Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Review of Eileen R. Tabios (et al.’s) 147 Million Orphans (MMXI–MML)


 (Finland: Gradient Books, 2014; Barcode: 5-800102-117065)
Two years ago I reviewed a precursor to this book, by Eileen R. Tabios and j/j hastain, titled the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA (New York: Marsh Hawk Press, 2012; ISBN: 978-0-9846353-2-0). The book impressed upon the reader the function to carry forth the work begun in its pages, which I endeavored to do in the review.           
147 Million Orphans takes as its basis, not the word problems of the previous title, but a list of words that Tabios’ son was required to learn in the course of a school year. Ever innovative and groundbreaking, Tabios, and her impressive list of guest poets (William Allegrezza, Tom Beckett, John Bloomberg-Rissman, Michael Caylo-Baradi, Patrick James Dunagan, Thomas Fink, jj hastain, Aileen Ibardaloza, Ava Koohbor, Michael Leong, Sheila Murphy and Jean Vengua), used the words to create hay(na)ku [from the back cover: “a hay(na)ku is a diasporic poetic form; its core is a tercet-based stanza with the first line being one word, the second line being two words, and the third line being three words”], which are then followed by additional text, to form a “haybun.”
In the years that I have been reading and reviewing Tabios’ work, I have been continually awed and propelled in my own work by her commitment to the writer’s role as social voice, conveying both unique media and social justice messages that resonate with the reader in a compelling dance that requires and inspires action. Like the work of a gifted playwright or screenwriter, the truth here is clear: if the reader’s relationship with the words ends when the book is closed, there is something lacking—like fruit that is not eaten, like seeds that are not planted [and watered and cultivated], it becomes Momentary; a Fragment without Function.
The politics of Diaspora, of the life of the orphan, of the empty rhetoric and nefarious policies of multinational corporations and educational systems that fall far short of their potential to produce independent and critical thinkers, all converge in the genesis of the source material [the vocabulary words] into Art and Authentication.
An example:
Regurgitate
bake jargon
laconic nefarious dainty
“…She became the gift renamed “Zahara.” … she will kiss tabloid pictures of Angelina Jolie. …” [pg. 12]
Compelling notions such as this continue: “Adoption is an industry, as commercial as the polyethylene commodities travelling on ship tankers from China…” [pg. 13]. Or
“no child should learn to be grateful for an effect of loss.” [pg. 15]
But there is always counterpoint, yin and yang, light in dark: “Many adoptive parents feel: I didn’t save a child. A child saved me” [pg. 23].
I humbly count myself among those parents.
Within most of the haybun is the thought-provoking use of the line strikethrough, such as in this piece by Aileen Ibardaloza:
“‘exploit’ can also mean abuse misuse” [pg. 47].
A peek behind the patterns of the process. An invocation of Mark Twain’s “The difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.” But is there more than one “right word”? Abuse and misuse evoke completely separate meanings. One normally disappears, but here it still remains, to work upon the reader’s mind, ripe with layered nuance.
On page 58 appears a line that I have been mulling over for days: “The grammatical period is not synonymous with death.”
Think about it. Write about it. Set out to authenticate or eradicate it as a notion, an idea. Let it be both at one and the same time. That is the value of Tabios’ approach to poetry. It is collaborative. Its Authority gives it room to be pushed, pulled, reinvented.
The book closes with “A Quintet for Michael Gerard Tyson,” offering insight into the enigmatic (and, as I learned here, orphaned) former heavyweight champ, whose antics and actions outside the ring engulfed and all but obliterated his achievements within it.
In a bit of synchroserendipity, I read the line “he denies the ‘I’ and lapses into calling himself ‘Sonny Liston’ and ‘Jack Dempsey’” mere hours before reading in Secret Germany by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh excerpts from Thomas Mann’s 1936 essay on “mythic consciousness” regarding the idea that leaders and would-be leaders refer to themselves as past leaders in order to acquire Legitimacy through Invocation and a pseudo-lineage [think Thatcher as Churchill and Elizabeth I and Clinton as Kennedy].

I encourage you to read 147 Million Orphans as poetry, as parental testament, as social commentary, as thought experiment, and most importantly, as the starting point for your own [continuing] engagement with Word and Idea.

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