Maganda: thoughts on poetic form (a hermetic perspective)

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Author: Eileen Tabios
Date: Spring 2004
From: MELUS(Vol. 29, Issue 1)
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 4,686 words

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   One stroke bone
   The stroke of unknowing
   The  brush of all things

--from "One Bone Stroke" by Painter Max Gimblett

   We live in a peculiar age. Out one corner of the mouth we
   "problematize" the self; out the other, we valorize
   "intentionality." And, though we claim an interest in, and
   maintain a respect for, [Jack] Spicer's notion of "dictation"
   --literally, a writing that not only acknowledges an unspecified
   (because unknown) elsewhere, but which cultivates it--you won't
   find many poets today copping to it as legitimate contemporary
   poetic practice. I've never understood this.

--from "Elsewhere" Blog by Poet Gary Sullivan

According to a Filipino creation myth, the first man Malakas (Strength) and woman Maganda (Beauty) emerged fully formed from a split bamboo. The poems in my latest poetry manuscript, Crucial Bliss, reflect a desire to write (beautiful) poems in the manner of Maganda. That is, I wanted the poem to simmer and not come out through my pen (or computer keyboard) until it was fully-actualized enough to surface with its first draft also (potentially) its "last" draft. This contrasts with my early years of writing poems when, at times, I might spend months (occasionally lapsing into years) working over a single poem.

As a poetic process, I sometimes likened Maganda to Athena in Greek and Roman mythology because both were born fully formed. The goddess of wisdom, the arts, and war, Athena sprang from her father Zeus's forehead. She was born, not simply grown but already armed in helmet and armor and carrying a spear (thunderbolt). Athena also was worshipped as the goddess of fertility, which I found metaphorically apt for how a poem may engender different experiences for its readers (as well as its author). I retain the reference to Athena for a certain section in Crucial Bliss because I had her manner of birth in mind when I wrote those poems. But as my thoughts evolved, I have chosen to think of this aspect of my poetics as more of Maganda's rather than Athena's. For I don't necessarily write poems to share wisdom, create art, wage war, or make babies (though that latter would be a particularly nifty result!). But I consistently hope that my poems are beautiful. I honor Beauty from the same impetus that Filipinos chose to call their mythological first woman "Maganda."

Poems may be written in a variety of ways, and I don't privilege any one approach over others. (I envision, for instance, that the approach underlying Crucial Bliss may not be appropriate for very long poems; the longest poem I have mustered using this method was a 175-tercet poem which entailed a 38-hour sitting process before the computer keyboard, barely interrupted by sleep, food, and drink.) However, I have found certain advantages to letting the poem stew internally before it comes out of its own volition as fully-embodied. This method helps me to maintain the energy of that initial impetus that would birth a poem. For me, editing a poem often dilutes that vigor (though the effect of editing can be different for other poets). I want to maintain, if not heighten, that initial force because, to date, I have preferred to write poems that must, as the Filipino (American) poet Jean Gier once proclaimed, "burn!"

Writing by following that singular burst of energy also helps me make poems that do not rely only on my intentions. I believe the Poem transcends the author's life as well as limits of the poet's imagination. Emptying my mind so as to get out of the Poem's way is a state of mind that, for me, facilitates being freed to be creative in hopefully innovative ways. I usually begin the Poem with physically feeling a simmer within my belly, without yet knowing what caused that simmer. The philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty puts it another way: "Before expression, there is nothing but a vague fever, and only the work itself, completed and understood, will prove that there was something rather than nothing to be found there."

Moreover, to write fully-actualized first drafts facilitates my attempts to live with proactive awareness. Poetry is alchemy, and I believe my job as a poet is to be open and lucid as I go about living my life in order to maximize the raw material available for subsequent poetic distillation; I consider this important as I feel my better poems contain several layers of references, though not all may become evident to the reader(s). A koan from the "Mumonkan" ("The Gateless Gate") states: "you must climb a mountain of swords with bare feet." These words, according to Buddhist teacher Toni Packer, relate to: "So can one walk with great care, aware of dangers, not panicky, but stepping carefully? Relating with care, listening with care, really with care, to oneself and the person right next to you?" (see Friedman).

If and when I accomplish greater awareness, my experiences become more heart- and mind-felt. For me, deeper engagement ingrains experiences more passionately and helps them pop up in unanticipated ways during the writing of poems, frequently enervating the poems as well as making them more interesting. Relatedly, these Athena- or Maganda-like poems are similar in my mind to Rinzai brushstrokes. Rinzai represents dynamic, powerful Zen--a practice introduced to me by Buddhist artist Max Gimblett. His calligraphic brushstrokes reflect his rigorous, Rinzai-based practice: that his sumi ink spills out in perfect pitch during a swift, unrehearsed brushstroke against the canvas results from his own observance, spanning decades, of proactive awareness that allows for distillation in his art into faultless form.

I believe I always will be a neophyte as regards Poetry. But my attempts to walk with bare feet on a mountain of swords included signing up in 2000 for's "Word of the Day" service. Through this program, subscribers received daily e-mails of a word with its definition. While the program may be intended to offer a nice means for expanding vocabulary, I also decided that I would write poems entitled with those words. Not knowing the words ahead of time facilitated my writing poems on topics that I might not otherwise address, eliminating ego-based decisions on what to write next in a poem. Relatedly, because I think that I don't write poems to say something but to determine what it is I wish to say, these Webster-Merriam-inspired ("WM") poems often alerted me to things that were of concern but to which I had not yet become fully or consciously attentive. Certainly, I believe enlightenment can be a goal in Poetry, as much as it is in Buddhist and other practices.

Here is an example of one of the WM poems (all of which are in the one-paragraph prose poem format):


Tables with flattened moons for the rest of impolite elbows. Or babysitting elbows. Burgundy veins ripple through marble surfaces. Smoke evaporates into hazelnut scent. Your porcelain cup surrounds the interrupted spiral of lemon skin. Hotel in a city across a bridge, on the other side of an area code, past some presumed boundary. But we were seen. I knew my arms stretching from sleeveless silk were still flushed from your fingerprints in an earlier scene. (As you returned the heat from the blaze that flared when I, helpless, bit your lip. After you had whispered, "In the 7th century B.C., red roses became a weapon of defense by hampering movements through a mountain pass.") I was reaching across a circle of stone to lay a palm against the edge of your grin. Which faded before my touch as we were seen.

Speaking of enlightenment, an unexpected side-result is that as I continued to write the dictionary-based poems, I came to extend my investigations of the prose poem, a form whose long lines I originally found compatible with my ability to hold my breath for long periods. As I've aged, I've noticed a diminishment in that ability and I find that I cannot read some of my older long lines without the interruption of another inhale. The WM poems allowed me to explore the effect of breath on poetic lines through my use of the period as like a line-break to note the pause required by inhalation, and not just to end a sentence. This has led to my still early investigations on how to break up the prose poem paragraph without obviating the paragraph. This poem reflects an example of this form, new to me and which arose organically as I disciplined myself to write a WM poem on a daily basis:


He possessed a power. over her. because she could be anyone. with him. even creatures whose existence she could not predict. until she found herself clothed. by their skin. Once, she tried to embody a concept. that she would loathe. like "obsequiousness," a concept. that forces her to consider. her forlorn toes. forlorn because her toes comprehend. their ugliness. To be obsequious. she began by accepting. a blindfold. fashioned through a silk, floral scarf. her grandmother has never given her. Oh cloudless sky--a plate where I spread my thighs for the hunger in his eyes. Oh, royal blue sky. What is signified when the attempt for obsequiousness becomes a boulder rolling away from the entrance to a cave? He awaited her. He showed her. how to create shadows, to live on the wall as physically, as his hand curving around her breast, for the first time. It was the last time. he was gentle, which could not prevent her. from soaring, whenever she bowed before him. subsequently.

The relationship between breath and poetic line has been addressed by many poets and theorists, with ideas ranging over the thought that line breaks should mirror pauses to American poet Charles Olson's theory of "projective verse" whereby the poem is energetically thrown forward from the poet. Though I empathize with Olson's burst-of-energy approach, I am equally interested in the internal alchemy that occurs within the poet prior to the surfacing of the poem. (Olson does address the importance of an "interior listening process," as Gier puts it, but also seems to "valorize the projective, exteriorizing act.")

I see the intake of breath to be related to the alchemical and transformative process of creation, followed by the projected out-breath. Perhaps this is why, in writing the WM poems, I have not opted for the free-stanza form despite noticing how my breath no longer mirrors the long lines I integrated into my earlier prose poems. I didn't wish to negate my history with the prose poem form by now eliminating it from my work. In addition, the line break--that actual cutting off of a line--is a much more blunt cut than the inclusion of a period within the still flowing long line. As a student of Kali, I was taught the significance of "soft" breath by poet and Kali instructor Michelle Bautista. Kali is a Filipino martial arts form that I study because I consider it a metaphor for (how I consider) Poetry. This relationship is evident in my poem "Kali." The poem's last stanza explicitly states the importance of perfect pitch, including for me, not privileging (as Olson's emphasis does) the outtake to the intake (which Bautista also relates to female energies) of breath.


   I bare my forearm
   to receive the blows
   of your bamboo weapon

   We are instructed
   by a voice suddenly distant
   as darkness falls on
   what exists beyond
   the shifting span of
   our two forms

   Our bodies may
   as well be our shadows
   and perhaps they are

   "Aim at the muscle,
   never the wrist-the
   lightest flick
   barely felt by flesh
   lands as calamity
   against bone"

   Spotlit by a beam
   whose source
   I know is my eyes,
   the angles on your face
   sharpen and,
   suddenly, I sense
   you, too, bear
   the possibility of cruelty

   Beyond the fence
   encircling this evening's engagement
   a neighbor's trembling hand rises
   to pull at a lamp's tassel,
   transforming a small window
   into a hovering moon

   You raise your right hand
   into the strike position

   By the edge of the lawn
   ants pause, stilling the nerves
   in their fevered raisin bodies
   to watch the birth
   of a warrior
   that, once, you sung
   you would never become

   You begin

   You begin to the tune
   of a wind chime
   swaying from the knock
   of a pilgrim's spirit
   searching for that night's bed

   It is my responsibility
   to inform you when
   your blows become too hard

   But one of the many
   things you will never know
   about me is
   I never concede
   in public
   when a strike
   fells me to my knees

   When I nod,
   whispering "Too much,"
   I act as a diplomat
   facing the question
   furrowing your brow
   as I make no objections
   to the increasing power
   of your bamboo whip against
   my heated flesh

   I want to say, "Honey,
   yes, it hurts."
   But I have forgotten
   anguish is something else
   besides an element
   to conceal

   For you, I lied:
   I called the pain
   "too much"

   To live poetry
   instead of just marking
   words on a page
   is to live like a poem--
   none of it is too much
   or too little
   It is only what it is
   and all of it is
   perfectly pitched

From Kali and yoga, I have been learning how to breathe more healthily--to inhale and exhale more deeply. In the process, I noticed that I exhale longer than I inhale. I am troubled by the lack of balance and what it represents for my poetry. I need to "inhale" more, which is to say, educate myself more about the world in order to bring as much of the universe into my poems. That the exhalation--which relates to the projecting out of the poem--is a longer process implies, to me, that I am still too ego-based in how I create poems.

As a practitioner of yoga, I also recall poet Leza Lowitz's statement in her breath-taking (pun intended) collection Yoga Poems. After noting how the "magic of going inward also took me away from myself," Lowitz continued on to say, "Breath was the bridge to greater self-understanding, which led to a deeper concern for others." This relates to how I envision my transcending autobiography not to eliminate myself so much as incorporate other selves into the poem's "I." I note this because any poetics discussion of transcending ego may evoke the contemporary poetic development of poets trying to move beyond the personal experience to focus on the materiality of language. While I wish my poems' "I" not to be synonymous with myself, I don't consider my approach an obviation of my "I." In order to facilitate my version of poetic alchemy, as related to proactive lucidity, I mean only to incorporate as much of the universe into the alchemical stew that, when it froths over, it bubbles over with fully-embodied poems. I wish to move out of the Poem's way by making the universe be the Poem's protagonist--but the universe does include the smaller individual me.

As a Filipino poet living in the United States, I am interested in transcending personality or ego, but not "personhood," a word I derived from pagkatao, the essence of being. Avoiding self-erasure is significant for addressing the political implications of my context through residence. In the United States, Filipinos have been called a "silent majority," where Filipinos often are ignored or invisible, whether due to racism or because of Filipino immigrant assimilationist tendencies. This may seem paradoxical with the idea of emptying the mind to move out of the Poem's way. But Poetry is full of paradoxes. And Poetry must contain a multiplicity of paradoxes because Poetry is about the totality of Life (hence my poems' varied references to ancient Greek, East Asian, European and American cultures as much as the Filipino culture). In navigating across the universe, poetic alchemy does not require the Poet to give up choice. A related approach--this paradoxical juggling of choice and yet reflecting one's concerns--may be seen in the poetics of Gier and Nick Carbo.

Nowadays, Gier writes most of her poems through a cyberspace "blog" (online journal). She notes, "I write about 90% of my poetry online, and 'in public' with a minimum of revisions. Naturally, this format changes the very nature of my writing, tends to shorten the line length, forces me to pause at the end of every line to insert a linebreak code." Thus, Gier utilizes a format that constrains her, and yet she is the one who chooses to be constrained as such. This approach reflects her views that poetry is not "something 'fixed' on paper, [but is] a language that is always in flux, always changing, and even--to the extent to which I forego the 'save' command, or commit the words to floppy disk--fleeting."

In turn, the evanescence of Gier's approach reflects her desires for "1) a need to radically move beyond authoritative, categorizing and totalizing forms; 2) a poetry that embraces process unashamedly, and which utilizes everything in the poet's life as a changing 'field' which flows into, and effects the language and event of writing; 3) use of language that acknowledges the discrepancies and violence of modernity and the colonial/post-colonial experience."

Nick Carbo also plays with disrupting authority by, for instance, writing what he calls "Cube Dice Poems." One such poem is comprised of the lines:

   Kiss along the ochre edge
   Take your half of my soul
   Obsidian songs sliding along your neck
   An apple, an ankle, a tickle touch
   I found your fragmented forgiveness under the bed
   Verdigris is how I feel your shadow

The poem is a "cube dice poem" because each line is featured within a square. Squares form a pattern on the page that the reader can cut out and, using tape, use to form a cube. The reader then can roll the paper cube and each time, a different square, i.e., a different line, would end up facing upward. According to Carbo, the reader should roll the cube as one would roll a die. Repeat rolling and write down lines that are facing up. Keep rolling until the reader attains all the combination the reader desires. This means that there can be a large number of poems, even if their material is the same six lines, depending on the roll of the die and the reader's decision on how many times to roll it. While the six lines themselves do not seem political in any way, Carbo's approach to this poem is, indeed, political for it subverts the traditional approaches to how the poem is taught, read, and written.

Our poetic approaches, while seemingly facilitating an erasure of our "selves," still promote our presence. Ultimately no paradox may exist in straddling the tension between ego-emptiness and the erasure of personhood. Decolonization scholar Leny M. Strobel notes that the Buddhist notion of "no Self" (which I relate my notion of emptying the mind to move out of the Poem's way) is still a "Self" that replaces ego. Strobel adds, "The decolonized Filipino self may be akin to the emergence of this Buddhist no-self/Self because the Filipino values of kapwa and loob already integrate this non-dualist, inclusive view of the self in relation to the universe."

Relatedly, I concede a private agenda in relating the Maganda myth to my poetics--particularly for publications whose audiences go beyond Filipino readership. "Filipinizing" my poetics helps me address the historical silencing of Filipino stories--my act of recovery is a way to participate in Filipino decolonization. In addition to Filipinizing my poetics by correlating the fully-formed poem to not just Athena but also the mythological woman Maganda, I also create poetics statements that offer emphases on issues that are of concern to me.

For instance, how I publicly describe my work is often related to my activist concerns. In 1898, the United States invaded the Philippines to make it a colony, and spread its colonialist regime through furthering the use of English as a communications tool. I am quite aware that many in the United States are not conscious of its history with the Philippines; I use my poetry as a doorway to educating them about that. And, what a timely issue it's become, what with the Philippines having become another front-line in the United States' war against terrorism in the aftermath of "911" ...!

I've also Filipinized some of my poems. For instance, in exploring issues of identity and abstract language, I chose to do a series focused on Gabriela Silang. Because my poems reference the name of the Philippines' first woman general, the interested reader would be encouraged to learn more about her history, which is to say, part of Filipino history.

Gabriela Silang (Poetic Series)

Gabriela (1731-1763) was the wife of Diego Silang who witnessed the Spanish colonizers' ongoing abuse of Filipinos and began the Ilokano tribe's revolt against the Spanish authorities. Following Diego's assassination, she carried on the crusade for freedom. After she and the remainder of her army were finally captured, the Spaniards hanged her soldiers--known to be among the most defiant of Filipino rebels--and lined their bodies along the coastal towns for everyone to see. Their bodies were left to sway with the sea breeze in order to serve as a reminder to anyone who dared fight the Spaniards. Gabriela was given the doubly painful experience of witnessing the death of her followers before becoming the last to die. She was 32 years old.

I wrote poems to fictionalize--and create--a new life for Gabriela Silang in the 21st century. In writing these poems, I sometimes depicted Gabriela in the midst of mundane activities (for example, doing the laundry) to contrast against the larger matters of revolution and politics that took over Gabriela's life. I believe that war teaches us how to appreciate the luxury of having no other momentary concerns than, say, to clean house. Gabriela's story, in fact, reminds me of how war eliminates Home in Gabriela's case, the Spanish invasion eliminated home not just in terms of her specific household but in terms of psychic stability as well her country as "homeland."

In these poems that are intended to be about someone else, I nonetheless integrated elements of my own life. For instance, when I turned forty years old, I wrote a poem about Gabriela turning forty even though--and also because--she never experienced this particular threshold. Similarly, I wrote a poem about Gabriela reading Charles Baudelaire as I like to think that if Gabriela had a preference for how she would have spent her life, she would have spent time reading poems as I do.

The form of my Gabriela Silang poems generally feature the subversion of narrative through my use of textual collage and seemingly non-related juxtapositions of narrative detail. I question narrative because of another component of the Philippines' colonial history. The United States succeeded Spain as the Philippines' colonial master. In 1898, the United States claimed it owned the Philippines after buying it for 20 million dollars from Spain through the Treaty of Paris. The Filipinos--who had won and declared their independence from Spain--protested, and thus commenced the Philippine-American War, a war that has been called the United States' "First Vietnam." With their prowess on the military terrain, the United States defeated the Philippines to make the archipelago its first and, to date, only colony. The United States solidified its colonial domination through the cultural and linguistic terrain with the popularization of English as the preferred language for education, administration, commerce, and daily living. Thus, English is sometimes called by Filipinos "the borrowed tongue," though "enforced tongue" would be more accurate.

Faced with the history of English history in the Philippines, I--a Filipina American poet who writes poems in English--choose to do so by attempting to subvert conventional narrative idioms. Such subversion is a deliberate strategy to talk back against the use of English as a communications (or narrative) tool for enforcing colonialism. What prevents the Gabriela Silang verses from becoming nonsense and makes them poems are (I hope) how I (successfully) weave the words based on rhythm and the text's poetic music.

Of course, the poems do incorporate references to Gabriela Silang's real life, for example, the incorporation of the words "Ilokano" or "Ilokos." Ilokano is the language of the members of the Ilokos tribe, of which Diego and Gabriela Silang were members. Certain poems also reference the Pacific Ocean, the mountains where she and her rebels had fought and hid from Spanish soldiers, and "reluctant warriors" because the Filipinos were fighting a war in defense of their homeland rather than in an attempt to conquer someone else.

However, despite the occasional reference to elements from Gabriela's life, the poems' narratives are generally different from how her real life unfolded. As a poet, I am comfortable with this result because the underlying sensibility of these poems is one of sadness. For me, sadness ultimately captures Gabriela's life. She became a martyr, but that martyrdom was not her choice. Gabriela inherited a set of circumstances which perhaps she would not have wanted to be her fate.

Here is one of the poems from my "Gabriela Silang" series. The narrative may seem to have nothing to do with Gabriela's life. What relates it to Gabriela is the underlying sensibility: loss and desire.

Dusk (As Gabriela Reads Baudelaire)

   I remember the rice fields
   sometimes melancholy at dusk

   sometimes a rippling mirror
   of a sunset's maidenly blush

   In San Francisco and New York City
   where the sky is a presence

   witnessed "through a ventilation
   or between two chimneys"

   the visual compression offers a "more
   profound idea of the infinite

   than a great panorama
   seen from a mountaintop" (1)

   I could continue, but long poems--
   "they're the resource of those

   who can't write short ones" (1)
   As one "who has so deeply loved

   the perfume of woman," (2) I sadly
   observe, "You're always armed

   to stone me
   along with the world" (3)

Footnotes to "Dusk":

(1) from a 18 February 1860 letter from Charles Baudelaire to Armand Fraisse

(2) from a 24 January 1862 letter from Charles Baudelaire to Charles-Agustin Sainte-Beuve

(3) from a February or March 1861 letter from Charles Baudelaire to his mother Caroline Aupick

At this point of my development as a poet, I do consider my better poems to be those that came out fully-embodied at that first draft stage. Well, I should clarify that to be "fully-embodied" is not synonymous with not needing the occasional minor tweak--the poem might emerge fully-clothed but I might have to fasten an inadvertently unlatched button (still a far cry from the extensive revisions or brand new outfit for which I used to adjust poems). If I write a first draft that, except for that stray button or two, doesn't work, I no longer bother to keep it for further rewrites. Given Poetry's alchemy, I have learned that if there are elements in that failed poem that need urgently to be in a poem, they will surface again in future writings. This practice has allowed me to internalize much of the preparatory process to writing the poem that I, as a younger poet, once engaged in: a prolonged period of writing out drafts and then editing or rewriting those drafts.

The downside to this practice is that one does not necessarily control when the poem wishes to surface. A key poem in Crucial Bliss is "Venus Rising For The First Time in the 21st Century" because this poem so desired to be written that it woke me up at 3 a.m. one night. After trying to fight it and regain my sleep, I sighed, got up at 5 a.m., went to the computer and typed it out. Only then could I go back to sleep. The following morning, I read the poem; there was no reason to change a single word. The poem was also interesting for alchemizing some stray thoughts I had been pursuing about the nature of Poetry encompassing lucidity; the hair paintings of British artist Gary Hume (these are abstracted images of hair falling down like curtains across faces which offered, for me, resonant implications about looking out from behind screens); and the word-play of "see" with "sea" which I've long considered as a mirror to the sky that bears my favorite color: cobalt. I had not possessed a conscious desire to write a poem inspired by the Greek and Roman Goddess of Love, and specifically Boticelli's painting, "The Birth of Venus." But as I read "Venus," I realized that the poem is particularly apt since Venus is thought to have been birthed between sea and sky and what often spurs my poems is Love. Here is "Venus Rising For The First Time in the 21st Century"--a love poem:

Venus Rising For the First Time in the 21st Century

To see is this other torture, atoned for
in the pain. of being seen
--from "Spokes" by Paul Auster

   You want to see
   her seeing
   herself. You want

   her seeing
   her wanting
   you behind the wave

   when you become
   the sea seeing

   her eyes form
   (above a body you
   dreamt into salt water)

   to see you
   through strands
   of dark seaweed

   you see as her wet
   hair rising from the sea
   you become to see

   her peeking from behind
   hair of ink you want
   to part from her breasts

   you have felt
   without seeing
   yet (oh yet!)

   to commence
   a vision you
   have shared with her

   in her (lurking unknowingly)
   through her
   seeing you

   as the sea
   seeing her float
   within your arms

   trustingly as
   she cannot swim
   and your currents run deep

   as deep as
   the desire to be seen
   she once forgot behind

   a habit of hiding
   until she saw you
   seeing her

   see(d)ing you
   sea-ing her
   seeing you

   elicit pain
   (the demanded pain!)
   for surfacing the dark

   fleshed creature
   once hiding
   in a sea's dim depths

   towards a sun
   in whose light
   scars reveal themselves

   to be healed
   when you foam
   upon seeing her form

   seeing you sea-ing
   her not drown
   even as you deepen

   your vision's
   penetration to see
   what others could not

   behind her breasts
   and thighs
   now rising from the sea

   towards the sun
   so you can see
   even more clearly

   to see why you
   foamed at the thought
   of her form

   returning to your
   sea of seeing
   whose fortitude

   nothing less than
   the noonday sun as your lamp

"Venus ..." also may be read as a hope shared by a poet with a reader. While writing poems requires lucidity from the poet, the poems also ask for lucidity from the reader. Seeing can be painful, but its "torture," as poet, writer, editor, and translator Paul Auster puts it, is "atoned for in the pain of being seen." A Poem hopes to be seen; a Poem hopes to be read. The poet begins the Poem; the reader completes the Poem.

My Crucial Bliss manuscript also includes words revolving around "9-1-1," including a poetics essay where I described how, in the tragedy's aftermath, I felt that the best I could do as regards Poetry is to just "wing it." But, later, it occurred to me, I've been "winging it" all along in the sense that I try to remove my-Self out of the way so that all sorts of poems may come to me. Poetry has revealed numerous paradoxes over the years, including the applicability, for me, of the form of flexibility. By the flexible poetic form mirroring the flux of life, the form encourages the making of poems that are lived and not just written.

Of the poems in this collection, the Venus poem was the most recently-written and, in my view, the most well-formed at its birth. Since I believe a poet's task includes perceiving and connecting dots of synchronicity, I find it logical that "Venus" was written in the middle of the night. The sixteenth-century poet and Spanish Carmelite St. John of the Cross has stated, "For the intellect, faith is also like a dark night." I need not belabor how, in a culture where Poetry is marginalized, to be a poet is an act of faith. To believe the Poem is its own creature separate from the poet's self is also an act of faith. To empty the mind and move out of the Poem's way is yet another act of faith. To love a Poem is Faith.


The Gabriela Silang poems and "Venus Rising For the First Time in the 21st Century" were previously published in Eileen Tabios' most recent poetry collection, Menage A Trois With the 21st Century (xPressed, Finland, 2004). The red rose reference in the poem "Contretemps" comes from Barry Schwabsky's poem "A Weapon of Defense." I maintain an ongoing series of conversations with artists and scholars. The references in my article to Max Gimblett, Leny M. Strobel, Jean Grier, and Nick Carbo are from unpublished correspondences between them and me.

Works Cited

Friedman, Lenore. Meetings" With Remarkable Women." Buddhist Teachers in America. Boston: Shambhala, 2000.

Lowitz, Leza. Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By. Berkeley CA: Stone Bridge, 2000.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader. Ed. Galen A. Johnson. Trans. Michael B. Smith. Chicago: Northwestern UP, 1993.

Schwabsky, Barry. The New Lessons. Ramsey NJ: Tamarisk, 1979a.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A117864539