“Sumptuous Sculpture”: A Review of Eileen Tabios’ Sun Stigmata

(Marsh Hawk Press, www.marshhawkpress.org, 2002)

In 2009 I reviewed Eileen Tabios’ Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole (2002, Marsh Hawk Press; http://newmysticsreviews.blogspot.com/2009/01/poetic-meditation-review-of-eileen.html). I encourage the reader to take a few moments to read that review, because what follows, including a reconstitution of that review as a poem, proceeds directly from where it ends.

Always pushing boundaries, Tabios, after 12 years, took the prose poems from Reproductions and reworked them as “written-sculpted” poems, likening the process in her Preface to a sculptor releasing the image from a block of stone.

While the prose poems in Reproductions employed mainly painting metaphors, this re-constituted collection brings in music, dancing, architecture, writing, and, of course, sculpture.

Revisiting and reworking one’s work is not without precedent. Poets such as Walt Whitman and novelists such as F. Paul Wilson have made edits and updates to their work over time, and I experimented for over a decade with electronic publishing of a “liquid morphing novel,” periodically adding, subtracting, and updating the content of the chapters until the book was published in 2012 (the previous versions of the chapters are archived online). Tabios says, of her own process, “I often do not recognize who then was the poet who wrote those poems” and “When it comes to poetry, I don’t want to know myself as a fixed identity” (Preface, p. 11)

Sun Stigmata is laid out much like its parent, with similar sections and the use of quotes from various types of artists. And the condition of the artist and one’s Identity (geographically, sexually, psychologically) are key subjects in the considerable volume of work Tabios has created. In “(Come Knocking” she asks, “What is the surface of reality?/With what are we grappling/when we are dreaming?” (p. 26)

Another thread I have followed through Tabios’ publications has been the dynamic tension between affluence (banking and finance, pearls and furs and gems judged upon their hardness) and Diaspora, orphans, and despair and challenge tied to place. The poems of Sun Stigmata bring these subjects forth with a tangible power. It is up to the reader to find unity in disparity; to be the catalyst in an alchemical transaction (a hieros gamos) that rises beyond Reality into the etheric realms where the nigredo of our art is born(e).

For those who have not read or do not have access to Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole, there is a prose poem in the Afterword that one can use to compare the “original” to its “written-sculptured” expression. There is then an invitation: “maybe my prose poems (or yours!) can source some of your own sculpted poems. If so, feel free to share your efforts with me at GalateaTEN@aol.com.”

When the book first arrived I was immediately struck by the vibrantly colored cover. There is a 7-page exploration of artist Emmy Catedral’s work and philosophy included that is well worth reading. Like Tabios, she is sculpting art from re-purposed materials: in her case, yellow legal pads.

Ending Sun Stigmata is an extended poem constructed from snippets of reviews taken from Galatea Resurrects (A Poetry Engagment)—another example of ways to sculpt. A well-done review is a work of art in and of itself, as this section of the book capably demonstrates. (At least in my opinion—one could debate standards of objectivity in critique, but this isn’t journalism, it’s an extension of the art. And I’ve always admired Hunter S. Thompson and Sebastian Junger…)

“(Poetic Meditation” [based on my review of Reproductions…, 2009]

A reproduction
of a Reproduction
needn’t be Baudrillardian simulacra

Tabios is proof
that one need not be
just one thing
within a space
within a place
within a time

New-found, always,
The ways of what we write.

A subtle cinematography—
A filmic flow of words.

Triumphant in triumvirate—
Poetry, Painting, Place.

Visiting “My Greece,”
“Returning the Borrowed Tongue”
Turning in its tablature
a “Triptych for Anne Truitt.”

Take the words of Others—
A quorum of quotes
from painters and philosophers
and mate them with your own

This is art created [mated]
in a laboratory of Logos, liquid

Pouring paint upon the canvas—
[words upon a page].
Never hellishly haphazard
(no matter how it seems)
Put effort into optics
so clearly can be seen:
Setting, Texture, Tone. Technique.

Nothing ever finished—
Like a sculpture made of water
Like a song without caesura
Infinite in coda
Poems ever onward
(They don’t tell us when they cease)

“Respect”: A letter found on a tourist-town sandstrip
in desolate mid-Winter—
Protruding from a can
in the alley-lit lights
on the night you closed the bar

Have you ever driven through
New Hampshire
and fully felt the forest
like a painting from Cezanne?

Why not wonder why you didn’t
stop to drink it in?

Pirsig, in his Zen-ness
said it’s more TV—
Those mise-en-scenes from auto windows
seen but still Unseen

Read and read and written in,
The book is fin’lly closed.

Prick your thumb
On “Rose and Thorn”
From blood, new poesy flows.

[And from that flow,
new flow,           



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