Thursday, September 27, 2007

Eileen R. Tabios' latest book......

I'm always pleased when Eileen Tabios sends me her latest book for review. Her range as a poet is amazing, everything from free form to experimental, poignantly expressive to humorous. Always, her work is imaginative and thought provoking. This latest book is vintage Tabios, with the added treat of stunning prose as a bonus. Tabios has gained a huge internet following through blogger. You'll find her hanging out at

The Light Sang as it Left Your Eyes
Our Autobiography
By Eileen R. Tabios
ISBN 978-0-9792416-2-8
366 pages at 19.95 paperback
Marsh Hawk Press
P.O. Box 206
East Rockaway NY 11518

Eileen R. Tabios is one of the best avant garde and experimental poets alive today. Her poetic explorations -- scumbling, ekphrasis, Hay(na)Ku -- demonstrate a zest for words and meanings as she shapes poems that reflect her world. Black sorrows, bright hopes, harsh injustices, a poisoned environment, new poetic forms, and boundless love share equal time on each skillfully crafted page published. In this latest book, Tabios proves that she has mastered prose equal to her exceptional poetry.

In April, 2006, Eileen Tabios’ father died. Filamore B. Tabios, Sr. had fled the Philippines with his family when Ferdinand Marcos came to power. He was an old world father, patriarchal and strong-willed in his dealings with an equally strong-willed daughter. In this book, as she spends time in the hospital at her dying father’s bedside, the boundaries and divisions between them soften. The journal she shares in this book is a remarkable psalm to life. Consider this excerpt from the opening poem -- “Sentences” -- to understand the poet’s heart:

The same book you read to excavate me is a fiction I sculpted to soften
my marble core, as if -- and I still don’t know -- words can save me from

The same poem you are feeling your way through is a thin, blue vein dug
out from beneath my flesh for the color of a sky breaking into scarlet to
set words afire.

Somehow, those dying days in April clarify the poet’s vision and understanding. She makes sense out of her sorrow by identifying with Marcos’ daughter, Imee. In “What Can a Daughter Say?”, Eileen Tabios acts as surrogate for Imee Marcos and both daughters learn what their fathers were, and were not:

The palace of one’s childhood
-- for even those who could afford
the bricks to obviate metaphor --
is usually constructed from memory.

Ms. Tabios and her peers have perfected the art of Hay(na)Ku, a poem comprised of six words and three lines. Tabios edits and writes, writes and edits as she struggles through the reality of losing her father to cancer:

The poem cannot
be pure.

never travels unimpeded
by anonymous

Her father‘s dying does not soften Eileen Tabios‘ reflections on injustice. “April in Los Angeles” is a 120 verse contemplation on love, grief, horror, exhaustion and regret that zeroes in on the cost cutting cruelty practiced by modern hospitals. Tabios fans will discover that sorrow has neither blurred her outlook on world politics or injustice, nor smothered her passionate love of friends, family, and literary excellence. This autobiography in poetry and prose is typical Tabios -- intensely personal yet international in flavor -- with translations by and collaborations with her peers from other lands. Highly recommended.

Review by Laurel Johnson for Midwest Book Review

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

a series begins about books and writers.......

As a book reviewer, I review books by relatively "unknown" poets and writers. I promised to introduce you to a few of these and today begins that series. The writer today is Charles Foertmeyer. Foertmeyer lives and works in Cincinnati and tells his stories with unusual twists. I enjoy reading the mysterious and unusual so Foertmeyer's award nominated books intrigue me. He publishes all his books through iUniverse. The book reviewed today is Badr:

By C.H. Foertmeyer
ISBN 0-595-43857-1
170 pages at 13.95 paperback
2021 Pine Lake Rd. Ste. 100
Lincoln NE 68512

C. H. Foertmeyer's stories are always a pleasing surprise. Each of his twelve novels has a suspenseful plot with intriguing twists, real-life characters -- common folk struggling against overwhelming odds -- and an underlying message of hope. I probably say this in each review of Foertmeyer's latest book, but I mean it with all sincerity: Badr just may be his best book yet.

Marlin Goldburg is a quiet, sensible man who enjoys the solitary peace of working in his gardens. As the book begins, Marlin fears he may be losing touch with reality. Odd visions come and go unpredictably while working in the garden, during breakfast, even while driving on the interstate that cuts through Cincinnati. Without warning, Marlin is transported to another time and place. He sees tan hands and a forearm marked with a distinctive tattoo. The hands are digging in sand, burying bombs. Marlin and his wife Anne research the tattoo because they feel it is key to his visions. The tattoo is a red Star of David pierced by a black scimitar. The mystery of his visions dies with Marlin in an accident on the interstate on May 13, 1986.

Badr is born in Iraq on May 13, 1986. As soon as he is old enough to think for himself, Badr hates Americans and American Jews in particular. As a young man he funnels that powerful hate into surreptitious acts of violence against the American soldiers occupying his land. He avoids joining jihadist groups and works alone, earning the name Lone Wolf. Neither the soldiers nor his people know Lone Wolf's true identity. Badr masquerades as a friend to the Americans, earning their trust. His goal is to move to America, become a citizen, and sacrifice himself in one horrendous act. From childhood, Badr has been haunted by frightening visions of pale-skinned hands digging in rich dirt, planting flower bulbs.

Marlin's God and Badr's Allah work in mysterious ways. Badr does reach American soil with his hate and plans intact, but is Allah on his side? Does Allah honor a young man with murderous hate in his heart? That's where several delicious, suspenseful plot twists come in. You'll have to read the book to learn the answer. If you enjoy a suspenseful story, well told, Badr is highly recommended.

Charles Foertmeyer's books can be found at, and on his website at

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11/07 -- a day of contemplation

Just as my parents and grandparents never forgot where they were when Pearl Harbor was bombed, my generation will always remember where we were when planes loaded with Americans crashed into the twin towers, the Pentagon, and that Pennsylvania field. On 9/11/01 I was on the job in a long term care facility in Beatrice NE. Walking down a resident hall, I heard the sound of soft weeping from several patient rooms and went to investigate. One elderly man said while blowing his nose, "They'll never learn. No matter what becomes of them, they'll never learn." I asked him what he meant. He held a handkerchief against his eyes to blot the flow of tears and gestured towards the TV. I saw the New York City skyline and the smoking towers. "This time the sonsabitches brought it to our doorsteps."

I sat for several minutes with my arm around his shoulder before proceeding to the lobby. Patients and employees huddled together there. The nursing home owner said quietly, "The towers won't stand up under such heat. Pretty soon that steel will melt and they'll fall." We all waited until they fell. Employees comforted patients forced to relive Pearl Harbor Day. Patients comforted employees watching this attack on American soil live and in color. Everyone cried for the passengers on each plane and for the poor working stiffs trapped in burning, collapsing buildings. Later we cried together again for the Pentagon employees, and again for the plane forced down in that field by passengers determined to prevail against armed terrorists. Our minds could barely absorb what we were seeing and hearing.

The ensuing years have introduced us to the many heroes who died that day -- or did their jobs despite the possibility that they might die -- the firemen, police officers, military, and common everyday citizens who rallied to save lives at Ground Zero. We remember politicians who showed us what they were made of by either striding those streets bravely, soot covered and choking, through clouds of smoke and burning fuel, or hiding in safe places. And we knew that day was a turning point of sorts, one that would impact the entire world because someone attacked Americans on their own soil.

I'm an American who holds strong opinions but rarely voices them. For example, I think countries should take care of their own people first and foremost. Education, health care, a healthy national budget, and infrastructure should come first, ahead of war and subsidies to other countries. I DO believe in a strong military in place to protect our own soil. And I DO believe that any country with the poor judgment to attack us on our home ground should have that favor returned in spades. Yes, someone will tell me I can't have it both ways. I can't have a protectionist philosophy and a "paybacks are hell" mentality at the same time. Well, yes I can hold such schizophrenic thoughts today, thinking back.

Maybe tomorrow I'll be better. For today, we'll fly our flag here on the Ponderosa and I'll drive to work with my car lights on. That will be my small way of honoring that day six years ago, of respecting the memory of those who died then and the thousands who have died in war since. And I'll say a special prayer for the "angry giant" awakened on Pearl Harbor Day -- the giant not allowed to sleep or rest since -- and for the cowardly attackers who plot from hiding.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Email, granddaddies, spiders -- OH MY!!

I've lost control of my email. More than one long term email friend has reminded me lately that my correspondence has fallen off dramatically in direct proportion to my writing of poetry and prose. Since returning to the work force in May, I've lost control of everything.

During my brief retirement, my daily routine was set around household chores. In my case, a clean, uncluttered house produces a focused, uncluttered mind so daily housecleaning was priority one. Of equal importance was keeping in touch with friends and family via email. All that changed in May. I still think about and care about my email friends, just can't seem to focus on writing anything, including an email. So if anyone out there is wondering -- I stopped doing creative writing in favor of catching up on your emails as often as I can think straight enough to do it.

My days are full from before daylight til my nine p.m. bedtime. I spent the last two early mornings, for example, putting water seal on our deck. The granddaddies I saw inside and outside the house served as a warning that winter might come early and harsh. At eye level I could see dozens of granddaddies hunkered down in protected places. Even a large woman wielding a chemical-saturated paint brush didn't intimidate them. I had to physically transplant them to another location. My grandpa always warned that killing a granddaddy caused bad luck so each one had to be moved gently via a piece of cardboard. I hold no such reverence for spiders. Spiders of any size or type scare the hell out of me. But these past two days spent at eye level with spiders taught me a worthwhile lesson. Every spider I saw, large or small, was scurrying towards a hidey hole dragging other bugs wrapped in webs. Storing up winter food supplies maybe. One very large spider took over an hour to drag its burden awhile and rest awhile, before disappearing down a hole ten feet away from where I was working. Outside spiders are safe; spiders with the poor judgement to come inside my house meet swift ends.

Oh, that lesson I learned from the spiders is that the time has come to stock our pantry for winter, just in case we can't get out to buy groceries. We've lived in places where we went without electricity or heat for 7-8 days at a time. I've learned to cook and make coffee on our kerosene stove during such times, and to always have a land line telephone not dependent on electricity to function. It's time to lay in a supply of fat chunky candles just in case. If the spiders and granddaddies are right, the winter will be early and long here. They understand priorities better than we humans do -- food, shelter, warmth. Everything else is a luxury we take for granted.

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I enjoy good writing by writers and poets who are not famous. My mother said I was born a hundred years too late. The older I get, the more I realize how right she was.

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