Friday, May 11, 2012

A Review of Eileen R. Tabios and j/j hastain’s the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA

(New York: Marsh Hawk Press, 2012; ISBN: 978-0-9846353-2-0) If you label me, you negate me. —Soren Kierkegaard Some books help us pass the time. Others entertain or inform us. And then there is the rare book that Inspires us—forces us to see with a different set of eyes and subsequently change our Newly Provoked Thoughts to Actions, enlivening our heart and engaging our Humanity. This is such a book. And, for that reason, this will be more than just a review. There are excellent reviews about the poetics of this book available on both the back cover and out it in world. And although the book’s content is my basis for all that follows, what this is is an extension of the work begun in the book, as I believe Tabios and hastain would have it. I should begin by saying that it a great honor for me, as Founding Editor of, to have poetry by both of these poet–philosopher–activists on our literary website. They push the boundaries; even more, they evaporate them—the boundaries of reader and writer, of author and social visionary, of Human and Spirit. This is the energy that makes New Mystics what it has grown to be over the past 10 years, and the energy that keeps the function of the Poet so vital to the world. the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA carries through one of the main themes in Tabios’ work—the condition of being the Orphan. Sparked by her own experience as an adoptive parent, the socio-political and emotional challenges strike a sharp chord in her work and thus the book begins with “ORPHANED ALGEBRA,” a series of prose-poems that take as their basis Word Problems from a math textbook used by her adopted son. Word Problems. Or, perhaps, the Problem with WORDS. This is resonant throughout the book. Ancient wisdom says that once you find the moon, you no longer need the finger that points to it. Put another way, once we have a firm grasp of the Idea, the Words no longer matter. But we are all too poor at grasping the ideas that pool and swirl around us, so we categorize and label and organize, and in doing so, restrict what people can be or become. This is a main point of the civil/humans rights performance piece, “I Am Not Other” that my social justice theatre company, Seven Stories, has been performing the past five years. And this is a thru-thread in this book as well. So. Word Problems. Through her deft and vivid prose-poems, Tabios tackles the underlying social ramifications of the seemingly innocent scenarios posed in the service of our children learning their math. Math that revolves around an antiquated Industrial model that has no place in the New Millenium, and yet still persists, for the American education system, as an extension of the Corporate–Military–Industrial complex, is more interested in producing Worker-Bees and Consumers than Citizens and Thinkers. No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which is one of the most oxymoronic, inaccurate, and reprehensible monikers ever put forth by any government anywhere (and which is, thankfully, beginning to go away), in its effort to clamp down on the critical thinking and arts-based curriculum beginning to take hold around the country prior to its “adoption,” put all the emphasis on the Standardized Test—the shortest way, in their Other-driven thinking—of making a Standardized American, who could then join the military or a corporation that would then created a Standardized World. But there have been studies done since the implementation of NCLB that show a few unsettling things: (1) It dishonors Multiculturalism, and the pushback by teachers in creating an inclusive classroom is immense; (2) In the case of Word Problems, it makes it all the more difficult for those who use English as a second language, and those native Americans (wink, wink) who are being poorly educated and so are not proficient enough readers to get from Prosody/Fluency to Comprehension (the mind cannot do both at once) to first interpret, then actually answer the Word Problems correctly, so scores do not necessarily reflect Math aptitude, but a slew of other deficiencies in Communication. I think that Tabios’ use of these Word Problems is about the best use of them that I’ve seen in quite some time. The following section of the book is authored by j/j hastain, and is an extension/reply to Tabios’ “ORPHANED ALGEBRA.” Instead of the orphan as the starting point, however, hastain looks at the notions of body [in order to break down the rigid gender split //Male–Female// society now employs], modes of procreation, and, most importantly, Identity. The rest of the book, called “Process,” is a balanced blend of poetry and essay wherein the authors discuss their reasons for, approaches to, and philosophies behind not only this collaboration, but their life’s work. There are sobering statistics on the orphanage self-preserving “system” in our supposedly civilized society [not unlike the military–industrial and pharmaco-medicine complexes that need War and Illness in order to survive—systems that also feed the orphan-making system]. There is also a substantial essay penned by hastain that outlines new ways of looking at Gender, Identity, and the Body. The book closes as it begins—with the prevailing idea in Tabios’ work that “the poet only begins the poem” (p. 81). As did hastain, I have endeavored to extend this book-poem through this essay and I invite you to read the book and extend the poem even further in your own unique way.