UNPROTECTED TEXTS: SELECTED POEMS 1978-2006 by TOM BECKETT (3)BEATRIZ TABIOS (& DOPPELGANGER) Review
Unprotected Texts: Poems 1978-2006 by Tom Beckett
(Meritage Press, St. Helena & San Francisco, 2006)
Editor's Note: My mother decided to read Tom Beckett's Unprotected Texts after she witnessed me pasting X-large sized condoms onto bookmarks touting Tom's book. I tried to explain along the lines of "being for unprotected texts does not preclude one for advocating safe sex" but she just raised her 76-year-old church lady eyebrows at me. (I hate it when she does that.) Anyway, she read through the book and shared some thoughts. Later, I had a dream about our conversation over Tom's book. In trying to recall now and write out this dream, the lines blur between what Mom actually said and what I dreamt. But, it's an engagement and so I share it!
Mom: I found this book interesting...and intriguing.
Mom: Because it's not like much poetry I've read. I didn't see much obvious narcissism ...
Moi: Do you like his poems?
Mom: I think so. But I'm not sure I understood some of them.
Mom: Well, some of those zombie poems -- like this one:
Zombies can clone
looking in mirrors.
If a zombie
looks at you
from a mirror
a zombie too.
It's a poem that, after the first read, I immediately felt, Ah ha! as if I got some sort of epiphany from it. But on second or third read, I'm not sure I understood it -- that I got it.
Moi: Well, it's okay for different readings of the same poem to elicit different reactions....
Mom: That's the kind of statement that, although true, can also mask a lot of confusion...although, at least this guy is religious.
Moi: Why do you say that?
Mom: Well, look at this poem:
See? He's saying that those who don't go to church (or synagogue, temple or mosque) are zombies...I'm assuming, of course, that "zombies" here in this poem is an insult.
Moi: Some critics would say you're making the mistake now of assuming that the author is the same as the poem's persona...?
Mom: [shrugs] Eh. A poem may not be about the poet, but it always reveals something about the poet.
Moi: What else?
Mom: He repeats a lot of words or lines...
Moi: He might do that as a way of facilitating some rhythm he's got in mind.
Mom: Oh, then my not appreciating the repetition is my fault. Because I didn't read his poems out loud to myself. And it's difficult to appreciate rhythm if you yourself don't read the poem out loud.
Mom: As I think about it, I do like the book. At least it's unusual for me in that it's not like a lot of me-me-me poetry that I've read
Moi: Good that you like it.
Mom: But why must the cover show those hairy nipples?
Moi: One of Tom's pals, Geof Huth, jokingly suggested that it's a self-portrait of Tom on his book's cover.
Mom: Well, then Tom must be old, or as old as I am. That's how my body looks at age 76. Flabby belly, breasts sagging and one sagging lower than the other. At least I don't have hair all over my left breast.
Moi: I think Tom is younger than you are. But I suspect that statement might please him.
Moi: Because if you're projecting that you and Tom share the same body, then Tom, I think, would be pleased at the idea of the "I" collapsing with and into the "Other" of you as, say, Reader.
Mom: [gives Moi a weird look bespeaking how she thinks I'm blathering something idiotic] Well, all I can say is -- this poetry isn't like anything I read growing up. Or like much of the poetry I manage to read by other newer writers. I guess that's good, although my mind may be too old-fashioned to understand.
Moi: C'mon Mom. You know better than to be self-deprecating. In Poetry, AS YOU KNOW, sometimes, you don't have to understand but just to feel.
Mom: Well, Okay. That, I can understand.
Mom: Anyway, I hope others think it a good book. It has a lot of that hay(na)ku you've foisted on the world. This one's nice:
Wittgenstein Improvisations, #13.
the little deaths.
the murderous conventions.
the unexamined life.
Moi: Uh, Mom? Foisted, Mom? What do you mean I "foisted" the hay(na)ku on the world...?!
Mom: Eileen, you can't fool your mother. Are you telling me that you were serious when you concocted -- and then foisted -- that hay(na)ku onto other poets?
Moi: Well, that doesn't matter, does it? I mean, it's more significant that others responded to it seriously enough to take up the form...
Mom: You didn't answer my question.
Moi: Mom, I'm always serious about Poetry.
Mom: You didn't answer my question.
Moi: Okay, I think I'll take the Fifth.
Beatriz Tabios received her B.A. with English as her major from the Silliman University in Dumaguete, Philippines. She developed her love for poetry as a sixth-grader reading Homer, William Shakespeare, John Keats, Alexander Pope, William Wordworth and Samuel Coleridge while trying to survive World War II. She would further develop her appreciation for poetry as a college student instructed by poet Edith Tiempo, the first woman to receive the title of National Artist for Literature in the Philippines. The late Dr. Edilberto Tiempo, then the head of the English Department, encouraged Mrs. Tabios to continue her study of English and American literature. With Edilberto Tiempo’s encouragement, Mrs. Tabios wrote her Master of Arts thesis which was the first investigation, regarding Filipino literature, of “(The Use of) Local Color in Short Stories in English.” Later, she taught English literature at Dagupan College (now University of Pangasinan) and University of Baguio, before becoming a teacher at Brent School, a boarding school initially built for children from U.S.-American military, missionary and gold-mining families stationed in the Far East.