Thursday, May 28, 2015

“Re-Use and Remember”: A Review of Eileen Tabios’ I Forgot Light Burns

(Chicago: Moria Books,, 2015), ISBN: 9780991212132

This month marks 10 years since I wrote my first book review. In that time, I have had the opportunity to review multiple books by the same author (in several cases, different books from a continuous series, but not always). Of the 110 reviews that I have done, there are half a dozen reviews of books that Eileen Tabios has either written or edited. This has been an easy decision to make, because no two are the same. Tabios is not only a talented wordsmith, and visual artist of language—she truly is an innovator. She invented a style of poetry called the Hay(na)ku, which numerous authors have adopted. She writes poems that pull in visual and literary art, music and dance, and that employ an impressive array of styles. She can go from dense prose poems that fill page after page with compact images and historical/literary references to very brief forms.

Some months ago, I reviewed Tabios’s Sun Stigmata (2014), which was a reworking of the prose poems of her Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole (2002) as “written-sculpted” poems; she likened the process in her Preface to a sculptor releasing the image from a block of stone, echoing Michelangelo.

In her latest collection, I Forgot Light Burns, she is again using previous works by creating lines from reading through her first 27 poetry collections. In the “Afterword” she writes, “My recent work, ‘Murder, Death, and Resurrection’ (MDR), includes a … Poetry Generator [which] contains a data base of 1,146 lines which can be combined randomly to make a large number of poems.” I Forgot Light Burns was created from this method.  Each line begins with the phrase “I forgot” which was inspired by a Tom Beckett poem that began in the same manner (this is the multi-level genius operating behind Tabios’s work: in this case, reconstituted poems from her work, with the framework re-purposed from someone else’s approach as well as hers. As regards the latter, the framework also reflects her interest in cubism where images are fractured and still retain validity).

Poets have been either continually revising their poems (e.g., Whitman’s Leaves of Grass) or taking found texts, etc. to create works for a long time now (e.g.,  Burroughs and Gysin’s cut-up technique; note that Gysin was a painter). I’ve used old, unpublished poems of mine to create Mind Maps, a combination of phrases and images thematically linked on a page, and have turned some of my prose works into poems and poems into prose.

The result of Tabios’s approach in I Forgot Light Burns is akin to a series of sutras—of gemlike word-meditations with endless facets, meditations on color and sound and humanity. Sometimes concrete, oftentimes abstract. The following have been chosen to show the variations in effect:

“I forgot Red of cantaor’s voice becoming rusty nail pulling out of old board.” (1)

“I forgot how quickly civilization can disappear, as swiftly as the shoreline from an oil spill birthed from a twist of the wrist by a drunk vomiting over the helm—” (7)

“I forgot how gemstones can gasp—” (8)

“I forgot the revolt of the minor key—” (30)

“I forgot the mother snapped the umbilical cord with her teeth, strapped the newborn to her back, then picked up the scythe—” (31)

“I forgot I wanted to make memories, not simply press petals between pages of expendable books—” (42)

I Forgot Light Burns creates the kind of feedback loop between author and audience that I have found to be one of the bedrocks of Tabios’s work. It invites numerous textual and visual readings, and a meditation on the nature of what it means to forget. And to remember. And to reconsider the role poetry and poetics plays in the creative process.

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