Wednesday, November 01, 2006


SOLUBLE CENSUS, Sunday, December 17, 2006

Dredging for Atlantis by Eileen Tabios
(Otoliths, 2006)

Dredging for Atlantis is organized as three sections: I. Dredging for Atlantis, II. Excerpts from "Somewhat of a Childhood" and III. Athena's Diptych. Each section has, the author tells us, been "scumbled" or skimmed into existence from already existing texts.Section I. derives from the Lost Lunar Baedeker of Mina Loy, Section II. from A Tuscan Childhood by Kintor Beevor, and Section III. from John Banville's Athena. There is, of course, one exception and that is "Scumble-d" (the poem which begins the first section of the book)which "sources its underlying inspiration as Derek Walcott's The Bounty" (per the author's "Notes On Dredging for Atlantis"). Let's look at that poem, why don't we:


I cannot remember the name of that seacoast city,
but it trembled

.................it is near XYZ
a town with hyphens

Now, so many deaths

.................the only art left--
the preparation of grace

Appropriation in writing and the arts can be controversial. Where is the line to be drawn between taking inspiration from another's text and plagiarizing--stealing from it? For me, it's a boring conversation. I don't obsess about property rights. Art doesn't result from observing proprieties. Art results from learning to magnetize oneself, art results from becoming an attractive nuisance. Eileen Tabios is just such a force field. As my Kansan friend, Jim McCrary, has recently noted on his blog Smelt Money, she's a trouble maker. A trouble maker intent upon preparing the way for grace.

Section I., Dredging for Atlantis, consists of 31 short vibrant poems, plus an author's note on method. One of my favorite poems from this section is "Funny Brass":

Funny Brass

(like my puppy)
penetrates eyelash drapes

Man becomes
by losing aloofness

"Monotone" transforms to "moonstone"

Go forth and prettily miscalculate

A very lucid poem, don't you think. Transformation is the name of its game and the engine which drives this section in general. Here's another example:

Impish Music

Adolescent eros
a consistent source
for radium
of the Word

Section II., Excerpts from "Somewhat of a Childhood," consists of 4 poems written as reverse hay(na)ku sequences. These poems are in a different register altogether from Section I. They're anecdotal, atmospheric, even aromatic, evocations of Italy. I enjoyed reading them but have little to say about them, except that there was one little dissonance in the 1st poem ("The Bread of Florence")which proceeds from what I believe to be a rather wonderful typo. Allow me to quote the relevant section:

Then to save
a long

a basket on
a chord

fall, the bread
placed in

and be hauled
up, hand


It's that chord, in place of "cord", that sticks with me from this section. It manages to evoke a lingering sound from a basket's descent where no sound in all probability would be. I guess it helps me to visualize a crisp snap of the rope as the basket brakes in the air. I'm not sure why that's so affecting, but it is. Perhaps it's because it's the only aspect of the poem which is not totally transparent.

Athena's Diptych, the volume's final section, is also written in reverse hay(na)kus. Its final poem, "Athena", speaks to its author's method. Here are its opening stanzas:

What's deemed necessary
changes. Hear

listening in another
decade, editing

and first lines.
A different

croons from behind
an impassive

I listen, cross
out more

The poem cannot
be pure.

never travels unimpeded
by anonymous

Writing it down
merely freezes

Well, that was a quick run through of first impressions of this fine little book. What unites its three sections is the methodology of scumbling, which seems to have been practiced somewhat differently from section to section. For me, the first, title section, is the most exciting because it has more formal variety and more aphoristic punch than the sections which follow. Interesting to contemplate the variety of outcomes a method may embrace.

Note: The most direct way to obtain a copy of this and other fine Otoliths titles is through the lulu storefront, here.


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