ANDREA E. LODGE Engages
EVOCARE: Collected Tankas by Ayo Gutierrez, Eileen R. Tabios, and Brian Cain Aene
(GMGA, Philippines, 2019)
“To be reminded of the stars”—this wonderful way to tell you why you must read Evocare, this book of poetry by Ayo Gutierrez, Eileen R. Tabios, and Brian Cain Aene, is actually from one of Eileen’s beautiful tankas. That first line comes from the last line of her poem ‘April.’ It is important to read their work to be reminded of the stars—not just the ones you will find inundate their poetry, but the stars that they are. Every poem in this book has a piece of their own beauty pressed into it with the ink.
I have known Ayo and been reading her poetry for about six months now and, to me, every piece she writes is more stellar than the last. When you read the words that flow from deep within Ayo’s heart, mind, and soul, you can not help but see the luminescence shining through them. When I first read one of Ayo’s poems, I instantly thought, “That is a woman I need to be friends with!” Ayo is a candle in the dark that blows out once in a while to show that light cannot exist without darkness, and a bit of a silly girl at times. When you read her poems, you can actually picture them flowing from her lips—she has an effortless way of sharing her thoughts with her readers. She has a way of evoking every sense of the human body. Her poems are not just pictures; they are living, breathing bits of scenery or pieces missing from a play. She writes things pretty as a picture—and her pictures breathe.
Her poetry relates to life, such as what is found in her tanka about your parents’ home and how you can always go back and everything will be the same minus the fact that you are no longer a part of it. I also found resonant her poem that says, in other words, brains don’t mean much when you are attractive. She is telling these spectacular short stories in five lines—full stories, with beginning, middle, and end.
Ayo modernizes this Japanese form of poetry known as the tanka. She mixes history with stories of life as it is today. Each poem has as least one line that snaps at readers—like someone sneaking up on them in the woods and accidentally putting their foot down on a twig. Crack! Snap! There it is! She got your attention.
Ayo’s images are brilliant. Her wordplays are complex and make the reader think—do a double-take. Her use of personification and metaphor are incredible. In her poem about the kids being lost in the maze, one wonders—do the berries turn bitter when the autumn comes oris it the kids that become the bitter ones?
“The only great unknown left resides within our own mind.” These are lines taken directly from one of Ayo’s tankas, and they really speak so much in what becomes one simple sentence. Ayo speaks truths you may not want to hear, but she does so in a way that makes you inclined to listen. She teaches morals, almost as though each small poem is a fable. You willlearn a life lesson by reading Ayo’s poetry. Two more lines taken directly from one of her poems pretty much say all you need to know about her—“Those who can play melodies are those we call poets.” In my mind, Ayo is not only playing with the orchestra, she’s singing harmonies with the lead.
This is my first time reading the work of Eileen R. Tabios, and I am very pleased to have been introduced to her poetry. In the section of the book called, “My First Three Tankas,” she starts the reader off right from the bat showing her skills and love of words—no, more of her romance with words—as she provides us with a taste of what can be expected throughout her poetry. The first bit of beauty and ability we see from Eileen here is her use of repetition of the first part of the first line in each of these three tankas. The first also starts with a mention of a cat and the third in this series ends with the mention of a kitten, bringing the series full circle. I found this to be a perfect way to open Eileen’s section of this book.
Eileen’s tankas are these beautiful stories encapsulated in a series of five lines, and as inspired by Japanese poetry. She utilizes vibrant metaphors and creative personification. These literary devices are extremely apparent in the series titled “Maple Leaves Tanka.” These poems are beauty leading into more beauty which grows with each tanka in this section. The colors and the smells and the senses swirl while you take in everything Eileen wants for you to from everything she is feeling and taking in herself.
I especially loved the series entitled “Stray Tankas.” There is the tanka called ‘Ars Poetica’ in which she compares poems to “old mushrooms in my basement,” and I felt that line resonate with me in a fulsome way. This is a very deep poem. She goes on to allude to the fact that these poems regain life and become spies who learn her secret— “I don’t recognize my words.” In the same section, there is also the tanka called ‘Aging Process.’ Eileen puts her own little bits of humor in her writing, seen in this poem, where she notes the things we expect as we age, but, oops! We never expected that we would one day become our parents.
In “Emergency Room Tankas,” one can read all of these poems and feel everything that is happening. It is a story and for those of us who have been in that situation, this series very much captures real life. It goes through every step of the process of being there, being admitted, getting tests (often over and over), having too much time to dwell on what might happen but also, barely enough time to think. It is a very real story and, having recently been to the emergency room myself, I understood all the things she wrote and all that went through her head during the process.
There’s so much to say about Eileen’s ability—how she manages to get so much in these short poems amazed me. For example, in the section titled “Excavated Tankas,” she wrote shorter versions of this format because of the fact that when the Japanese form (syllables 5/7/5/7/7) translates into English, the tanka usually becomes shorter; so the poems in this section were written to represent that and pay homage to the original Japanese form. She does some other very interesting and creative things with the tanka form, like in the section “Re-member-ing Tankas.” These are meant to be visual, so she uses other texts and crosses out pieces of these other texts. Then she takes what she has left and reforms them into all new poems. I found this similar to the modern form of poetry known as The Blackout Poem where the poet chooses a text and then blacks out the words they do not wish to use in their poem, and whatever they are left with becomes the poem itself. This is often done using newspapers or magazines. What Eileen has done here is a very incredible way to be creative with an ancient Japanese poetry format. She does something else to alter the form in what she called “Ducktail Tankas.” This form is her very own in which she writes a regular tanka and follows it with a longer sixth line at the end.
Poetry adapts and changes. Not everyone is part of this evolutionary process. Eileen R. Tabios is an essential part of this process in her work with writing this ancient form of poetry.
This was also my first introduction to the poetry of Brian Cain Aene and I was glad to be introduced to his ‘artwork.’ I say it that way because Brian presents his series of poems as ‘Exhibits,’ and within each exhibit, the reader will find portraits painted with Brian’s words, telling the story behind the exhibit.
The first poem that really hit me was in his first series, “Exhibit 1: The Living Sins,” Portrait 11 where he is telling children, in other words, to not be fascinated by the shiny, fancy things in life but rather by the depth of human beings—that there is more depth in the soul than the superficial. Portrait 16, from the series, “Exhibit 2: Home is. . .” resonated with me because of how deeply I love my husband and a discussion I once had with a friend about not knowing why he still comes home to me. The friend said, “Maybe you arehome to him.” In Brian’s Portrait 16, he says that he is home only when he smiles because he sees his love, but he is finallyhome when she smiles back. That poem definitely played at my heartstrings.
In “Exhibit 7: ABCs of Seasons,” Portrait 63 does an amazing job of introducing that entire series, and the last two lines of that poem are just beautiful: “Dawning in winter’s coldness. Ending in fall’s radiance.” Though this exhibit would lead you to believe it is about the seasons of the year, it is more about the seasons of life, starting as a child filled with innocence and vigor and ending with a fall into the discovery of who you really are as a person, as a person who is no longer a child. It’s a gorgeous way to show growth and time passing within just five tankas; it is straight to the point and somewhat sad.
In Portrait 69, found in “Exhibit 8: University of Thoughts,” the poem Brian writes has such a simple message, yet it’s one that so many people seem to never consider or realize. To sum it up, the poem is saying: You get chances to do things from looking deep within yourself, past that voice that is always telling you that you cannot do something, if you take action and believe in what you are doing and in yourself. I was also impressed by all nine Portraits in “Exhibit 11: A Writer’s Prayer.” All of these short poems could stand alone as tiny prayers a Writer might say, but in their totality, and in the progression Brian has put them, they make up this full-length prayer that makes complete sense to not just writers, but ‘Everyman.’ There are a lot of things to be learned from Brian’s poetry. Some of these lessons are obvious; for others you must do a bit more searching.
Brian’s poetry and his ability to pack a punch in just the five lines that make up the tanka form are quite incredible. They are almost as if a professional poet was given the job of writing the best fortunes for fortune cookies. They tell tales, yes, but they also force you to look at everyday objects and situations in a different way, from a different standpoint and point of view. I think one of Brian’s very best poems in this book is in “Exhibit 13: The Story of Your Portrait,” Portrait 144, and it shows the character behind the poet. Without giving away the poem itself, he writes about learning to fix his broken pieces left by the obstacles he has faced in his life. I think that poem so relates to all of us. It is something we all need to do at one point or another (and another, and another) in our lives in order to finally be healed, or, at least healed enough to move on from the pain we have endured.
Evocareis such a pleasure to read. It flows so smoothly you almost don’t realize the transition from one poet to the next. There are heavy, dark points in these little poems. There are happy, joyous points in these little poems. But, really, those things make these little poems enormous. There are bits of venom to be found leaking from between the lines in this poetry, and saltwater sadness seeping out as well. There are gardens of colorful flowers sprouting from every word and strength in every pause. I enjoyed reading this book so much because of all of those things, but the main reason for my enjoyment was because I could relate to what was being said and see the poets’ souls on the pages.
Andrea E. Lodge lives in Philadelphia with her boyfriend and two disabled cats. She studied English/Secondary Education at Holy Family University where she obtained her bachelor's Degree. She also received her teaching certificate. Andrea taught middle and high school Writing and Literature for six years before having to leave teaching due to health-related issues. She is now a full-time writer and is the administrator of a Facebook writing group focusing on critique for writers of poetry and prose.