Eileen R. Tabios’ THE OPPOSITE OF CLAUSTROPHOBIA is reminiscent of Ginsberg's “Howl” with the constant refrain of “I forgot” instead. This collection encompasses a huge range of content, from intimate reflections to broader observations about different cultures, places, religions and people. When I was reading, I simultaneously felt as though I was lying beside Tabios like a lover or confidant, as well as moving through the generations of her family or the past of her country. There is a continual pulling closer to and then transportation to miles away from a foreign land with a potentially dark history.
There are also very poignant moments, such as “I forgot my mistake,” though Tabios then goes on to suggest quite the opposite. There is a lot of to and froing in this sense—tracing the past, reliving mistakes, reconsidering good and bad times, thinking about her history and what it means about who she is now. For this reason, I was sometimes unsure if Tabios is referring to herself or taking on numerous personalities in her poetry. Either way, the images pile on top of one another, like a constant deluge of water battering the reader. For instance, she wrote, “I forgot how quickly civilization can disappear, as swiftly as the shoreline from an oil spill birthed from a twist of the wrist by a drunk vomiting over the helm.” This image begins with a broad concept and slowly shrinks inwards like a hedgehog curling itself up to hide away from the world and protect itself, while the oil spill and the drunk vomiting over the helm imagery also reminds us of how careless we are as humans and how we are probably privy to our own destruction. It is hauntingly accurate and savage.
Moreover, there are a lot of instances where the power of nature crept in: “I forgot the grandfather who willingly faced a fire, fist trembling at the indifferent sky” and “I forgot I saw a city bleeding beyond the window.” All of these images seem to be a reminder that there is a lack of control over nature, and much like Tabios’ poetry, they can suddenly wash over you, lick you like a fire and make you feel exposed like a landscape after being ravaged by a natural disaster.
At other times, the writing is unsettlingly intimate, for instance, “I forgot you living somewhere along my spine. I forgot integral yoga to squeeze you more efficiently out of bone marrow.” I particularly love some other specific lines, for example, “I forgot the horizon is far, is near, is what you wish but always in front of you” and “I forgot you falling asleep in my skin to dream.” These lines are usually sweet but also tinged with an element of horror, hope, love, and the feeling that things can change right before your eyes.
I really enjoyed this collection and I look forward to reading more of Tabios' work.
You can purchase the collection from KFS