Wednesday, August 15, 2012
the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA by Eileen R. Tabios: j/j/ hastain
by Eileen R. Tabios / j/j hastain
Copyright 2012 by Eileen R. Tabios and j/j/hastain
Marsh Hawk Press
East Rockaway NY
Softbound, 83 pages, no price given
Review by Zvi A. Sesling
When Eileen Tabios writes poems you know there is going to be something different, something special and her book with j/j hastain is very special. The book is split in several sections: first is Tabios’s ORPHANED ALGEBRA, the haistain’s EPHEMERAL ALLELES MORE THAN ALLEGED
OR INVENTED ORGANS AS ALLIES
These sections are follow by Tabios writing about process and hastain’s essay on the poems in the second section. And there is a lot more by haistain which the reader will find fascinating.
Tabios’s ORPHANED ALGEBRA is a series of prose poems taken from an exercise, the titles referring to an individual exercise in the book. For example:
At a party supply store you buy cowboy hats that cost $2 each four flashing
wands that cost $3 each, and two balloons that cost $1 each. You give
the cashier $20. How much change do your receive? What is the depth of the
grief that causes you to stuff dollars into a nearby jar emblazoned with
the photograph of a toothless toddler with a belly larger than its head?
Why do sirens and policecars’ flashing lights unfailingly bring you to a
memory of a poet’s question: “Do two negatives equal a positive? Or do
they simply cancel out one another?
Each of the exercises Tabios presents is made to make you think, what are the answers? Tabios’s poems project what suddenly strikes you because you associate with it:
Remembering how you survived only forgetting everything
except what you were allowed to keep because it is never used: your
Does that one strike home? There is always something that strikes home in a Tabios poem and that is what makes her poetry so fascinating.
The next section of this book of poetry is j/j hastain’s which deals with questions of science. Take, for example:
BEAUTY AND ITS RELATIONS TO FRAGMENTATION AND
COMPILATION: Longevity is something that can be grown. Requires
nurture. A metal skull or a scale made of flesh. This attempt to measure
method against method. To age another gently. A character tilting toward
another character’s pulsations. In the tilt a tear becomes turbulences. A
body once so imposed upon begins to be able to retort. Proof that the
portions so embedded can be extracted: “I need you with me always”.
That ache within, like with anyone who loves. A coil that previously
bowed without much purpose is now being lubricated with intent to
Both poets, hastain in particular, reorder words and thoughts Is it about the physical or
relationships or does it all come down to sex. Like Tabios, hastain provides the answer to the questions in the reader’s brain and the reader in turn must work to gather in the disparate pieces that coalesce into a whole.
At the end of the book Tabios and hastain provide some explanations of their writings. Tabios notes that in 2008 she and her husband adopted a 13-year-old boy from Colombia.
She also explains “The poems in Orhaned Algebra are not about my experience but are focused on the orphans I met or learned about during the process of international adoption. I do not clam that those who inspired my poems are representative of all orphans. But to engage in international adoption is, at least in my case, inevitably to learn about other children who may or may not find families, including the stories underlying some statistics noted by Kidsave…”
She also states, “…how could I not be moved by orphans – how could I remain a poet and not write about orphans? Thus, the “ORPHANED ALGEBRA” poems.
In an essay entitled Engaging My Trans has states, “I identify as Trans/Gendrqueer (both in terms of physiology as well as text). …I speak of my own philosophies of Trans as someone who identifies as Trans. By Trans I mean never only feminine nor only masculine. I mean that you need you to not need me to be solely a woman or a man. I mean embodied-motility. I mean morphability. I mean mutability. I mean please inquire tenderly before assuming. I mean please have your desire to contact me be rooted in our working collaboratively to create future spaces that can include an even celebrate all bodies that in any way transgress the social norm.
As Tabios explains, “Indeed, j/j is moved by xir own circumstances to create new pronouns to reflect xirself. While, as reflected in references to xir, j/j currently uses such pronouns as “xir” and “xe” to reflect “gender free” pronouns that are socially accepted.
And I will stop here and simply urge readers to read and re-read this most fascinating of books I have engaged in a long time. Read and learn so many new ways to see people, to see the world and perhaps to see yourself. Tabios and hastain have combined to produce something unusual and wonderful.
Zvi A. Sesling is author of King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Street, 2010), Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 2011) and the soon to be published Fire Tongue (Cervena Barva). He is Editor of Muddy River Poetry Review and Bagel Bards Anthology #7.