Monday, February 21, 2011

Silk Egg:Collected Novels (2009–2009), Eileen R. Tabios

(Exeter: Shearsman Books, 2011, ISBN: 978-1-84861-143-6)

Eileen Tabios is an innovator in the best sense of the word.

If her impressive list of publications, multi-media projects, and awards were not proof enough, one need only consider her development and promotion of the Hay(na)ku form, which has spawned three anthologies and several works from individual writers. If even that is not enough, one would be hard pressed to discount her place at the forefront of the post-postmodern language and literature movement after reading (and engaging with) Silk Egg.

Having read many and reviewed several of Tabios’ works, I have been most impressed and enthused by the requirements made on the reader (or reviewer) to partner in the product being created. This, to me, is what keeps the very short “novels” (and their even shorter chapters) from being just another experiment in what is alternately called, among other names, “Nano-fiction,” “microfiction,” and “flash fiction…”

This growing movement of short work has its roots in a famous Hemingway story, the entirety of which is: For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

Richard Brautigan (whose novel, The Hawkline Monster, according to my background research for this review, was the catalyst for the Hay(na)ku form) also worked in the ultra-short form, and now, in the age of 45-character Tweets, brief Facebook updates, and some literary agents requesting synopses of entire novels in 100 words or less, it is a tool most writers have in their toolkit.

These are different, digital days, and all but gone are the rich wordsmithed novels of the Victorian and Edwardian age, when books were thick and wordy because they were expensive and had to last the reader a good long while.

At the nexus of that Here and this Now is Silk Egg, a place where you don’t swim in the words as in days of old, but the spaces in between.

This collection of micro-novels ends with the one with which the project began—Novel Chatelaine. This set of short chains on a belt used for carrying keys, a thimble, a sewing kit, and so on is a metaphorical image Tabios has used before. The more I read, the more I am convinced that we, the Readers, are the locks into which the various and sundry keys are meant to enter.

Another recurring source of inspiration for Tabios is Jorge Luis Borges’s “Library of Babel” (which also inspired Umberto Ecco’s Name of the Rose), a geometric wonder of a library wherein is contained all the possible combinations of words for every book ever written, or yet to be. Picturing this wondrous place one cannot help but to also imagine the weathered librarians, hunch-backed monks, rebellious demons, be-spectacled book collectors, and half-mad writers searching for new inspirations in its leaf-laden passages…

It is here, in this chamber, this mansion of the mind, that one best sits while reading Silk Egg, peering through the windows of hotels and apartments, restaurants and lighthouses, vineyards and wine cellars in places ‘round the world, with their self-isolated population of affluent and emotionally detached men and women reaching across chasms of hurt and apathy to try and connect with one another. Their places of cold confrontation and passive habitation are dressed in silk and pewter, rose and diamond, jade and moss, snakeskin and ruby, linen and leather, tulip and truffle, and opium and orchid.

They try and fail, and try again, their short-armed gestures and hollow words falling between the spaces, back into the library, where they reconstitute in new forms and better possibilities as we grab and grasp and turn them to our use.

Those who bemoan the death of the book and of good writing itself need only keep up with Tabios’ growing collection of innovative and deeply engaging books to know that this is far from the case.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Review of The Creative Soul, by Lawrence H. Staples, Ph.D.

(2009, Fisher King Press,, ISBN 978-0-9810344-4-7)
Reviewed by Joey Madia

Eighteen months ago, I reviewed Dr. Staples’s Guilt with a Twist, a book with which I had some reservations. In the case of The Creative Soul (subtitled “Art and the Quest for Wholeness”), a relatively short book (91 pages including the Index), he has expanded on my favorite section of Guilt, dealing with the process of creativity as it applies to mental health and the integration of the Shadow, a core idea in the work and writings of Carl Jung (Staples is a Jungian analyst who trained in Switzerland after making a mid-life career-switch at the age of 50). 

Inherent in the process of integrating one’s Shadow is the first step of acknowledging that it exists and exploring the push and pull of opposites at play within us all. It is this dynamic tension between good and evil, light and dark, loyalty to other and loyalty to self that feeds and fuels our creative impulses. For those whose denial of the Shadow is so deep as to cause a psychic wound, the creative act can also be the healing act.

The Creative Soul employs a successful mix of scholarship, anecdote, and writings created by Dr. Staples patients (a formula he also uses in Guilt).

At the start of it all is the alchemical process—the manipulation of the prima materia, the first spark, the subconsciously implanted seed. In line with St. Thomas, if you bring what’s in you forth, it will save you; if you do not, it will kill you—or at the very least, it will result in the endless depression and suicidal thoughts that bring many people to therapy in the first place.

Any time you are talking about opposites, you must also talk about balance, and Dr. Staples spends a good deal of time sharing anecdotes about the button-down type whose true passion is painting, on the one hand, and the artist with no sense of stability at all. Both lifestyles are unsustainable and ultimately lead to similar ends. It is “the contrast between the opposites, not merely one of the individual opposites itself, that produce(s) the consciousness of the good feeling” (p. 39).

One technique discussed in the book is the use of dream material to fuel our creative endeavors. Dr. Staples mentions Mel Matthews, whose trilogy about the character Malcolm Clay I reviewed five years ago (also from Fisher King Press) and another book I have reviewed that readers might find of interest is Jon Lipsky’s Dreaming Together: Explore Your Dreams by Acting Them Out (Larson Publications).

Another area of interest is the cyclical nature of the creative process, and its different phases—for writers, there is the brainstorming and writing (the free creative act) and the editing and revision process (the technical work). Mix these up, and you get “writer’s block.” The pure creative act and the technical work are another set of opposites that are each severely limited in isolation.

Other areas covered in The Creative Soul are Art as Therapy and the true risk we take as artists when we put the deepest, darkest pieces of ourselves out into the world for criticism.

This book is highly recommended for anyone who works in the creative arts, especially teachers and therapists seeking to better express to students and analysands the joys and challenges of the creative process and the great value for healing, expression, and communication it has in our lives.