Earlier today I read Eileen Tabios' latest book The Awakening in 4 gulps. 4 gulps with breaks in between for thoughtful chewing and a little mental flossing.
As you may have guessed, The Awakening is comprised of 4 parts: 3 long poems and a brief fragment on Ms Tabios' poetics.
Each piece of the book is substantial and deserving of sustained attention but I want to focus here on the lead-off piece, a twenty page poem called "The Erotic Life of Art: A Séance With William Carlos Williams.”
“The Erotic Life of Art” is a marvelous meditation on art, artists and sex. Its cast of characters is large and its range of reference is wide. Van Gogh, Gauguin, Michelangelo, Pope Julius II, Da Vinci, Cellini, Dr. Williams, Titian, Jose Garcia Villa, Rembrandt, Li-Young Lee, Goya, Rodin, Delacroix, Jackson Pollock, Rimbaud, Wayne Thiebaud, Renoir, Seurat, Madeleine Knobloch (Seurat’s mistress who was anonymous until after his death), Tabios’ husband, Degas, Ezra Pound, Gainsborough, John Ruskin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Modigliani, Eluard, Duchamp, the Baroness, Dali, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and others constellate in its pages.
“The Erotic Life of Art” is a long associative poem of quick shifts, but there is nothing gratuitous about it. It’s incisive, sometimes humorous, and it bristles with energy and intelligence.
It’s written in couplets. Here’s a taste for a flavor of the way it moves:
“Our good doctor,
William Carlos Williams, remembers one Finnish
word taught by a family servant: Hamahakquivergo.
I raise this dissonance because, truth to tell,
I am wondering if I have written all these words
so far only to manifest the one Finnish word
Dr. Williams knows: Hamahakquivergo means Cobweb.
Would it be awful to have spent years writing a poem only
to discover it is over a cobweb? I intended to write on
the tangled skeins of transmissions from sexual acts (I in-
tended to pluck from the narrative of Nigel Cawthorne’s
amusing and amused book, SEX LIVES of the GREAT
ARTISTS.) But haven’t we all noticed by now that history
may be a circular matter rather than a linear progression?
Cobweb. Hamahakquivergo. Well, let’s clear the throat
and continue: I like what I hear about Titian as a lover
for he seemed kind. Have we all not been children once?
Why is Kindness such an underrated virtue?” (4-5)
“The Erotic Life of Art” is an extraordinary vortex of concerns, an impeccable “Pow-em.” I would encourage you to enter it and linger as long as you can.