From Maganda to Kerima, the poetics of Eileen Tabios
I am no stranger to Ms. Eileen Tabios’ poetry. She was the first Filipino American poet that I read and actually liked. I often compare other poets to American or British poets that I had read in college or during the time I was re-discovering poetry. It would be unfair to compare Tabios to anyone else other than herself.
I am expecting more than adobo in her latest book. And indeed, Tabios always surprises us with her words – humorous though they may sound. They usually have a bite and make me think harder about why I overlooked things like adobo, beaches, pianos, ruffled panties, flowers, oranges, and so on. These everyday events or things, which for us ordinary mortals are just “ordinary,” like our desolate lives, are magnified by poets. Yet, poetry gives us a sense of satisfaction to tread on, to find meanings in whatever we do.
Because I love you, I become War, a 332-pages book from Marsh Hawk Press, is divided into two parts: “Poems and Uncollected Poetics Prose.” The cover art is the photograph of Kerima Lorena Tariman by Kiri Dalena. Kerima was a Filipino poet and revolutionary killed by the military on 20 August 2021. The cover’s backdrop textile is a Saputangan Tapestry Weave by Yakan weavers in Basilan, Philippines.
You may also like:
Warrior, poet, mother: Remembering my daughter Kerima
In her recent book, Tabios likens poetry to water, echoing Bruce Lee’s words about the fluidity of water. She describes water as the essence of poetics, allowing for anything to be gathered and transformed into a poem. It is a reminder that we all begin in a sac of amniotic fluid, gathering sustenance and strength before being birthed into the world. Water, therefore, represents poetics, which in turn represents identity. The process of writing poetry reveals the poet’s body.
Tabios’ poetry, she says, is about love. Love takes all forms and shapes like water. It is awakening, re-awakening, murderous, resurrection, and death (MDR). (The latter is a five-year (2013-2018) project includes “The MDR Poetry Generator” containing a data base of 1,167 lines which can be combined randomly to make a large number of poems; the shortest would be a couplet and the longest would be a poem of 1,167 lines.)
Tabios’ poetry is also “hay(na)ku” inspired by Richard Brautigan, Jack Kerouac, and Tabios’ meditations on the Filipino transcolonial and diasporic experience. The form is a tercet comprised of one-, two- and three-word lines.
When a poem evokes mixed feelings, that’s when the readers know, that the poet has known a great many things and not just limits herself to her current environment. Like water, Tabios shape-shifts and flows through various experiences and events, that she could let you swim through her words and rediscover another world, your past, present and possibly the future.
Few poets acknowledge the contributions of women from different eras who fought against patriarchy, colonialism/imperialism, and created safe spaces. While women didn’t always wield swords or guns, they were armed with words, as demonstrated by Kerima Tariman and Eileen Tabios. The politics of Tabios’ poetry resonates in Because I love you, I become War, Wind Gusts in the Drumpf Era, Leni’s Pinking Shears, and Postscripts: Poems for Ukraine.
Kind and unkind memories often bring us back to the things we love to do, like learning how to play the piano at the age of eight in “Losing Music,” or remembering the innocence of our childhood, such as wearing ruffled panties in “When I Was,” and saving discarded dolls in “Epiphany at Monster High.”
Tabios’ poetry is a tapestry of her experiences and her “kapwa” who are far from the Motherland as they traverse the significance of their existence and the complicated love and hatred for America, their adopted country.
The extraordinary book Because I Love You, I Become War“contains essays, anecdotes and some lectures about her poetry spanning decades. Tabios recounts her experiences during the Glass Fire on September 27, 2020, which ravaged Northern California’s Wine Country. Her library containing decades of works burned, but I sighed with relief upon learning that Ajax, Neo and Nova (the dogs) and Addie, Suki, and Tarzan (the cats) were safe and well. She also explains some parts of her upcoming novel, Collateral Damage, along with notes about MDR, Hay(na)ku, and poetic styles, which any student of literature or anyone interested in literary criticism and literature in general must read.
Despite my claims, Tabios in her book writes: “(For) I don’t necessarily write poems to share wisdom, create art, wage war, or make babies (though that latter would be a particularly nifty result!). But I consistently hope that my poems are beautiful. I honor Beauty from the same impetus of a Filipino creation myth where the mythological first woman is called “Maganda.”
Still, poetry is a political act. It is a remembrance of war, peace and love. Anyway, Tabios dedicates this book to us.
Because I Love You, I Become War: Poems & Uncollected Poetics Prose Paperback is available in Amazon starting May 30, 2023. Pre-orders are also accepted also accepted at https://eileenrtabios.com/ . It is also available through the distributor SPD (Small Press Distribution) at https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9780998658261/because-i-love-you-i-become-war-poems–uncollected-poetics-prose.aspx