M. EARL SMITH Reviews
To Be An Empire Is To Burn! by Eileen R. Tabios
(Moria Books’ Locofo Chaps, Chicago, 2017)
Presented to us in the same vein that one would view a dystopia the likes of Mad Max or, perhaps, The Hunger Games, To Be An Empire Is To Burn! strikes at the true chords of discontent that cloud a world under the leadership of Donald J. Trump. Like many of the other volumes in the Locofo line, this volume is biting, harsh, and stark, blending three elements that always make for good political prose. Combined with the realistic stylings of Tabios, the poems therein tell a story of the reality we, perhaps, face under the current administration.
The poem Dialogue sums up the volume best. In response to a comrade’s thought that each time one writes, it may be the last, Tabios offers this quip: “’I want to think so, too. But then 2017-2020.’” The warnings of what may be to come when, in White Tombstones, Green Lawns (a poem inspired by Tom Clancy’s 2015 novel Commander in Chief) we are treated to the harrowing lines “’You survived to be a general./Are you a good man?’/He forgets to answer/’Never as good as the dead…’” Given that this review is written in the shadow of the Pentagon urging the White House to require women to register for the draft, the thoughts of another generation watering battle fields with blood has to weigh heavily on the mind of artists everywhere.
The artists, it appears, are ready to strike back. In response to belittlement over the Safety Pin Movement, Tabios writes “They do not see the sharp(ened) point/lurking within its shining steel clasp.” Her response, however, is more than just physical. In an historic harbinger, Tabios warns “Ivanka Trump, meet Imee Marcos -/a future you do not want to be yours.” By invoking the name of the daughter of the Philippine’s most brutal dictator, Tabios hopes to prevent history from repeating itself.
At some points, however, Tabios seems to acknowledge the inevitability of the issue, as she acknowledges in the title poem, To Be An Empire Is To Burn! In a letter of anger, composed to an unknown dictator (although I am sure we can all guess his name), Tabios saves her last salvo for last, when she quips, to he that would destroy a world with a single spark, “No one is spared / not even he who lit the match.”
From works for children to the macabre, from academic research to sports journalism, and from opinion essays to the erotic, M. Earl Smith is a writer that seeks to stretch the boundaries of genre and style. A native of Southeast Tennessee, M. Earl moved to Ohio at nineteen and, with success, reinvented himself as a writer after parting ways with his wife of eleven years. After graduating from Chatfield College (with highest honors) in 2015, M. Earl became the first student from Chatfield to matriculate at an Ivy League institution when he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. The proud father of two wonderful children (Nicholas and Leah), M. Earl studies creative writing and history at UPenn. When he’s not studying, M. Earl splits time between Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Chattanooga, with road trips to New York City, Wichita, Kansas, and Northampton, Massachusetts in between.