Thursday, May 9, 2013


My newest book, THE AWAKENING: A Long Poem Triptych & A Poetics Fragment (theenk Books, Palmyra, NY, 2013) includes an updated version of my essay on “Babaylan Poetics” which I first posted on this blog. To encourage your interest in this book, I’m pleased to share a rather mischievous review written by Kansas-based poet-editor-critic-old coot-animal lover jim mccrary. Here is his review below, which also refers to the brilliant painting I use on the book cover by Fil-Am artist jenifer wofford; jenifer’s painting riffs off of the iconic photograph of General MacArthur’s beach landing on Leyte as he “returns” to the Philippines:

Revooooo by jim mccrary:

The Awakening by Eileen Taboos [sic] is a joy. But first, here is a tale. One of my earliest childhood memories is that of being lifted up onto my father’s shoulders on a crowded street in downtown Chicago in order to “see” General MacArthur pass by in a motorcade. To my father this guy was a big hero who had been badly mistreated in some way by some in power. So….I got the cover image on Eileen’s book because I had seen the original image of MacArthur returning to the Philippines growing in a Chicago suburb in the 1950’s.. Again and again. But don’t ask me the details because I am not much for history and have no idea what the beef was between whoever or what “post liberation” affect was felt on the country being “liberated”. Here is the deal for me, just me. If I had to depend on my knowledge of history to read poetry I would be screwed….ignorant and illiterate. Maybe I am. But that does not, in anyway, lesson the wicked pleasure I receive from reading E. Tabios’s poetry. It just flat knocks me out. Then I wake up and wonder….what was that? And why does my gut hurt…oh right…I was laughing so hard. Or not. And I do know that there is more in all of this, right down thru every line and word and sub-text. I know that this is not just a crazy lady on a big mountain fiddling around with words (isn’t it?)

What ‘gets’ me about her writing is just that bit of getting a reader like me into something as funny as “a séance with William Carlos Williams…” (the first of four sections in this book) knowing also that the twist and turn of the work as it unfolds will sometimes become upended until that poem crashes and bashes through some astounded stuff, some erotic stuff, some his (herstoric) (hersteric) stuff and finally, for me, seems like relief or just plain losing it…the poem ends with a manic repetition of the word “periwinkle”…and why not. Jeez.

The second section titled: 9/11 my forty second birthday…” freaks me out because I was born on 9/10/ummm whatever. So we share, sorta that deal of being conflicted with celebrating a birthday and an ugly day in modern history. It was something to remember that coincident. And Eileen does remember that day in her way…which is usually unique and unabashed simple recording the emails she sent and received across the hours and days following events in NYC. Too me the reading is a window into how a group of loved one and friends “reads” events unfolding before them…the grace and pain and, as ever with Tabios, the poetics of all life surrounding her. What it always comes back too…and for us, the reader, her ability to describe events thru something as un-poetic as email.

The third section of the book is: “The Awakening Of A.” This, again, finds Tabios in her groove and I suddenly feel silly using that phrase before speaking about this poem. But I don’t know how else to do it and apologize if it is desensitive. For this poem, like the previous, is death too. The camps is where it comes from….and you know what that is. A camp….today….Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan, Thailand, Semolina and on and on. Past and present. Here too. Back then. Again, Tabios chooses her way and this time it is HER way, her invention of form called hay (na) ku which is a mini three stanza 6 word ….well…poetics. The striking part of this text is how such simplistic form can carry and relate such incredible weight of experience for one to “visit” and “move among” the people (women) in the camps. To focus on, as instance, menstruation…as image as example as experience… such basis can be imagined in some un imaginable environments. Only, and I say this knowing it is meaningless, a poet of otherworldly talents could do what has been done here. I bow in tears falling. Ms. Tabios might disagree somewhat and that’s okay with me………….I know…I know.

This book ends with a prose excerpt from "Babylon [sic] Poetics," a talk Tabios gave as part of a panel in San Francisco about the “avant garde”. I am happy that Tabios and Mr. Tills agreed to include this in the publication called The Awakening. It is a swell passage and explains in her words and feelings what it is she is doing with her poetics. Nicely done it is too. Sorry I missed that panel discussion at Small Press Traffic in San Francisco. But here is a bit of it to close up a really great book. You should track it down….trap it.

Thanks jimbo! And now I'm pleased to share a photo of jim's cat Iris who apparently likes to sleep and purr on moi book! THE AWAKENING, by the way, is available on Amazon or through the publisher theenk books.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


I presented at a panel, "Bay Area APIA Poets and Avant Garde", in San Francisco on December 18, 2011, sponsored by Small Press Traffic. Other panelists were Jai Arun Ravine, Margaret Rhee, Truong Tran, and Jean Vengua, with moderator Barbara Jane Reyes. I present my presentation notes below, as its point of view is a manifestation of "Babaylan Poetics."

APIA AVANT GARDE, Small Press Traffic, Dec 2011

I’m a poet who tries never to challenge what others say about my work. Some have criticized my poems. Some have loved my poems. Some have called it Filipino art. Some have called it insufficiently Filipino because I’m presumably a “Language poet.”* Some have called them “avant garde.” My official response? No comment. But I can share my discomfort with the topic at hand: avant garde. You see, I, among other things, do traffic in capitalist kitsch and mass culture. After all, I’m buying presents to place under so called “Christmas trees”—so-called because they’re also known as Hannukah bushes in my household. I’m not really making a joke. Do note my flexibility in accepting the term, Hannukah Bush. You see, I’m generally uncomfortable with the term “avant garde” because it is also a notion of separation, whether it’s separation from a particular type of politics, aesthetics or culture.

I am equally uncomfortable by instances where the term has evolved to focus more on aesthetic attempts to widen the outer limit of the artistic form. I note this as an aside today because the matter is an extra complication when considering Asian or Asian American work because we're tossing in there that which may be called "ethnic". In the past I have read elliptical poetry that doesn't seem particularly innovative but is deemed innovative when there's an ethnic marker popping up in its lines. Because it may be that touch of exotica to a reader uninitiated about Asian culture that, for them, renders the poem "new."

As a Filipino, including Filipino-American, poet, I come from a background—and thus write from a background—where colonialism has intruded and in some quarters continue to intrude. When I try to write from—and I do wish to write from—a more archetypal space than what's defined through a post-colonial lens, I remember this beloved image—an image from so-called indigenous or pre-colonial Philippine times. It's of a human standing with a hand lifted upwards such that if you happened to be at a certain distance and were to take a snapshot, it would look like the human was touching the sky.

That is the moment, the space, from which I attempt to create poems. In the indigenous myth, the human, by being rooted onto the planet but also touching the sky, is connected to everything in the universe and across all time, including that the human is rooted to the past and future—indeed, there is no unfolding of time. In that moment, all of existence—past, present and future—has coalesced into a singular moment, a single gem with an infinite expanse. In that moment, were I that human, I am connected to everything so that there is nothing or no one I do not know. I am everyone and everything, and everything and everyone is me. In that moment, to paraphrase something I once I heard from some German or Star Trek, “No one or nothing is alien to me.”

On the other hand, I think of how the avant garde, by fulfilling its role of critiquing something be it cultural or political, is inherently pushing for separation, or rather separations. In the avant garde, don’t you leave something behind for something else?


As regards poetry, I don't believe it's the poet's role to say whether a poem succeeded—and I believe this because I believe a poet only begins the poem and it's the audience or reader that completes it. So I wouldn’t want to advocate which of my poems, if any, have been successfully created from the archetypal space I described. Instead, I'd like to present an artwork by someone else that I believe fits my notion of what is avant garde: the Filipino American artist jenifer k. wofford. I believe her approach in some of her work is related to mine in poetry. An example is her “MacArthur Nurses” painting or series which take off from the iconic image of General Douglas MacArthur and other soldiers wading onto Philippine shores during World War II.

This is MacArthur landing on Leyte on Oct. 20, 1944, thus fulfilling a promise he had made 2.5 years earlier to the people of the Philippines to return: he returned with an enormous invasion force and the largest assemblage of naval vessels in the history of mankind. For MacArthur, the liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese was the culmination of the war. jenifer k. wofford took that image and reconstituted it into new paintings.

She replaced the figures of MacArthur and others who accompanied them back to the Philippines with Filipino nurses. The artist says the nurses could be conquering some new land or returning to their homes after many years—the fact that one image could capture both ends of the diaspora, which of course is the reality for many Filipinos, is brilliant. But I read this image further as autobiographical. jenifer k. wofford isn’t a nurse but the Filipina nurse is really among those in the front lines—the metaphorical avant garde—of the contemporary Filipino diaspora.

So the iconic image of MacArthur's return is not new. But wofford renewed it into her own. The evocation of departure and return is no longer that of an American general but of the diasporic citizenry in which there resides in many places, many individuals, a longing to return. My own family is filled with examples of people who’ve immigrated overseas for jobs, only to retire back to the Philippines as soon as they are able. It's an image that resonates, and certainly among Filipinos such that the Filipino overseas worker has been transcended individually into a so-called "national hero" in the Philippines, much in the same way that the new TIME magazine cover calls "The Protester" its TIME Person of the Year. jenifer k. wofford presents herself by presenting, not the individual let alone her individual self, but by presenting the many.

And no doubt about it: this work is adamantly avant garde by long-held tenets of avant gardism—it is a critique of the corruption and ineffective political strategy in the Philippines that forces the country to send its people overseas for work. Also a critique of the culture—whether you call it tribal or paternal—that makes corruption the state of play in terms of allocating resources to the country’s development. Also a critique of globalism and its many dark corners: from abused mail order brides to poorly paid workers to actual domestic slavery in some quarters…and so on.

Just as jenifer k. wofford did not effectuate such a moving work in isolation, I attempt new poems mired in the socio-political, which means inherently the autobiographical self. I’ll note some techniques I’ve used that overlap with some approaches used by some poets who’ve been called avant garde. These would be collage, the use of found material, the reliance on the materiality of language and last but not least abstraction. But I don’t use these techniques to get away from the self, my self (which some poets have said as a motivation). I use these techniques to include others (for example, others’ texts). And as regards abstraction, I don’t use that technique to say nothing autobiographical; I use it to listen to others. That is, if others interpret my abstract poems in the way a viewer may interpret an abstract painting, there is content coming from another person and my job as poet is to listen after I’ve provided the microphone. I am there, listening.

My avant garde self, in other words, is not a singular “me” or a self that fluctuates in identity. (When I was more active as an Asian American cultural activist, I remember the phrase often banded about: The fluctuating versus fixed self –I’ve used that, too, when forced to describe my work but I’m belatedly realizing it’s a reductive description. My self is an “ourselves.”) It is ourselves. This “ourselves” may empathize with many goals of the avant garde, but doesn’t separate from what is being critiqued. What evokes the protest is also part of that all-encompassing indigenous timeless space of human rooted to both planet and sky, thus being at one with the universe across all time. If I am an avant garde poet, it’s not because “I” am avant garde. It would be because we, all of us, are. This We, that is holding my hand writing the poem.

Footnote *: This is
also a misunderstanding of Language Poetry, a poetics I happen to much admire. But I wasn't insulted by the charge (because I admire those Langpos). I did lose ten pounds laughing about the "charge," however. As I was a tad overweight from all those Napa Valley wines, I appreciated the moment...

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Well if there's ever a project I'd consider to be the perfect manifestation of "Babaylan Poetics", it'd be POETS ON ADOPTION. You are invited to peruse the offerings there where, as I describe:
Poetry: it inevitably relates to -- among others -- identity, history, culture, class, race, community, economics, politics, power, loss, health, desire, regret, language, form and genre disruption, love ... as well as the absences thereofs. The same may be said about Adoption.

As probably a minor aside, what I like about doing projects like POETS ON ADOPTION is that it cuts across schools, cliques, styles within the poetry world--an example of bringing together certain people who otherwise might not get together. So, POA's inaugural issue brings together various poetry styles from, say, flarf to storytelling to elliptics to lyric to abstract-fragmentation ... I mean, instead of preaching to your choir you should expand the numbers in said choir! The resulting song, to continue torturing this clichetic metaphor, might be more interesting.

Moi is ever here to bring you all together into one big RAINBOW. Without, hopefully, being rained upon...

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Last night we celebrated Mom's 81st birthday by going to Go Fish Restaurant. Here she is with Michael, holding up one of her presents, Virgil Mayor Apostol's Way of the Ancient Healer:

Here's a review of Virgil's wonderful book by Leny over HERE!

Friday, November 5, 2010


THIS is an example of "Babaylan Poetics" -- like the best of poetry, it's a verb not a noun.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


there was BABAYLAN POETICS. Here's a new Babaylan video featuring timeless intellectual Leny M. Strobel. What's interesting, among many things, is how the video opens. It features Virgil Mayor Apostol (of the infamous FART) opening up one of the events during the Babaylan Conference a few months ago. Specifically, he is talking in Ilokano, saying "Bari, bari" which can be literally translated as "Go away."

But it's not an aggressive order for anyone to move away. The chant is more of a charm to drive away unwanted spirits, while allowing benevolent ones to remain. As Virgil explained to me, "This goes back to how our ancestors feared the malevolent spirits, thus much prayers and offerings going to them, rather than the good ones since they did no harm. Therefore, the focus on the chant for the opening is for the purification of the space, and everyone within."

Virgil adds, "The burning of anglem (cloth incense) is universal in northern Luzon, and used for various circumstances from the birth of a child, illness, to the death of an individual. With its inclusion in the opening ceremony, its purpose is to drive away these malevolent spirits."

Very interesting, and a helpful explanation to me since, when I first heard of the literal translation, I was struck by its use. That is, since the Babaylan is about community and inclusiveness, I found it interesting that this "Go away" is the opening. Mom said that the chant also refers to how, as we walk the earth, we are telling the spirits to move away so that we do not inadvertently step on them or otherwise harm them with our movements.

In the video opening, Virgil also goes on to say to the spirits, "We do not want anything from you..." I like that! My initial reaction was: Well, how's that for anti-colonialism!

These chants go ... deep (grin).

You know, ever since the Babaylan conference at Sonoma, I'd be walking about Galatea's mountain chanting, "Bari, Bari..."

Mom used to shush Moi, saying I'd actually bring the spirits here. Thing is, those spirits never left Moi. Blood memory and all that. Wink.

Friday, October 8, 2010


I am so grateful to Leny M. Strobel for her engagement with my book THE THORN ROSARY in the new issue of Moria Poetry! Here is an excerpt--though you can see entire review HERE:
Once upon a time the eyewitness to the rituals of a Babaylan (; told of her altered states of consciousness when she did her healing, her communing with the spirits. They didn’t understand her language but they accepted the efficacy of her relationship with the spirit world. They trusted her. They knew she had access to this world. (Why else did the Spanish friars in the 15th century embark on the project of exterminating these Babaylans?). [3]

Does a poet like Eileen also perform, symbolically, the role of a Babaylan? If the Babaylan is able to ferry a person in-between worlds, or is able to summon a wandering soul back to the body, or plead with the spirits to be kind and generous, or negotiate a propitiation—can a Babaylan-inspired poet do the same?

Sometimes reading poetry, for me, is learning how to dive for one’s own meaning. In diving one learns, senses, embodies. This I have learned from my engagement with Eileen’s body of work over the past decade. [4]

If according to Archbishop Fulton Sheen, The Rosary is “a meditation for the blind, the simple, the aged.” is it then possible that the The Thorn Rosary is that which pricks the meditation in order to return us to our own bodies? Our bodies that aren’t blind, not simple, not aged.

Isn’t this the work of babaylan poetics—to walk the angel back into its body in unborrowed light. Eileen creates her own light, a luminosity that is also sorrowful, joyful, glorious…the light is unborrowed because it has already taken upon itself all that there is—the world into the poem. It doesn’t ask for a return, only an invitation to dance. The dance of the babaylan.

Isn’t this what the babaylan does? She dances. In wholeness. In ecstasy. A body out of time and space. And when she doesn’t literally dance, she writes Poems that dance. The Poem, like this one, takes your hand and leads your sensuous mind, this mind that descends into the body to become whole and sacred:

—after “on God (en Garde)” by Archie Rand

The farmers are monitoring the sky. Rain dilutes sweetness in the grapes. Knuckles knot into themselves, mimic the knees of hundred-year-old grapevines. The cabernet hang like purple testicles. I am always fingering a bunch. Sometimes I pinch off a globe, split its skin before my lips and suck at its membrane. The farmers measure brix mathematically. I want my body to determine truth like Cezanne painted rocks instead of images. When I see the winged shadow glide over the fruit-laden fields of September’s wine country, I know better than to question how my body doubles over. How my mouth gasps. I feel blood flowing out of a creature, somewhere, felled on its path. Its last vision will be a vulture’s open beak. Sweetness, let the harvest begin under the most livid sun. “Sweetness” —perhaps I mean You, dear “God.” Lord, I am praying for life and living—I am making poems. (161)

Hail Mary, mother of Eileen. Blessed are we and blessed are the fruits of our wombs….

Thank you, Leny. I appreciate this Babaylan-ic perspective for reviewing my newest book. It's a unique gift!