“Inspirational Innovation”: A Review of Eileen R. Tabios’ The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku (East Rockaway: Marsh Hawk Press, 2019, ISBN: 978-0-9969911-6-2)
The great white whale for all true Creatives is the alchemical creation of something New. Wholly new. Something Never Before Done.
But, in reality, how many emotional crews and spiritual lower legs have we sacrificed in the pursuit of such seeming folly?
I was recently engaged in a discussion with creative colleagues when the idea that “there is nothing new” left to create came up. For one of us, it was a statement originally made to him some 30 years ago by a professor in the college where he had enrolled.
So—is it true? Outside of deconstructionism and post-postmodernism, aside from homage and pastiche (all four of which are prevalent in my own work), is there anything truly new?
This retrospective collection says yes.
Embracing variations on the haiku and tercet forms while honoring Philippine culture and elements of the Diaspora, Tabios’ Hay(na)ku form has, to put it mildly, caught on with a worldwide community of poets, breeding variations that both honor the form from which they come and the strength of the form itself.
For those new to Tabios’ work (and with her credits tallying 50 collections, visual art, mini-books, websites of reviews and other writings, and 15 anthologies in which she has played a role, who isn’t new to it in some respect?—herself included, as you shall see), this collection offers histories and essays about not only Hay(na)ku but several aspects of this innovative artist’s work.
At this point, I lose count, but I estimate that this is the twelfth or thirteenth review of Tabios’ work that I have undertaken. A great deal of the material in this collection is familiar to me—even more so because Tabios recycles much of her writing using a “poetry generator” and through her experimentation with new and existing forms.
Simply by placing it in a new context, with new divisions and crafted proximities that suit the flow of the work, be it by year or by style, Tabios renders Old now New. In the process, she also illuminates the nigredo from which her poetic alchemy emerges: Life, Death, and Resurrection; Romantic Relationships; Memory (and Forgetting); the artist’s relationship with other artists (including homage, overlap, and subtler inspiration), the aforementioned Philippine Diaspora, and orphans/adoption. One gets that sense that, as free-ranging and transdisciplinary as Tabios is (and she must be to generate so much fresh and innovative text), that she is equally as intimate with these self-same subjects. One can feel the arc of the original inspiration, the spiritual depth-diving with which she engages said subjects to such an extent that the silver thread that holds them is taut enough to pluck and hear the tone as though it were the Music of the Spheres manifestly made.
So make no mistake—Tabios is not innovating and recycling to mask a lack of writing power. Take this tercet, from “listening to what woke me”:
in the city, as summer evaporates off the streets
the stilled, sharp blades of a three-pronged fan
behind the curve of its grated metal mask (27)
Hear the music?
Although Tabios does not write exclusively for those who might be disparagingly called “hyper-intellectuals,” being well read and culturally adept has its added rewards when engaging with her work. Not only does she riff on and take as the jumping-off point an impressive myriad of source material, she clearly loves to
play frolic with language. Take
“Adjectives From The Last Time They Met,” where the conceit is a cornucopian
panoply of words like “taphophobia,” “hastilude,” “sternutation,” “argy-bargy,”
“nictitating,” “xanthic, ” “cyanic,” and “nugatory” (Microsoft Word recognizes
less than half of them… Shame on you, B. Gates…)
In the section devoted to the history and form of the Hay(na)ku, my favorite expression of it is the method of using 3 words, then 2, then 1. It is elegant, both visually and in the way it reinforces the reductionism of the form itself. Here is an example, from “The Singer”:
When they heard
the whips over
they were forced
Deriving from and building on the Hay(na)ku is a form called Haybun. The selections here are from 147 Million Orphans. Haybun takes a Hay(na)ku tercet as its start, followed by a prose poem. Although not all verse poets are adept at doing prose, Tabios’s prose poems hold a depth and artistry begging slow, multiple reads.
Next in the collection is a section on the Murder, Death, Resurrection (MDR) poetry generator. Now, this may not be strictly new—Burroughs and Gysin get credit for pioneering “cut-up” poetry, and everyone from David Bowie to yours truly have used it in some way, shape, or form. But Tabios, ever the innovator, has, in one iteration of this exploration, taken 1,167 lines from 27 collections and arranged them in tercets, starting each with “I Forgot,” an homage to Tom Beckett’s poem. The result is a masterful journey through memory. As with Burroughs, Gysin, and the rest, the process yields nothing less than a new reality. Words as spells, as they were meant to be, with adjusted frequencies that change the elements around them.
I could go on, but I think it’s time for the reviewer to stop and your role as reader to begin.
One last thing… to me, the most important (and perhaps to Tabios too): Be Inspired. Stay open. Don’t be passive. Find your own forms. Riff on Tabios’. Take some of your writing—even grocery lists will work—and see
What you can
Popular posts from this blog
“On the Importance of Dreaming”: A Review of Dreamy Days and Random Naps by Mawson/Mark O’Dwyer (Publisher Obscura, 2020, www.publisherobscura.com ), ISBN: 978-1922311139 Comprising heartwarming photos of stuffed bears, costumed and posed with fun props and interesting, engaging sets, Dreamy Days and Random Naps recalls the wisdom of JRR Tolkien and Maurice Sendak, who said that they did not write books for children—it was the publisher and others who said they did. While visually appropriate for children as young as three or four (and, having raised children of my own, that is an interesting time when it comes to the politics of napping), the deep wisdom of this book will be appealing to parents, grandparents, teachers, and others who need a reminder that dreaming and imagination are, as Albert Einstein said, more important than intelligence. Not that Mawson the bear and his friends are in any way UN-intelligent. Although ready comparisons can be made to the giants of litera
“Hardboiled History”: A Review of Shamus Dust: Hard Winter, Cold War, Cool Murder, by Janet Roger (Leicestershire, UK: Matador, an imprint of Troubador Publishing, 2019). ISBN: 9781838599867
Somewhere between the fast-paced action of a 1940s noir and detailed, methodical read-by-the-fire novel, Shamus Dust is a well-researched, engaging exploration of London post–World War II (when “eggs were powder, bread was on ration, and bacon wasn’t even a rumor”), where the bombings and disruptions of the war have opened the gates to all manner of subterfuge and cash-grabs. According to her biography, Janet Roger cut her thriller and mystery teeth on Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and it definitely shows. But, as I said, this is more than just a trope-filled whodunit, although fans of the genre—myself included—will not be disappointed. If you are familiar with Hugh Laurie’s The Gun Seller, it has the very same layer of intelligence. As a writer of historical novels who loves to do research and create highly detailed descriptions of the worlds in which they happen, as well as a playwright who has penned two audience-chooses-the-endings murder mystery musicals and an Escape Room ba
“Pay Attention: This Could Happen”: A Review of Court of the Grandchildren by Michael Muntisov and Greg Finlayson
(Odyssey Books, 2021). ISBN: 978-1922311153 What a fifteen-month journey it’s been. I have detailed the sociopolitical dog and pony show and all its many components in recent reviews of books about a dystopian future, so I won’t take the space to reiterate them here. Unless you are living in a cave at the top of some mountain—which would make it impossible to read this review—you know what they are. As I wrote in those reviews, what seemed before March 2020 to be distant, to be able to be pushed away with a bit of Hope and dash of Belief that Humankind can get its act together, is closer than ever. This, in turn, means that dystopian writers—at least the talented ones—are giving us a handbook, a not-so-distant early warning, about what is almost assuredly to come. Court of the Grandchildren certainly meets these criteria. Well written, with a variety of modes of information delivery that made it an excellent candidate for a stage play (which the authors took advantage of with a vi