EILEEN TABIOS Engages
Fruits and Flowers and Animals and Seas and Lands Do Open by Michael Leong
(Burnside Review, 2015)
Michael Leong’s Fruits and Flowers and Animals and Seas and Lands Do Open is a marvel—a stellar accomplishment! This long poem not only succeeds but does so from—or, perhaps, despite—a rather tricky constraint, as explained in the Author’s Note:
This sequence grew out of a 2013 National Poetry Month initiative sponsored by the Found Poetry Review. Entitled “Pulitzer Remix,” this online and ephemeral project entailed 85 poets posting new poems every day based on the language of 85 books which have won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. After volunteering to participate, I was assigned Booth Tarkington’s Alice Adams (1921), a comedic novel of manners set in the Midwest. All of the words in this long poem, with no exception, were derived from Tarkington’s text, and all of the sections of this poem were composed throughout the 30 days of April. This is, in essence, a document of my life as I lived it in April 2013 through the obsessive reading, re-reading, and remixing of a single book, an experiment of what happens when a life makes poetry, at least the writing of it, a priority for 30 continuous days despite all else.
The poems, by being also a diary, reveal that the poet spent April 2013 in some melancholy. Such melancholy is dispersed delicately throughout the poems; its presence is revealed with nuance—impressive when the words are all borrowed (we elide here the larger debate of all words perhaps being borrowed); here’s an example:
April 13, 2013
The earth was swallowing our words,
stamping out our solemn breath
with its footsteps.
Overhead, a Chinese silhouette
appeared in God’s
A new generation
continued an endless divination,
which, they said,
could make presentable
the black bones of the absolute.
Going to the movies,
we sometimes discover the rarest woodcut.
I’ll go. I thought you’d forgotten.
It was a protracted promise,
a figure of speech.
The evening had already begun
deteriorating into Sunday.
I am surprised at the lyricism in these poems, given the method underlying their creation. But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, as constraint-based writing has proven often how its discipline paradoxically frees imagination. In any event, I believe the effect only attests to Leong’s skill. Here’s another poem:
April 6, 2013
This afternoon, a dead cloud
backed out of your dressing-room.
For how long
have you been avoiding the earth?
Night has no other definition of radiance.
A tin ear had a vision
under the shelter of the porte-cochere,
and the street, bright-eyed and solemn,
finally reached the rapturous distortion
of nine o’clock. The violets released
from the purple hat were violently rotten.
Night couldn’t bear another wrong number.
Who would want to listen
to the foreign dance-music cut out
from your compulsive unconscious?
Who wouldn’t want to throw away
the murmuring wheelbarrow
of your second-hand heart?
I’ve never read Tarkington’s Alice Adams. Nor does its description—“a comedic novel of manners set in the Midwest”—make me rush to make Amazon richer. It’s a testament to Leong’s poems that, nonetheless, the book makes it to my To-Read List.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor (the exception would be books that focus on other poets as well). She is pleased, though, to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work. I FORGOT LIGHT BURNS received a review by Zvi A. Sesling at Boston Area Small Press & Poetry Scene; by Amazon Hall of Fame reviewer Grady Harp over HERE; and by Allen Bramhall in Tributary. Her experimental biography AGAINST MISANTHROPY: A LIFE IN POETRY received a review by Tom Hibbard in The Halo-Halo Review, Allen Bramhall in Mandala Web and Chris Mansel in The Daily Art Source. SUN STIGMATA also received a review by Edric Mesmer at Yellow Field. Recent releases are the e-chap DUENDE IN THE ALLEYS as well as INVENT(ST)ORY which is her second “Selected Poems" project; while her first Selected THE THORN ROSARY was focused on the prose poem form, INVEN(ST)ORY focuses on the list or catalog poem form. A key poem in INVENT(ST)ORY was reviewed by John Bloomberg-Rissman in The Halo-Halo Review, and the book itself was reviewed by Chris Mansel in The Daily Art Source and Allen Bramhall in Mandala Web. More information at http://eileenrtabios.com