Saturday, April 27, 2024




Because poetry does not expire, I thought to review some random poetry titles by Filipino authors including those not considered as new releases. The book reviewing world often focuses on new titles but that’s a point of view that I find irrelevant to poetry—a poem can be eternal. So here are some brief takes in no particular order. You will note the relative brevity of these engagements, and how they manifest the personal, thus subjective, nature of these responses. But it’s my hope my responses at least respect the existence of these poems and lead other readers to their books.

—Eileen Tabios



Thrift Store Metamorphosis by Tony Robles 

And Yet Held by T. De Los Reyes 

A World in Transit and After the Fall: Dirges Among Ruins by Eric Tinsay Valles 

Alaskero Memories by Robert Francis Flor 

He's a Color Until He’s Not by Christian Hanz Lozada

The Experiment of the Tropics by Lawrence Lacambra Ypil 



Thrift Store Metamorphosis by Tony Robles (Redhawk Publications, 2023)


Book Link 


Self-aware writers and poets tend to know how to get out of the way of their subjects because certain subjects or certain stories tell and write themselves. How could that not be the case for Tony Robles’ Thrift Store Metamorphosis? The book presents poems about the poet’s experiences in a thrift store. Surely to work in and for a thrift store presents ready material, a gamut of poignant tales. And it would be a poignancy specific to that potent mix of loss and desire: frugal (or simply income-challenged) people shopping for a first residence, like a young couple; shoppers wandering aisles as much for company as for the items before them, like an elderly raconteur and former Air Force man waxing forth on a model airplane; monitoring a known shoplifter; and so on. But Robles elevates his observations—which is what makes these poems so powerful. He combines what he observes with fragments from his memory, with inserting his personal reactions, and most significantly with compassion. In the poem about monitoring a potential shoplifter, for instance, Robles wonders more about what was previously taken from that person (which may explain how the person became to be who she is) rather than what that person might take. What we observe of this poet as he shares his observations of others is what’s often required to be a great poet: empathy. I observe that this says something wonderful about not just the poems and the poet but the person who is the poet.




And Yet Held by T. De Los Reyes (Bull City Press, 2023)


Book Link


These are young love poems. I qualify love poems with “young,” not just because the love depicted are or could be youthful love. I say “young” because the love depicted is not qualified or caveated by life’s inevitable other “gifts” to poets: loss or grief or even betrayal. To the extent loss, grief and betrayal exist, they are submerged in rewarded desire so that such darker elements are held at bey: thus “and yet held.” Such, of course, doesn’t mean uncertainty doesn’t exist. The all of it makes for disarming the reader because the attentive reader can be rewarded with the reminder and/or their memories of what is lost and thus treasured: the innocence of yearning for what deserves to be yearned because it will be rewarded: held. Fortunately, the writing is also beautifully up to presenting the ineffability of yearning—so many ways does the poet articulate the consistent significance of, from “Nocturne”: “kiss me. I feel your lips tremble / as if you are about to drink from / something holy. And isn’t it. Isn’t it.”




A World in Transit and After the Fall: Dirges Among Ruins by Eric Tinsay Valles (Ethos Books, 2011 and 2014 respectively)

Books' Link 


These two poetry collections by Eric Tinsay Valles are the first poetry books to make me ponder how one’s faith in God—or its non-existence—affects the personas’ points of view. It’s an interesting effect since I learned from the poems that the poet often offers observation without the aggressive intrusion of his personal conclusions. But he does it in a way that resonates and invites the reader to offer their own takes. In A World in Transit, for example, “Back in the Block” could be a metaphor for a migrant’s return to homeland—for example, I was moved by the poem to recall the Baguio City of my childhood, only to feel the pang of realizing it no longer exists, engaged as it is in overdevelopment and pollution relative to the 1970s when I lived there. But the poem itself is about an ex-resident returning to Jin Shan South Road. The fluidity of the poetry is admirable, even as the poems are presented to be about “people everywhere caught in hybridity or cultural mixing even as as they assert their individuality” within a world “on the move.” What strengthens the collection is the compassion underlying each observation of our stressed-out world, clearly a compassion wreathed in the poet’s relationship with God. 


After the Fall’s poems are valid reportage poetry, and more effective precisely because they trouble the reader. But it can be a stretch for the reader to find succor in many of those poems’ reports on various wars and traumatic events many people experience as part of their days—to feel, per the last line of “Verses on Bukit Chandu” that “Versifying truth brings peace.” But for a man of faith that the poet is, the faith may be strong enough. What I take away is how faith—or its lack—creates different perspectives on the same matters. Because human history is a history of abuse, we see the advantage of one view over then other. But both sides can decry why we humans create traumas that traumatize others but, yes, also ourselves as well as empathize with these laments for the dead. With these two books by Eric Tinsay Valles, I not only appreciate the poems but the poet.





Alaskero Memories by Robert Francis Flor (Carayan Press, 2016)

Book Link 


This book was published in 2016 but is the second book (the first being Randy Gonzales’ Settling St. Malo) I’ve read in recent memory that movingly and resonantly combines photos and poems. As with Gonzales’ book, it’s a particularly effective approach when history is involved, in Flor’s case the 1960s when many Filipinos labored in Alaska’s fishing canneries. It occurs to me that so many problems today exist because we don’t know our history, and I’m now a fan of this format—a picture, after all, is worth a thousand words. In addition, Flor provides an Introduction that’s educational as it moves from the Spanish American War after which the Philippines was sold to the U.S. for $20 million to Filipino migrations to the U.S. Flor also provides the background to creating this book and it’s really moving to see his community—Filipino American National Society in Seattle, Richard Hugo House, and Carayan Press as well as, but of course, his own wife who had suggested he collect the poems into a chapbook. There is indeed a sense of togetherness in the creation of this book—that “Bayanihan Spirit” is admirably discernible. The poems also present history in ways that grab reader interest—poems on the ignobly-named “Iron Chink, a salmon-cleaning machine that took on a derogatory name for replacing Chinese cannery workers; imagistic descriptions of “decapitated salmon [that] dance the chained conveyer through a circle of knives”; criminals on the run who made their way to Alaska; bagoong (it’s the first time I’ve seen it described as “entrail sauce”); dreamers with denied dreams—all “melting into the melting pot yet clinging to an adobo past.” The poems are often effective for letting their circumstances speak for themselves without unnecessary poet’s commentary.  This may be a slim book (39 pages) but there’s enough meat in the poems to make the reader experience an entire era upon closing the book.




He's a Color Until He’s Not by Christian Hanz Lozada (Moon Tide Press, 2023)


Book Link 


Christian Hanz Lozada’s He’s a Color Until He’s Not presents a search for identity from the stance of a mixed-race Brown/White persona (it could be autobiographical in whole or in part but I use the word “persona” because I don’t personally know the poet and wish to accord him the respect of the possibility he writes from imagination as well as lived experience). The collection presents powerful poems made all the more compelling for its self-conscious (pun intended) attention to form, such as in the two poems “The Assignment: Describe Your Family’s Migration Story” and “23 and Me: Monster.” I love how the poems begin with the two POVs—Brown and White—in side-by-side rows of stanzas before they conclude fittingly into a single stanza. The format heightens the tension between the two points of views, thereby enhancing the reader’s appreciation for the concluding single stanza. Such attention to form is also evident in “Twenty Unasked Questions in White Grandfather’s Absence” where the 9th to 20th questions are the same “Why won’t you acknowledge me?” Finally, the poems’ use of color—“Brown Friend,” “White Grandma,” “Brown Uncle,” “White Eyelids,” “Brown Dad,” “White Grandfather”—transcend didacticism if not offensiveness to become poetically punchy markers which increase the poems’ effectiveness. The form, thus, makes more interesting the stories and messages offered in the poems. By generating massive reader empathy, the reader is blessed with these poems-become-gifts. I am left with deep gratitude to Lozada for writing these poems and the chance to read them. Let me end with this excerpt from “Miracle Meat’ because I believe you the reader will be able to feel the same powerful energy—and its pain—that I felt at reading it: “Meat was our communion, / and during the desperate times, / White Mom was our priest. / She would cook when Brown Dad felt shame / from a meatless kitchen as if a bowl full of only / beans and rice said something about masculinity.”




The Experiment of the Tropics by Lawrence Lacambra Ypil (Gaudy Boy, 2019)

Book Link


When I read poetry collections for the first time, I read the poems in order without skipping around the pages which many other readers do because a poem, even when part of a collection, can also be stand-alone art. This is how I read—chronologically—Lawrence Lacambra Ypil’s The Experiment of the Tropics. In doing so, I was struck by how the first three poems shared something in common: articulated but open-ended endings. I say “articulated” because the poems’ last words narratively manifest a propulsive implication or encouragement of a “then this happened” effect, but without revealing the “this.” For example, “There Is a Chair But No One Sits” ends with “if you can walk towards the gangplank and be still.” This suggestive tendency didn’t occur with all of the poems, e.g. the ending line to “In the Manner of Thinking” of “and in this way was the camera invented” is a clearly stated conclusion. But because of the first three poems’ way of ending, I couldn’t help but look for a similar approach in the rest of the poems. I discerned it in varying degrees of strength in at least nine of the collection’s poems. What’s the significance? I believe these propulsive endings that encourage the reader to sense “then this happened” fit the nature of the project described [per back cover] as that the book “returns to early-twentieth-century Philippines during the American occupation and asks, ‘How does one look at the past?’” To meditate on the past can be a deceptive action. The past is not static just because it already happened. There is no past without someone doing the remembering and recollections cannot be fixed—what’s recalled is ever affected by one’s subjectivity and context, even the weather at the time of recollection if it evokes an unanticipated emotion. Even the black and white photos inserted throughout the book are evocative to imply how other things are happening but not necessarily visible to the viewer/reader. Anyway, the language shimmers with nuance, making all of it a good read. The reader is left more sensitive to history, not just to what this book addresses but the history of one’s time—an excellent result. Kudos to the poet. In the book, some highlights as individual poems for me are “What is the Erotic,” “I Broke My Heart Said the Man in Rattan,” and “How Does Love Begin.”



Eileen R. Tabios has released over 70 collections of poetry, fiction, and diverse types of prose. In 2024 (Asia) and 2025 (World), Penguin Random House SEA will publish her second novel The Balikbayan Artist. Other recent releases an art monograph Drawing Six Directions; a poetry collection Because I Love You, I Become War; an autobiography,The Inventor; and a flash fiction collection collaboration with harry k stammer, Getting To One. Other recent books include a first novel DoveLion: A Fairy Tale for Our Times which was subsequently translated by Danton Remoto into Filipino as KalapatingLeon (UST Publishing House, 2024). Her work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form; the MDR Poetry Generator that can create poems totaling theoretical infinity; the “Flooid” poetry form that’s rooted in a good deed; and the monobon poetry form based on the monostich. Translated into 13 languages, she has seen her writing and editing works receive recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More information is at


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