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Review of Eileen R. Tabios’ Footnotes to Algebra: Uncollected Poems 1995-2009 By Thomas Fink

 

Review of Eileen R. Tabios’ Footnotes to Algebra: Uncollected Poems 1995-2009

By Thomas Fink

Footnotes to Algebra by Eileen R. Tabios
Every poem and every collection of an author can be seen as a Footnote to Algebra, gesturing toward the elusive algebraic equation that could somehow represent the totality of a poet’s oeuvre. However, Eileen R. Tabios has a more intricate explanation in her blog, The Blind Chatelaine’s Keys, on Aug. 14, 2009 as she discusses Footnotes to Algebra: Uncollected Poems 1995-2009 (Kenmore, NY: BlazeVOX Books, 2009):

To collect a bunch of uncollected poems is, in a manner of speaking, another test of whether a poet has, as a saying might say, done it right. Does a collection hold together under the random manner in which it was formed? I always suspected that if Poetry is inherently a matter of interconnections (what we Pinoys also call pakikiramdam and what I lately have been calling algebraic as a result of three months of tutoring a 13-year-old boy in four years worth of math), such a book can hold together—also recall Gertrude Stein’s observation (I paraphrase) about how a word arbitrarily placed next to another word will rub together for some unexpected frisson if not generate some meaning. Many poets have written under such an inspiration—it’s not that ambitious, I thought, to create a book on that basis, too.

What the poet does not tell us is that there are section-headings, and these signposts not only echo concerns in Tabios’ earlier work but create—as Charles Bernstein characterized his 2001 book, With Strings—a “modular structure,” in which “a string of interchanging parts” inform “the book as a whole”: “Political, social, ethical, and textual investigations intermingle, presenting a linguistic echo chamber in which themes, moods, and perceptions are permuted, modulated, reverberated, and further extended” (131). While the first section, “New Poems,” which I take to mean poems that have not appeared in magazines, is an arbitrary ordering device, the next two sections, “Triptych for Philip” [Lamantia] and “Chant for Kari” [Edwards], are elegies for poet-friends, and other parts involve postcolonial (or in Tabios’ formulation, transcolonial) thinking (“A Filipino Accent”), poetry involving wine (“Wine Country Honeymoon”), poetry taking its beginning intention from visual art (“Ekphrasis”), and a lyrical series inspired by the work of Jose Garcia Villa (“Girl, Singing”). Yes, “poetry” may be “inherently a matter of interconnections,” but the principle of “a word arbitrarily place next to another” is not going to guarantee the collection of generative interconnections; the poet needs to have written the poems carefully and then to have thought vigorously enough to establish effective groupings. And she did.

Read the whole review here 

Check out Footnotes to Algebra Here 

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