Tuesday, May 18, 2010


The Babaylan Conference was so inspiring for Mom that since that weekend, she's been writing memoir-ish stories. In a matter of weeks, she's written enough for a book! And it'll actually be a useful memoir for others outside the family since much of the vignettes have to do with life during World War II, and many of Mom's peers have died or are dying (Mom is 80 years old). I actually already have a publisher for her first short story--fittingly, it will be for OurOwnVoice's special issue on Babaylan Conference Reflections...

Mom actually suffered physically from the prolonged hours spent over the computer writing her memoirs. But it's not unusual for the act of creation to take a toll on the body, the artists' bodies. It'll be worth it, though. Mom agreed with my suggestion to make her book a two-part book. The first part will be her memoirs. The second part will be -- wait for it as it's HISTORIC! -- a reprint of her May 1954 Masters of Arts Degree in English from Silliman University. Mom's thesis was on "The Use of Local Color in Philippine Short Stories in English" -- the first critical study on this topic.

I'm looking at Mom's thesis right now as I type this post--it was approved by the "Graduate Council" chaired at the time by now-Philippine National Artist Edith Tiempo, and Council members were Metta J. Silliman and Philippine National Artist Edilberto Tiempo. (Mom had studied at Silliman University with the Tiempos, but before they set up the writers' program modeled after Iowa University's.) The pages are yellowing...browning....fragile.

It will be great to get this thesis out there!

And here's a picture of my mother Beatriz Tabios reading a copy of THE THORN ROSARY. She happened to be in the kitchen when my copies of the hardback versions were delivered. It's nice to see that she thought my book was worth interrupting her mending of dish towels (grin).

When my father died a few years ago, it was just short of his and Mom's 50th wedding anniversary. It's often said that the first year of widowhood is the most difficult, and for a couple that's been together for so long, it could be even more difficult. In a way, the writing has become a new source of invigoration for Mom, a reason to look forward instead of (what she usually does): look back into her memories.

She looks forward by looking back? Hey -- time just collapsed in that mythic "sacred time and sacred place" where creativity fluorishes! Woot! And it's all because, at the last minute and a tad bored around the house, she decided to attend the Conference with me. She loved it so much she returned for the second-day attendance. And, now, she's pouring out her own contribution to ... Light!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


As I was saying, I've always felt that the Poem is only begun by its author, and that it needs to be completed by its reader or audience. Here's a "videotext" done by someone I don't know but who apparently did it for a class at Skyline College -- now THIS is what I'ma talkin' about when I say I need to see a poem mature beyond my hands--in this case, the poem "No Title Required":

Isn't it gorgeous! Thank you to WHOEVER!

Here's another example of a text-dance done on another poem, "The Secret Life of an Angel" (which in turn had been inspired by Jose Garcia Villa's poem, "Girl Singing"). This is an old poem for me, but I notice the line innit: "...I chant like the Babaylan I will become..." -- Hmmm. Anyway, this was created by London-based Mexican poet Ernesto Priego--muchas gracias!


Okay, so if you want to meet She who inspires the above and you are in New York City this Thursday, please come by the following and let me have you, per the first video above, "quaff some sweet jerez"--I promise that if you do, we'll have a good time without me having to "eat your testicles":


You are all cordially invited to:

Spring Book Launch Party
May 13th, 2010
7:00 PM — 9:00 PM

Celebrating New Titles by Phillip Lopate, Eileen R. Tabios, Sandy McIntosh and Neil de la Flor

Ceres Gallery
547 West 27th, St Suite 201, New York, NY 10001
Phone and fax: 212-947-6100

Wonderful wine and food will be available!

FOR MORE INFORMATION, including directions, please go to the Marsh Hawk Press website HERE.

Friday, May 7, 2010


I thought I had it all figured out, you see, about this Friday's (today's) reading/presentation at Small Press Traffic. For the past couple of weeks, I had planned to present poems contextualized within a discussion of how Western critics have described my work, versus what I feel now to be the more truthful underlying aspect to what I've done as a poet: IKSP (Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices). I thought that a discourse on the Western gaze might be a doorway into SPT's themes of "empires" and "community" which my talk is supposed to address.

But whenever I tried to prepare for it in the last few days, something just didn't feel right. Again, it all just seemed too much about Me, Myself and I. Finally, I got the sign -- an article in Wednesday's New York Times about Russian orphanage life, a matter raised by the prior news of a U.S.-American Mom recently returning her son to Russia where she'd adopted him. Like many who've gone through adoption (especially international adoption or "older" child adoption, both of which I've done), I've not stopped pondering how Torry-Ann Hansen of Tennessee sent her adopted 7-year-old son Artem Saveliev back home to Russia by himself with a note demanding the adoption be annulled.

In fact, as soon as I heard the news last month, I immediately thought to post an article on my other blog, The Blind Chatelaine's Keys, about how wonderfully my son Michael is doing (I adopted Michael from Colombia last year when he was 13; he turned 14 in March and has been in our family now for just over a year). In thinking to do a blog post in response to Torry-Ann Hansen's failed adoption, I had planned to make sure to include key phrases for Googling purposes like "Hansen adoption," "Russian orphan," "international adoption," etc. For I had wanted that blogged article about Michael's successful integration into a new (our) family, new school, new country, new language and so on to be an internet antidote to the coverage of the Hansen family difficulties. Why? Because estimates reach as high as 200 million for orphans worldwide, and the most difficult category for its members to get adopted are "older boys."

"Older", here, can mean four years or older or, for the context of the program I went through to adopt my son, seven years and older. It's horrible -- it's like, in some circles, if a boy gets past seven--or four!--years of age, people give up on them.... Michael was 13 when I adopted him--we were the first ever to express adoption interest in him (he'd already been in an orphanage for about six years); if things had not worked out with the adoption, the odds are that he would have stayed in the orphanage until he aged out of the system.

There clearly is a lot of fear and misconception out there about adopting older children (and specifically older boys), and while I've long blathered as a proud Mama over Michael's achievements since he joined our family, I didn't write the Hansen-reaction post. Because before I successfully adopted my son, I went through earlier attempts to adopt...and failed.

My first failed adoption effort is detailed in a "haybun" entitled "Looking for M." that I wrote on the plane ride from Bogota to San Francisco, published in The Blind Chatelaine's Keys (later reprinted in THE THORN ROSARY). Note what this "blurb" partly says:
“‘Looking for M.' is not just deeply moving but also educational about one of the most complicated difficulties in adoption attempts: reactive attachment disorder. Eileen Tabios reveals her psychic wounds to educate the public about the potentially dire consequences of orphanhood. M.'s story is the story of so many orphans whose interior lives are often invisible. Ms. Tabios gives them a voice through poems I read over and over, saddened that the emotions I feel become physical.”
—Sherrell J. Goolsby, Executive Director of World Child International

I don't know if the Tory-Ann Hansen matter involves a child with reactive attachment disorder, but it's clear that there were attachment problems -- my empathy with any parent in that position prevented me earlier from writing about the Hansen adoption. For while I think the decision to put a 7-year-old on a plane back to another country by himself is majorly knuckle-headed, I also know that most people interested in adoptions are not sufficiently trained or sensitized to deal with many of the issues that accompany children who've spent significant periods of time in institutions. And, it's not unusual in international adoption cases that a child's background may not be fully known or shared with adopting parents. This doesn't mean that older-child adoptions should not occur; the majority of adoptions succeed! -- but it does mean that bureaucracies worldwide involved in finding families for orphans need to do a significantly better job in preparing participants. And those interested in being adoptive parents need to get with the preparation program and not simply believe Love will conquer All.

The preparation of the adopting families is often given short shrift. The formal preparation that I was obliged to do in order to adopt (e.g. ten hours for an internet course) was inadequate. After my failed adoption attempts, I prepared myself -- in part by reading every single adoption related book I could find. That research was critical preparation because, later, when some problems came up that were to be expected of a child with an institutionalized background, our family was prepared to deal with them. The media coverage of the Tory-Ann Hansen failed adoption seems to indicate that the mother was not prepared to address the problems that surfaced.

Regardless of how many adoptions occur, no matter how much attention is raised by celebrities ranging over Angelina Jolie to Sandra Bullock, we are not anywhere near addressing the huge global humanitarian catastrophe posed by neglected orphans. But the answer is not simply placing children in families (though that step already is so difficult). As with many issues, education needs to occur. The complications related to raising formerly institutionalized children does not mean these children are not adoptable and can't thrive in new families. But there is a spectrum of complications with these children, and the more that potential parents are prepared, the more likely the adoption will succeed.

The social effects of neglecting this issue is huge -- one adoption counselor I met during my process said a social worker once told her, "In the orphanages, we are breeding millions of serial murderers." The quote, though perhaps exagerrated bears a kernel of truth: it relates to how some (some not all) children raised without family, raised in institutional settings, sometimes fail to develop their ability to attach to other people which, in turn, can have psychopathic results.

I obviously can't summarize all the issues in this blog post, but I will say that addressing this as part of my SPT reading (partly with readings from "Looking for M.") would seem to be more "moral[ly] imperative" (ref. prior post) than discussing how critics in the past have responded to my poems. As regards community, the plight of orphans requires no less than a global village approach. As regards empire, everything relates to empire; the article on Russian orphanages offers just one deplorable example:
The Russian government spends roughly $3 billion annually on orphanages and similar facilities, creating a system that is an important source of jobs and money on the regional level — and a target for corruption.

As a result, it is in the interests of regional officials to maintain the flow of children to orphanages and then not to let them leave, child welfare experts said. When adoptions are permitted, families, especially foreign families, have to pay large fees and navigate a complex bureaucracy.

“The system has one goal, which is to preserve itself,” said Boris L. Altshuler, chairman of Right of the Child, an advocacy group in Moscow, and a member of a Kremlin advisory group.

“That is why the process of adoption in Russia is like going through the circles of hell,” he said. “The system wants these children to remain orphans.”


Meanwhile, yes -- Google me through these phrases: "adoption", "Hansen adoption," "older child adoption", "Russian orphan," "international adoption," among others. And when you get to this site, let me tell you about my son Michael -- someone who once was considered by some people around him to be "a lost cause":

Adopted at age 13. At the time of his adoption, he was only in 4th grade in an orphanage one-room school situation in Colombia. Six months later, he is slotted into 7th grade (because of his age) in one of California's top public schools. At said excellent public school, he swiftly became honor roll. In less than a year, he is communicating well in English. He's developed into a reader--he reads himself to sleep every night. Last quarter, he received three top-of-his class certificates in addition to his A-average Honor Roll certificate.

In sports, he was on a championship soccer team, as well as does well in other sports new to him, from skiing to tennis to swimming. He also just received an awards certificate in P.E.--he can run a mile in just over six minutes.

His hobbies include building model rockets, photography, drawing (he's an excellent artist), bee-keeping, skateboarding, movies and exploring the night-sky through telescopes.

He knows his manners, is engaged with people, and has developed a witty sense of humor. He loves our two dogs and two cats -- when our cat was injured, he helped take care of her for six weeks so that, by the end of the healing process, the cat (which formerly was too skittish to approach him) was fully bonded with him.

He is sensitive and compassionate--today, he was telling me about seeing a group of drivers from a Ferrari rally, and thinking that those drivers need to have spent all the money acquiring their cars for "better" reasons, like solving the plight of poor people. When he's helped me bring food to the local food pantry, I can see his eyes observing, assessing, and ... caring, even as it also bolsters his fortitude for making something of himself (which he defines for now as attending college).

He wrote his first English-language poem recently and, as I note in my unbiased literary critique (feel free to go to link for the whole thing), "A close reader no doubt would glean the expansiveness of this 14-year-old’s world view—this poem is not written from [just] a personal 'I'."

I could go on. The point is: if you're prepared--and you can be prepared,


I've long felt there were two demographically-created dots that needed more connections: the first is the baby-boom generation which include many who've deferred having children (because of career-concerns), and the second are "older children" (do you really want an infant when you're already hitting age 50?). These are matches waiting to be made--this is a community needing to be expanded. This is Kapwa waiting eagerly to unfold.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Galatea Resurrects, the poetry review journal I edit, is another Kapwa-based project which began long before I focused on the word/concept "Kapwa." To date, and based solely on volunteerism by all participants involved -- and volunteerism is also known as "kusang loob" -- this site has presented 776 new poetry reviews (covering 343 publishers in 17 countries so far) and 64 reprinted reviews (to bring online a variety of reviews previously available only viz print).

The just-released 14th issue also contains my "first in a series of experimental engagements focused on gleaning indigenous Filipino traits in the poetry of Filipino poets located in the diaspora." My inaugural attempt at indigenous literary criticism focuses on three publications:
INSIDES SHE SWALLOWED by Sasha Pimentel Chacon
(West End Press, Albuquerque, NM, 2010)

EASTER SUNDAY by Barbara Jane Reyes
(ypolita press, San Francisco, 2008)

Simon J. Ortiz: A Poetic Legacy of Indigenous Continuance, co-edited by Susan Berry Brill de Ramirez and Evelina Zuni Lucero
(University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM, 2009)

While this version is fine for Galatea Resurrects' purpose, it's a tad rough in places and over time I'll no doubt smoothen such. But what I did like about this article is how it ended--I didn't know how it was going to end, but I just plodded along to see what would happen as I wrote the longish article. And, with the help of the words of Acoma Pueblo poet Simon J. Ortiz, the article ends by noting the "moral imperative" to the making of interconnections:
to hear ..., more deeply, the implied stories of conquest, racism, manifest elitism, and interpersonal isolation

Indigenization requires a lot of work (too much work to be "flakey", in my opinion). To "hear" in the above is to listen but also to act.

And so I was pleased at how this first attempt at an indigenized literary criticism ended up leading me to conclude that the point of the project ultimately is not the resultant essay. It is
something else, a something else that I now realize from writing this review, and without yet knowing its particular manifestations, is simply a better world.


Kapwa as "Shared Life"--including how all species co-exist harmoniously, like kitty Artemis and dawgie Achilles:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


In an earlier post, I talked about returning to my studio, "Babaylan Lodge," after the Babaylan Conference. When I arrived there, I had to look around for a while as I'd forgotten what, over recent years, I'd stored there (until I returned, it was "out of sight, out of mind"). Looking at various spots and items now, I sense that the space had been patiently waiting for my return, patiently because I hadn't been ready at the time the structure was built to be located in it. Here are some interior shots -- some signs:

My computer is positioned in front of a bulletin board. I'm struck now how, directly over my writing computer is a poster featuring an early book launch for the Babaylan anthology--which is to say, Babaylan always kept watch over my writing:

Bulol spirits feed me!

Barbies in search of decolonization. Talk about colonized--Mattel took over a former U.S Military Base in the Philippines to turn it into a factory, in which they made Barbies. I picked up these "Philippine Barbies" for a project exploring (post)colonialism while I was once at Manila Airport. They now grace the fireplace featuring a carved deer because deer a-bounds all over the mountain:

A decolonized Barbie (she's out of her box) sits on the trophy I received for the Manila Circle National Book Award in Poetry for Beyond Life Sentences. When one is decolonized, one enters Poetry. Here's the NBA trophy by Napoleon V. Abueva, considered the "Father of Modern Philippine Sculpture" and the youngest ever to receive the designation of Philippine National Artist. Nearby is a photograph of a Filipina dancer by brilliant photographer Rhett Pascual. You can also see hanging on the far wall a portrait V.C. Igarta did of me when I used to visit him in his New York studio:

In 1999, I'd curated a reading by Filipino poets to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Philippines' declaration of independence from Spanish colonialism. The reading took place at the Puffin Gallery in New York City which, for the occasion, was hung with works by Filipino artists in an exhibit entitled ""The Art of Resistance: Social Realists." I fell in love with this painting by Jose Tence Ruiz (scroll down link for more powerful images!)--the image of a blindfolded angel struggling to rise out of a garbage heap resonates for so many reasons: it's a metaphor for the Philippines' struggle for development...and for a poet's struggle...and for civilization to continue amidst horror....and I can go on and on about this work, but instead will just show the powerful image:

So many items of a past waiting for my return! Like, this wooden statue in front of a notice of a poetry reading I once did in Philadelphia (?) with that most excellent poet Ron Silliman. If I recall correctly, this woman's hair raised upwards into a cone upon learning of a lover's betrayal (?), and I always thought to offer her refuge...:

But of course -- a lady crafted from delicated Philippine shells. Beneath her, a wooden angel from New Mexico, I think, that was gifted by a former yoga teacher...I used to do a lot of yoga, which makes sense, as back in the day I was promiscous about what I let my mind pay attention to--so I think that angel is by some books exploring the philosophy of masochism or some such back-into-concrete idea that I was exploring in poetry...:

From the kitchen and looking out into the primary loft area, one can see the luminous Ganesh (from a trip to India):

A Buddha head in front of the only CD anthology I've ever participated in, this one sponsored by Gargoyle magazine:

This bowed position has always -- still does -- move me. Atop some Nota Bene Eisweins:

I once collaborated with June, a local artist, to create a glass mural of how I reconfigured the myth of Galatea (after whom my home is named). This was one of the paper drafts of the mural that would come to be placed on the wall of the wine cellar:

Birds carved from mushrooms atop bookshelves of books as "inventory" (partly from what I publish through Meritage Press):

The bed doesn't really belong here. We moved in a bed so the lodge could be used as an occasional guest house as I'd not been using the space.

Pressed paper with front drawing created from white correction fluid by brilliant Pinay artist Reanne Estrada:

A wide-angle shot featuring Santiago Bose's drawing on handmade paper atop the front door

A drawing--"Queen Puso" (1993" by Corazon Ugalde-Yellen, a Pinay artist whose work I saw at an exhibit of emerging Filipino artists at the now-defunct Puro Arte Gallery in Los Angeles when I visited there to do a poetry reading. I've always appreciated how she stands in front of what I'd earlier thought of as 'the paradox of a blue but night sky." Now that I've learned about the indigenous "sacred time and sacred place", I realize that there's no paradox at all in that sky--it's just eternal for all time:

Part I is HERE.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Alternative Title: Why I Tear Up Poetry Books!

I've always felt that the Poem is only begun by its author, and that it needs to be completed by its reader or audience. I'm pleased to share the latest incarnation of a completed poem by Cynthia M. Phillips: jewelry!!!! Gal's after my own heart! Here are pics--the first on the kitchen island, next to photos of my beloved cats Artemis and Scarlet:

Second photo of me wearing them as I pick up a bronze figurine that once resided with brilliant poet kari edwards:

Cynthia, the jewelry designer, explains some of the conceptual underpinnings to the purty bracelets--
1) Haiti--red: blood. Green for rebirth and renewal

2) "I consider the woman's choice in liberating / a red dress with pale green sandals" (a line from a poem in Beyond Life Sentences / later in THE THORN ROSARY)

I love it -- am so particularly happy when artists take on some of my poems...Thank you, Cynthia! And I'm cutnpasting below an excerpt from my presentation at the Literature Panel for the Babaylan Conference that relates as well to Cynthia's engagement--

--which also explains why, when I do gigs, I like to rip up my poetry books!!! To wit:

from "Dawac/Action: Babaylan Poetics" (with performance notes for Tearing Up Book!):

In the Philippines’ central Ilocos Sur area where I was born, the Babaylan is known as Man-nawac. “Man-nawac,” from the Itneg language, can be translated as “a healer and caller of spirits.” The Man-nawac heals by invoking the help of the anitos or spirits.

I learned about the Man-nawac from my mother who shared how she, as a child, once witnessed a Man-nawac heal her grandmother. This Man-nawac was also a relative: Apo Ak-kam. In terms of ars poetica, three points reverberated with me from my mother’s account of Apo Ak-kam’s process:

First, the healing process involved the Man-nawac calling to the spirits through statements (“Please come, please come…”) to almost ululating sounds (“woooo…wooo…woooo”). In other words, the Man-nawac does not heal others on her own; she calls to others—she must involve others.

Second, the healing process had to begin on or about high noon. My mother said that noon was the time when the most people in the community would hear the Man-nawac’s calls to the spirits. For me, the significance of noon relates to maximum light and maximum involvement of the community (versus a time like, say, midnight when most people would be asleep).

Third, while the Man-nawac was calling for the spirits to help heal my mother’s grandmother, my mother’s grandfather was on the other side of a curtain where he stood with five beaded strings. Five times, my mother’s grandfather would raise a beaded string over the curtain and each time the Man-nawac would cut off one string, releasing the beads from their tether. By the third time that the Man-nawac cut a beaded string, it was clear that the Man-nawac was “fully possessed” by the spirits….and on through to the cutting of the fifth string. For me, this relates to how, I conceive of a poem’s creation as one where the poet’s role is not to write the poem so much as to be the tool through which a poem is written. The poem writes itself—as Jose Garcia Villa once noted, I believe, about the author’s hands, “The,hands,on,the,piano,are,armless,”. The poem is more than the poet.

As a poet, I call out to you through poems. I don’t consider (my) poems to be art objects—things to be read or looked at from a distance. I offer the poem as an open hand, a space for engagement with others. If no one reaches forth to take my hand, if no one found my poem sufficiently engaging or of interest, then the poem never reached fruition.

And this is why, I approach you now with poems, these from my book Nota Bene Eiswein:

[Tear sheets from Nota Bene Eiswein and hand out to people in audience, explaining...]
1) My poems don’t mature if they remain unread, if no one engages with them….so I give them to you.

2) Note that by tearing out pages, I am destroying a book. Well, yes, the publication is not important….the poem may be what’s printed on the page. But Poetry is not something trapped by a page; it’s an engagement involving others beyond its author.

3) When I give you pages, they may be fragments – incomplete excerpts of poems…that’s fine. A poem is inherently a fragment—it is began by the author, but it can only mature into wholeness if it’s engaged by a reader; an audience.

Poetry is verb. A poem may be words. But Poetry is an act. Poetry is engagement.