Tuesday, January 28, 2020
NEW REVIEW FOR EILEEN TABIOS' LATEST MARSH HAWK BOOK!
Neil Leadbeater reviews Eileen R. Tabios' latest Marsh Hawk Press book, The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku for The FilAm. We thank Neil, and also present below his unabridged version of the review:
The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets 1996-2019 by Eileen R. Tabios
Review by Neil Leadbeater
Consider the power of three. Throughout history, successful leaders have recognised its effectiveness and made good use of it in their writing and in their speeches. Among other things this is because having three entities combines both brevity and rhythm while using the smallest amount of information to create a pattern. This is one of the reasons we should stop, look and listen to this book which is big, bold and beautiful. There is something satisfying about the number three. It is the number of creation and completion. Think of the Holy Trinity, past, present and future, beginning, middle and end, before, during and after…Then, again, for some people, three may be a crowd but Tabios, in The Hay(na)ku of Numbers prefers to keep all options open:
cheating on me
with much generosity
In “39” from the sequence Girl Singing she makes reference to the number three and the number nine (which, after all, is the sum of 3 x 3) describing both numbers as being “open, flirtatious / loopily and exuberantly depicting / coupling curves.” So much for the number three.
Poetically, the terza rima was invented by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri in the late 13th century to structure his three-part epic poem, The Divine Comedy. The tercet was introduced into English poetry by Sir Thomas Wyatt in the 16thcentury. It was employed by Shelley and is the form used in Byron’s The Prophecy of Dante. The haiku appeared in Japan in the 13th century and was popularised by Bashō much later. As the title of this book suggests, its contents are not so much an invention (something entirely new) but an intervention (that is, the insertion of something new between what has already become familiar). It also carries with it the implication of improvement, of advancement in progress by a third party.
The tercets in this selection are presented in the chronological order of when they were written and published and cover a period of 23 years from 1996 to 2019. The author has chosen to present them in this order because she views poetry as a process of continual development and change. By presenting this aspect of her work in this way, she illustrates how she has developed the form and explored its possibilities, one of the most significant being the invention of the hay(na)ku.
The contents are grouped into four sections. The first section presents tercets before the author’s invention of the hay(na)ku. The second presents hay(na)ku in a number of varied forms. The third section presents hay(na)ku which were derived from another project which the author refers to as “Murder, Death and Resurrection” (MDR) – an essay describing this project is included within the book. In the final section the author includes two poetic approaches for contrast. The first poem, “Dear A, This Poem Is Not For You,” presents tercets where each line is a complete sentence. This is in sharp contrast to the typical hay(na)ku that contain mostly short lines. The second element is a hay(na)ku series inspired by the death poem genre developed in East Asian cultures, “Hay(na)ku Death Poems.”
Reviewing a book of this size, it is not possible to comment on every single poem and so I have selected a few from each section to give the reader a flavour of its content and also of the way in which the author has developed her craft.
Venus Rising For The First Time in the 21st Century
Boticelli painted “The Birth of Venus” between 1484 and 1485. A symbol of beauty, she seems to draw all attention to herself. To Neoplatonic philosophers, the contemplation of her beauty was a way to elevate the human spirit and draw closer to the divine. The title that Tabios chooses to give to her love poem also reminds us of the morning star rising at the dawn of the new century (the poem was conceived in the middle of the night and committed to paper in the early hours of the morning). There are also associations with the star of Ishtar or star of Inanna, a symbol of the ancient Sumerian goddess Inanna and her East Semitic counterpart Ishtar. The ethereal and luminous quality of these references is brought out in some fine phrasing in the poem. The quiet sounds of the initial consonants “s” and “f” that frequent the poem, and the repetition and word play on “see” / “sea” / “see(d)ing” and “foam” / “form” take us back to the Boticelli painting.
There is no doubt that Boticelli painted Venus for us as onlookers to contemplate her beauty. Tabios’ poem is set in the 21st century and this is a very modern Venus, one who is not simply here to be admired, but one who admires and is fully conscious and comfortable with her own body and the image that it portrays. As a woman she has no problem with being admired by others. She meets her admirers on her own ground and the territory is an equal one between the sexes. Just as a poem hopes to be seen, it also hopes to be read. There is a sense in which the poet begins the poem and the reader completes it.
Enheduanna # 20
Once more we go back in time as Tabios resurrects history and brings it into the present age. Enheduanna (b.2300BC) is one of the earliest women known to history and also one of its earliest known poets. She was the High Priestess of the goddess Inanna and the moon god Nanna and she lived in the Sumerian city-state of Ur. More recently, she has received substantial attention in feminist circles.
“Enheduanna #20” is the longest poem in the sequence from “Ménage à Trois with the 21st Century” and in it, Tabios resuscitates her poetic counterpart. Through her eyes, Enheduanna comes back to life and reflects upon her new awakening. This fusion of two identities is portrayed in sexual imagery. That said, the fact that it is a purely imaginary encounter highlights the physical distance between the author and her poetic counterpart. The sheer opulence and eroticism of the poem is breath-taking. It is a slow burner with an ejaculatory ending involving all the vowels of the English alphabet in rapid fire succession. The passing references to historical detail are the means by which Tabios weaves past and present into one satisfying whole. Tabios writes as if she has taken on Enheduanna’s own identity which she achieves by the frequent repetition of the phrase “with you in my skin.”
The series Girl Singing was inspired by Jose Garcia Villa’s poem “Girl Singing. Day”. The series was written during an artist residency at Villa Montalvo, California. Each poem begins with the title which is then repeated on several occasions within each sequence like a recurring musical motif. Similarly, each poem ends with the phrase “Heaven / nearer than a breath away”. One of the joys in reading this set of poems is spotting the correspondences between each section which shifts considerably in terms of physical location. It also shifts in terms of its visual scope – “an outlook ever shifting always in flux” which can range from a focus on a single leaf outside a bedroom window, forest floors and supermarket parking lots to wider panoramas which take in the sweep of the Himalayas, “Ancient mountains quivering like 500-pound Sumo wrestlers.” The one constant in all of this is the girl singing and the fact that it is day.
Tabios is a great believer in the power of revision. Her work is never “finished”, it is always a work in progress. She sifts and refines her words to find new ways to shape her craft. For her, this process of creating hybrids is a constant source of inspiration and regeneration. Good work requires attention and patience. Above all, it requires time in which to mature. The following lines from Girl Singing could well be applied to this process:
Sometimes, the perfect
pitch needs time. Like bottles of champagne
rotated in their racks, inch by inch
meticulously for months. Or cabernet settling
in oak barrels buried in underground caves.
Like basting Thanksgiving turkey for twelve
The Singer and others: Flamenco Hay(na)ku
According to Tabios, the poems in this sequence reflect her imagined application of two techniques upon Sarah Bird’s novel, The Flamenco Academy: the painterly technique of scumbling and the “fish-ing” process of Filipinos picking words from the language of Spanish colonisers and using them differently (e.g. as puns) from the word’s original defintions, as described in Vincent l. Rafael’s Contracting Colonialism and Christian Conversion in Tagalog Society Under Early Spanish Rule. Stylistically, the repetition of certain phrases, the short lines and the sharp consonantal sounds mimic the swirling movement and harsh accent of flamenco.
Thrice, I Forgot
Note the word “thrice” – a reminder that we are always in the territory of three in this collection. What is it that the poet forgets? The lines would suggest that the list includes a forgetfulness to be entranced by nature, to experience auditory, visual and olfactory delights, to sense danger, too. It also reads like a rollcall through some of Tabios’ previous collections – there are references to the contents of the Balikbayan boxes from Post Bling Bling, Flamenco Hay(na)ku, Girl Singing, The Rebel’s Son and poems in the “I forgot…” sequences. In the process of committing these lines to paper she is, of course, resurrecting them in her memory once again.
Hay(na)ku Death Poems
The Hay(na)ku Death Poems were written after “Retirement Poem” a journal entry-as-poem written out of weariness with the poetry world. Interestingly, they are written in the reverse hay(na)ku form, (lines of three words, two words and one word), to visually manifest disappearance. Choosing which words come first can have the effect of changing the emphasis on each line. In # 9 Compare:
I wrote poems
Babies suffered as
In “How I Learned to Draw A Circle” Tabios cites a conversation with Philip Lamantia, a poet who “…never stopped / writing poems / unlike / other poets who / aged into / prose”. At one point in the conversation Lamantia said something to the effect that if you can’t draw a straight line, don’t give up, draw a curve instead. This poem, however, is titled with the word “circle”, not “curve”. In it, the curve has come full circle. Does this signify completion or perfection…or perhaps a never-ending cycle of continuation?
This important book documents the way in which Tabios has made use of traditional terza rima and haiku formats through innovation and intervention, specifically through the creation of the hay(na)ku, a poem of three lines which has become subject to an ever widening number of variations allowing it to be constantly redefined through collaboration with other poets and writers around the world. Long lines have given way to short lines which have placed a greater emphasis on the crucial placement of each word within each poem, rules have been broken to allow for the accommodation of fresh ideas and with it has come an increasing tendency to invite the reader to make his or her own response, to become a part of the poem itself. Recommended.
Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His publications include Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014), Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017) and Punching Cork Stoppers (Original Plus, 2018). His work has been translated into several languages.
Posted by EILEEN at 9:22 AM