Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Review of Not Even Dogs: hay(na)ku poems by Ernesto Priego

(Meritage Press, 2006, www.meritagepress.com)

by Joey Madia

In the past six months I have reviewed several works by Eileen Tabios and authors associated with Meritage Press that employ the Tabios-invented poetic technique of hay(na)ku. Simply put, the form is tercets consisting of one-, two-, and three-word lines. One can also reverse the order.

I say “simply put” because authors are taking this form and working with it in myriad ways to make it their own. Ernest Priego’s Not Even Dogs was, at the time of its printing, the first single-author book of hay(na)ku (or, in Spanish, jáinakú).

The Foreword by Mark Young (co-editor of the first hay(na)ku anthology) and the Afterword by Eileen Tabios elucidate the history and methodology behind the hay(na)ku form, so I will refrain from saying any more about it here.

Not Even Dogs is divided into three subject-matter sections: Mornings, Territories, and Cities. It is neatly laid out, with design and typesetting by Michelle M. Bautista and compelling cover art by Rodrigo Priego. I also found it interesting that the poems in the first two sections are not titled, but are instead delineated by the first several words of the poem set off in brackets and bold-faced, like an index of first lines. At times these pseudo-titles function as mini-meditations of their own.

The poems of Mornings and Territories operate like prayers and self-assessments (calling to mind the poetry of McKuen and Kerouac), referencing both directly and indirectly, Buddhism, haiku, koans, quantum physics, Tao, and the like, with lines such as:

poem is
more than this

world in
a sand grain

heaven in
a wild flower (p. 16)

Grass moving slowly
the sculpture
watches (p. 45)

I have grown accustomed to the artist reflecting on one’s art through the art itself as part and parcel of the Meritage Press philosophy, and Priego does it as well as anyone I’ve read thus far. He also works with similar metaphorical themes as, for instance, Jean Vengua in Prau (which was published a year after Not Even Dogs), when he employs nautical imagery:

A writer is
a sailor,

considering wreckages, […] (p. 22)

The final section, Cities, comprises 10 poems, counted down from Tenth City to First City. The cities are never named, but the poems provide clues as to which they are. This added aspect functions to make the reader a more active participant in the process, another recurring theme in the Meritage Press philosophy that I have come to expect and enjoy.

It should be noted that Not Even Dogs is Ernesto Priego’s debut poetry collection. I look forward to more from not only Mr. Priego, but from Meritage Press and Eileen Tabios as well.


Tom Beckett said...

Ernesto has another book out (from Otoliths Press). It's called GRAVITY & GRACE. I think you'd enjoy it.

Ernesto said...

Thanks for your review, Joey. Thanks as well to Tom for mentioning my latest book.

It's available here.