PALH Book Reviews

 

EMPTY FLAGPOLE
Eileen Tabios
 
Review by
Publisher's Weekly, December 2002
Copyright 2003 by Cahners Business Information

 

Publisher's Weekly
In her first collection of poetry to be published in the United States, Tabios, a recipient of the Philippines' National Book Award and the editor of such anthologies such as Black Lightning: Poetry in Progress and Babaylan: An Anthology of Filipina and Filipina American Writers, explores how the colonizing language both obviously and not-so-obviously alters expression, experience and perception. Tabios begins the book with a selection of ekphrastic poems inspired by ancient Greek sculptures, introducing the complex issues of cultural and linguistic domination that are to play such a large part in the long central section, titled "Returning the Borrowed Tongue." Her prose-poems balance (at times uncomfortably) on the much-contested border between "prose" and "poetry," just as the pieces themselves explore the murky boundaries between colonization and identity. Tabios investigates sensual and personal histories, conjuring subtle games of domination and submission against a backdrop of physical dislocation and echoing the conundrums of a colonized land: "The past depends on how we control memory. Memory is a controlling agent. No one can discover what lies beyond an image without the progress of light. Fearlessly, hands reach forth to turn the vase around for another view. The blue vein leaps against the pale hide of a wrist encircled by a thin strand of gold. And your finger is tracing a vein, its protrusion helpless." The book closes with an ornate triptych dedicated to Anne Truitt that exposes Tabios's search through history and art to understand her central demands-to perceive freely, to investigate color, to be a fully responsive being. "Can you pay the price for risking perception and imperceptibility?" she asks in "The Continuance of the Gaze," and then answers, "I trust in radiance. Let: Us." (Dec.) Copyright 2002 Cahners B
usiness Information.
 

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