep book and by that I mean it is a book that contains multitudes; with apologies to Allen Ginsberg but perhaps not, it is large. If you were to review the collected works of W. H. Auden would you say it was faint? Courageous? Certainly you would say it was a great work. Eileen Tabios and BlazeVOX [books] have put together an uncollected collection that covers many areas. In my mind the most important and the most sympathetic is the section entitled “A Filipino Accent.” But don’t let that sway you from thinking that the entire book doesn’t have plenty to offer. For instance, in the poem, “Pygmalion‘s Embrace” are the lines, “Poems make stones breathe. Within my eyes / poetry, nature, art and wine // converge for a life beyond stone.” Does this mean these four things enable a prolonging of the senses? An enabler of life? A life beyond stone could perhaps mean breaking free, and if that’s the case you could look at it in the words of Octavio Paz in his poem, “The River,” “The poem is deserted esplanade, what’s said is not said, the unsaid is unsayable.”
There is a section entitled, “Triptych For Philip,” Philip being Philip Lamantia, the legendary poet. In this section is a poem, “Deflowering Memory With Philip Lamantia.” In the third section of the poem, “III. Uncrumpled Violets,” Ms. Tabios writes, “How many words are required to bear / the weight of witness / -ing you sing a poem/ the room lavender everywhere.” This is a fantastic poem about a poet who is so under-read. She goes on to say later in the poem, “To meet you is to recognize: / I have spent 40 years moving towards you / You, the angel Michelangelo sensed within veined stone / who choose among a multitude of churches for Home.”
An endearing and charming section of this book is the section entitled, “Chant For kari.” It consists of three sections called “Author’s Note: A Poetics of Translation” where Ms. Tabios explains the process she went through to translate a poem written by her friend kari edwards into Ms. Tabios’ original language Ilokano. The next section is called “Abstraction As Translation.” In this section she explains that she, “reconstituted/ re-translated “Chant For kari” into “Fado for my Father” for a reading with contemporary Asian American poets.” The final section is the original translation Ms Tabios did in Ilokano. Now I must admit I didn’t understand a word but I did read it aloud and enjoyed it immensely. (Ms. Tabios suggests in the book that the poem is “best when chanted out loud.”)
The section I mentioned earlier, “The Filipino Accent,” is important because it testifies, and as well begins, with a poem entitled “Post-Autobiography”—“If language is impossible, then certain people cannot speak / Or: certain people need not hear.” This is an accurate primer for the poems in this section. In another poem entitled, “The Rebel’s Son” (which is also her first poem nominated for the Pushcart Prize), Ms. Tabios closes with, “An eternity later, (still) Skinny marvels still / at the definition of dictatorship— / people eating their fill only at funerals.” The way the U.S. treated the Philippines is no secret, nor the war crimes. The poem “The General’s Report” is a brief recitation about speaking truth to power. Overall, this is a must have, a must read. If you have read this review here then you are interested in good poetry. Well, here it is.
Chris Mansel is a writer, filmmaker, epileptic, musician, photographer and a permanent outsider for some reason. Along with Jake Berry, he formed the band Impermanence who have released one album, Arito. He releases music under the name dilation Impromptu who have released four albums and have just released a new Cd Indentions On The North Face of Everest. His writing has been published in the Experioddi(cyber)cist, Apocryphal Text, and the Atlantic Press among others. He has made over 260 short films for other artists as well as his own work.