REVIEW: “I forgot algebra can become orphaned”: Eileen Tabios’ The Connoisseur of Alleys

 

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by Marthe Reed

Eileen Tabios’ most recent collection creates a meditative, immersive experience for the reader, spelling the persistence of memory out of a litany of loss. Part of her series of work driven by the “MDR Poetry Generator” (Murder Death Resurrection), a database and program which draws upon material from Tabios’ earlier books, selected lines from each text shape a new poem; the lines recur according to a pattern of eight series, transmuted by each new juxtaposition. Integrating the collaged assemblage, Tabios opens each line with the assertion “I forgot,” playfully upending the meaning of loss. Anaphora and repetition give rise to an incantatory feeling, the lines’ extension and mutation resembling jazz in the seeming improvisatory movement of each re-appearance.

Though the lines insist on the loss of memory, the logic of the generated poem—the recursion on which the poems are founded—asserts that nothing is ever forgotten. Each poem is composed in eight paragraph-like stanzas, the returns both familiar and new. Tabios’ algorithmic work depends upon the vivid imagery and emotion of the original lines and the wonder to which each new configuration gives rise. Reading these poems, I entered a durational space, a state in which time flows otherwise, according to the orbits of the recurring lines. I lost track of where and when in the drifting patterns the poet has construed, finding myself midmost a language journey: “I forgot the empty chair that awaited us, its expanse the totality of a planet still unexplored.”

Each line recalled again and again rouses the reader to listen for those returns, to feel grateful when the absent reappears like a prodigal child. “Ecstatic Mutations”, composed from lines from her 2001 collection of essays and short stories, begins “I forgot love is always haggled….I forgot truth is disembodied….I forgot my bones became hollow, flutes made from reeds….I forgot green calyx emphasizing the burden of generously watered corollas.” Gradually the opening line, though often paired with the second, is pulled into the orbit of new lines: “…I forgot drowning in the air…I forgot love is always haggled….I forgot tipping Bing cherries into a blue bowl until I lost the sky to a crimson moon’s overflow” until eventually, by the eighth permutation, “I forgot the stance of cliffs meeting water….I forgot I began drowning….I forgot love is always haggled…”

The book itself is beautiful, the cover art of Advaita Patel moving in syncretic sympathy to Tabios’ lines. The meditative child reading on the front and the tesselating boxes and circles on the back, wind into one another, mapping the experience of reading The Connoisseur of Alleys and the activity of memory. Flashes of awareness and the heat of repetition-as-translation, like the vivid patterns of the cover, stack, collapse, and regenerate in an ecstasy of memory made manifest.

The gradual permutations the MDR Poem Generator accretes move in shell-like spirals from the material of their origin. As the language reshapes itself, the lines are re-encountered, remembered, re-remembered, nothing ever forgot. Rather each line is understood in manifold new associations. Eileen Tabios has created gorgeously meditative, beguiling language from the ressurrected ‘bones’ of her earlier works.

Marthe Reed is the author of five books of poetry: Night Reading (Lavendat Ink, 2014), Pleth, a collaboration with j hastain (Unlikely Books 2013), (em)bodied bliss (Moria Books 2013), Gaze (Black Radish Books 2010) and Tender Box, A Wunderkammer (Lavender Ink 2007). She has also published chapbooks as part of the Dusie Kollektiv, as well as with above / ground press and Shirt Pocket Press. Her collaborative chapbook thrown, text by j hastain with Reed’s collages, won the 2013 Smoking Glue Gun contest. She is Co-Publisher of Black Radish and the Editor/Publisher of Nous-zot Press chapbooks. Her reviews have appeared or are forthcoming at Rain Taxi, Jacket2, Galatea Ressurrects, Openned, Cut Bank, New Pages, and The Rumpus among others.

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