Monday, February 9, 2009

Review of The Blind Chatelaine’s Keys: Her Biography through Your Poetics, Begun by Eileen R. Tabios, Completed by Others, BlazeVOX, 2008

Chatelaine (chain)—A set of short chains on a belt worn by women and men for carrying keys, thimble and/or sewing kit, etc. (from Wikipedia)

“Kapwa”—a Filipino cultural concept of interconnectedness whereby other people are not “others” but part of what one is. (from the opening page; emphasis in original)

How does one get to truly know the artist? Especially when the one doing the searching is the artist her- or himself?

Dostoyevsky and Freud put forth the notion that it is impossible for an autobiography to reveal the Truth because of our penchant for self-delusion and both positive and negative exaggeration. Aldous Huxley seemed to agree, saying: “there is never a one-to-one correspondence between an author’s work and his character.”

If poetry, like all writing, is a form of autobiography, then the path to the Truth is lined with thorns and nails and broken glass, at the end of which are myriad locks.

The Blind Chatelaine’s Keys is a collection of reviews of many of Eileen Tabios’ books (going back to 1996), each book and each review constituting a “key” to the author’s—and reviewer’s—poetical and personal biography.

This unique deconstruction of the poet through the eyes of the critic features an impressive collection of important reviewers and poets, including Ric Carfagna, Clayton Couch, Laurel Johnson, Jesse Glass, Ron Silliman, Jean Vengua, and Annabelle Udo.

Reading this book got me thinking about the condition of being both a reviewer and writer—being on both sides of the line, as it were (as I have been as a director and actor, a teacher and student, an editor and submitter, etc.) and the responsibilities and expectations that come with each of these roles. Tabios has certainly hit on something important with the title of this collection—what better, surer way to learn of the artist than by knowing both the artist’s works and the way they are received/processed/interpreted by their audience (and let’s face it, a poet’s primary audience is other poets…Perhaps that is why the subtitle reads “Your Poetics”; my emphasis).

After the review section comes a moving and innovative piece entitled “Looking for M. A Haybun Journal.” On page 159 the reader will find a definition for “haybun,” a new form of writing created by Tabios based on a haiku/prose combination created by Basho and incorporating the hay(na)ku form created by Tabios and adopted by many others.

“Looking for M.” uses clinical definitions, poetry, and letters to a “Government Agency in Charge of Children” as it chronicles in moving words a “failed” adoption attempt on the part of Tabios and her husband after they experienced first hand the condition of “reactive attachment disorder,” prevalent in orphans, who, because of traumatic experiences throughout their young lives, cannot trust or bond with adults.

“Looking for M.” is as moving as it is innovative, and is well worth the purchase price of this volume in and of itself.

The final section of this collection is a “Post Script” called Roasting the Editor by a reviewer named John Bloomberg-Rissman that is a tongue in cheek deconstruction of Tabios’ Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole that begins by inserting Tabios’ name throughout a Wikipedia biography of Elvis Presley.

This last review succeeds in putting what we do as reviewers (and as reviewed) in proper perspective.

If it is true, as Oscar Wilde said, that the future of fiction is to “reveal the innermost workings of [wo]man’s soul” then the coupling of reviewer and reviewed is an essential mechanism for opening the locks.

I applaud both BlazeVOX and Eileen Tabios for putting together such an interesting and thought-provoking collection. It is well worth a read, whether ye be poet or no.

You can order the book at

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