Eileen R. Tabios | Interview

Kenneth P. Gurney. Tells us how you started in poetry? What age?

Eileen R. Tabios. I was 35 years old when I began writing poems. I did it for a summer as a break from writing fiction. But at the end of that summer of both writing and also reading a lot of poetry, I realized that poetry was the “form” I’d been looking for all of my life as I tinkered with words. I’d always loved words (my first career was in print journalism) but I thought my form would be fiction. It turned out to be Poetry, though the Poetry I believe in is multi-genre; I still write fiction, essays and other forms. Still, since I wasn’t looking to be a poet, perhaps I’m an example of that saying about how one doesn’t choose Poetry; one is chosen by Poetry.

KPG. What is your favorite breakfast?

ERT. Hot coffee with garlic fried rice with fried eggs and longanisa (a sweet, fatty type of Filipino sausage). Except for the coffee, I rarely have it.

KPG. Does your university degree influence your writing of poetry and how?

ERT. I majored in political science as an undergrad, and double-majored in economics and international business for my M.B.A.  Of course they affect my poetry since Poetry can be about anything and everything. More specifically, my poetry benefits from the analytical and conceptualization practices required for those subjects.

KPG. Is there any endeavor that you are passionate about outside of poetry? How does it enrich you?

ERT. I love the visual arts. They inspire many poems. I think looking at their visuality and tangibility hones my eye as writing can be an abstraction. Exercising the eye relates to my poetry in that I look to apply unexpected significances to various elements. For example, I just did a poetry reading where I read a poem that compared the sip of wine as like experiencing the kiss between sun and stone (as the wine was derived from a vineyard located on gravelly terrain).

KPG. Tell about one of your favorite poetry experiences.

ERT. My last 2016 book is one of my favorites and is entitled AMNESIA: Somebody’s Memoir, released by the wonderfully-innovative press, Black Radish Books. I had given a copy to the pastor of my local Methodist church. I should pause to say that I’m not a good churchgoer, but I like to attend services around Christmas. And much to my surprise, Rev. Audrey Ward cited from my poetry book during Christmas Eve services (2016)—I can’t think of a higher honor and blessing applied to my poems!  Subsequently, I was invited to read from the same book, accompanied by a cellist and pianist duo Jeffrey McFarland-Johnson and Terry Winn, otherwise known as The Napa Valley Duo. We didn’t rehearse the “performance” which replaced what normally was the pastor’s sermon that Sunday. But somehow everything was in sync—my husband was in the audience and he said it was the best poetry reading experience I’d ever offered. I also learned that cello music is something with which my poetry has affinity.

KPG. Do you have a connection to the American Civil War? Relative who served? Visited a battlefield and have a story?

ERT. When we were dropping off my son for his freshman year at IUP in Pennsylvania, we stopped on the way there to visit Gettysburg. And I was most struck by the State of Louisiana monument created by Donald DeLue. Entitled “Spirit Triumphant,” it presents a wounded gunner while above him flies a “Spirit” sounding a trumpet and raising a flaming cannonball. While the title discernibly relates to the majestic Spirit, I my attention remained snagged on the body of the fallen gunner, specifically how his toes were visible as they’d broken through what was a pair of too-small shoes. And I’d also just learned that many soldiers on both sides of the Civil War were younger than the son I was bringing to his college. I considered my son to be so “young” and my  heart just broke, looking at the fallen gunner who might have been younger than my son but who had to fight a war in ill-fitting boots.

KPG. If you could wave a magic wand and place a poetry book into every high school english classroom as required reading, which one would it be and why?

ERT. Perhaps something by e.e. cummings. I’d suggest a poetry book that’s not just a collection for which the poetry teaching becomes one of trying to excavate what the poem “is about.” There’s joy—and perhaps unexpected joy whose surprise might more intrigue the student—that can be found in poetry through its many other non-narrative elements like sound and visuality.

KPG. Where was your last selfie taken?  With anyone?

ERT. I’m anti-selfie. But I actually performed a novel-writing performance on Facebook that I subtitled “Year of the Midnight Selfies” where I took selfies of me as I wrote a long-form novel. The whole performance can be viewed at Otoliths, whose editor Mark Young was generous enough to create a Feature from my year-long Facebook posts. Here’s a sample selfie as I contemplated, post-midnight, my writing progress:


KPG. Recommend a poetry (or literary) website that you frequent.

ERT. What about a website I edit focused on reviewing poetry projects? I don’t think there are enough venues for poetry reviews, so I created Galatea Resurrects.  I’m always looking for reviewers so please share my invitation with your readers (any style of reviewing is acceptable, and we don’t focus on just recent releases since we feel Poetry is eternal).

KPG. What is your favorite National Park? Why?

ERT. Yosemite and Yellowstone. I experienced my first foot of a waterfall at Yosemite, and did so with my Mom in one of the last chances she had to travel. That memory—and the marvel we shared as we raised faces to the falling water drops—of course colors my park experience. As for Yellowstone, it’s simply majestic and I do appreciate seeing all of its wild animals, especially the buffalo.

KPG. Please tell about a dream that you work toward achieving at this time.

ERT. As I previously mentioned, I finished a first draft of a long-form novel in 2016. I need to edit the draft now. My dream—a life-long dream—is to successfully write that novel.

KPG. If there is a little known poet you think everyone should read, who is that poet and suggest one book of theirs we should purchase?

ERT. I suggest a book which, so far, is my favorite poetry read this year:  The Olfactions: Poems on Perfume [amazon] by Anne Gorrick. It’s a lush and brilliant feast for all of the senses!

KPG. If you could be present at any moment in history as a safe observer or unsafe participant, what event would you visit and why?

ERT. I’d love to observe and be part of space travel — for instance, a time when the Star Trek type of voyages are a reality.

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