LENY M. STROBEL Engages
The Connoisseur of Alleys by Eileen R. Tabios
(Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2016)
Strange things happen when I try to engage the poetry of Eileen Tabios.
Each line in The Connoisseur of Alleys begins with “I forgot”. I see this line repeatedly and soon I am seeing “Igorot.” Where did that come from? Secondary reality: those things that are often relegated to the periphery of our vision calling our attention; invoking the unconscious to awaken. Dig deeper, it seems to say. Look farther and further away from the imperial gaze, it says.
“Igorot.” I forgot that Eileen is also from Baguio where until today the lowland tourists line up to have their picture taken with the Igorot in indigenous attire at Burnham Park.
I am reminded of the 1906 St. Louis Worlds Fair where white spectators had their photos taken next to the “primitive” Philippine natives.
The Connoisseur of Alleys is one of the books to emanate from Eileen's MDR Poetry Generator. So now, here in Eileen’s MDR Poetry Generator, she produces/creates what she claims is a babaylan-inspired poetics where the author’s “I forgot” gives way to what is remembered. I remember the Igorot of 1906 and 2016.
I wonder if the MDR Poetry Generator—as it automatically generates lines—actually saves energy. What does the author do with the energy saved? What is she saving for? Who is being saved?
I have recently developed an aversion for the word “save.” It seems everyone these days is trying to save something (the environment, the Earth) or someone (the unbeliever, the traumatized). Save this something or someone from annihilation, despondency, and disappearance. Oh, so much Fear. So much Grief over the sense of helplessness, which in my opinion, is really an effect of “I forgot.” Amnesia.
In The Connoisseur of Alleys, I am reminded of all that is Beautiful, Good, and True – but is often forgotten:
Women with supple thighs (49)
Waves rolling away from Asia to storm even the Americas (55)
Sweetness of damp cheeks (65)
Imagine a string of over a thousand lines offering Beauty and Poet whispering: Do not Forget.
I accept this gift. Here, the Poet’s elision of her authorial voice (I forgot) offers me, as a reader, the gift of renewing my second sight—where its gifts often hide in alleys sidelined by socially-condoned consensual reality shaped by what we are now willing to admit as the failure of the modern narrative.
Scholars say the modern self is masterful but empty. Emptied of its connection to ancestors, myths, nature, place, history, storytelling, faith and spirituality, community, and dreams—it fills the emptiness with consumption of products that offer only a temporary salve for hungry ghosts.
The Poet is trying perhaps to save me from this acquired identification with the masterful but empty self and by her chant “I forgot”—I am nudged to Remembrance of the Beauty I know I carry deep in my bones.
I, too, might yet become a connoisseur of alleys.
And that is a good thing.
Leny Mendoza Strobel is Professor of American Multicultural Studies at Sonoma State University. She is the author of Coming Full Circle: The Process of Decolonization Among Post-1965 Filipino Americans (Giraffe Books, 2001) and A Book of Her Own: Words and Images to Honor the Babaylan (Tiboli Press, 2005). She is the editor of Babaylan: Filipinos and the Call of the Indigenous, published by Ateneo de Davao University Research and Publications Office, 2010. This book is a collection of scholarly essays on primary/land-based babaylans in the Philippines; Kapwa psychology and babaylan practice; babaylan-inspired practices by Filipinos in the diaspora; as well as personal narratives on decolonization as a spiritual path. With Lily Mendoza as co-editor, her latest publication is Back from the Crocodile’s Belly: Philippine Babaylan Studies and the Struggle for Indigenous Memory (CFBS 2013). More information about here is available HERE. She is also the Director for the Center for Babaylan Studies.