Review of I Take Thee, English, For My Beloved by Eileen R. Tabios

(Marsh Hawk Press, New York, 2005)


Aileen Ibardaloza


ENGLISH came to me like a ‘Third Day Missive’.  A collection of poems to break through barriers of empty space and resignation, to point to another way of life: ‘Poetry’, as Eileen scribbled in her note. [1] The 500-paged book is Language that is beautiful, intimate, disquieting.  One reads it, pauses, contemplates, and is moved to write – “there (above the footnotes), where the pages end.” [2] And as one writes, one is transformed, much like the Yao brides of old.

     In south central, feudal China, peasant women, “forbidden to read and write,” created Nu shu (or Women’s Script), a writing system that allowed them to express themselves using wispy, slanted characters, often in a 5-7-5 syllabic form.  According to Jiangyong tradition, three days after a wedding, the bride is given a cloth-bound booklet where her mother and sworn sisters had written down, in Nu shu, their hopes for her and their sorrow at being parted, but leaving the rest of the pages blank for her to record her own thoughts. [3]

     I imagine her beginning with a narrative.


I do know English. – writes Eileen.

     In a tone that is clear and intentional, she continues,


I do know English.  Therefore I can explain this painting of a fractured grid as the persistent flux of our “selves” as time unfolds.


There is a way to speak of our past or hopes for the future, the hot-air balloon woven from a rainbow’s fragments now floating over St. Helena; your glasses I nearly broke when, afterwards, you flung me to the floor as violence is extreme and we demand the extreme from each other; your three moans in a San Francisco hallway after I fell to my knees; your silence in New York as I knocked on your door.  There is a way to articulate your silence – a limousine running over a child on the streets of Manila and Shanghai.


There is a way to joke about full-haired actors running for President and the birth of a new American portrait: “Tight as a Florida election.”


I do know English and so cannot comprehend why you write me no letters even as you unfailingly read mine.  [4]


     I know the subjugated past she speaks of, and see the irony of the ‘colonized’ writing well in English, thereby prosodically ‘colonizing’ it. [5] Except that Eileen gives it a twist like no other writer.  She tinkers with it until it maieutically forms into verses like the hay(na)ku; imposes on its boundaries the greatest longitudinal stress until it goes ‘Six Directions’ without tearing apart.  And then she does the almost-incomprehensible, she marries it and truly makes it a way of life. [6]


I am also particularly intrigued by the Epilogue Poems, for they are, at once, tender and sensual.  (I have always been partial to final scenes/concluding sections having the impetus to haunt.)  Here, the speaker-Poet refers to ‘her’, (nobly fragile) Lover-Muse:


Epilogue Poems (No. 8)


If this is an “epilogue”
























I am writing poems now   [7]


This section alone (even while each Epilogue Poem, in and of itself, could provide a powerful ending to any work) tells a story: Lovers/Poet-Muse grappling with what is inevitably doomed, or passing, the frenzy evidenced by ampersands and corrections.  It is cathartic and humbling to be offered a glimpse into such a poetic process.  This is what makes Eileen an ‘effective’ poet: not only that she writes “to see/hear what the poem is saying,” but that she makes it participative by creating a large enough space for the reader to see/hear for herself. [8]


And this is BLISS.

     The ability to connect, express one’s self, practice a chosen way of life. [9]

     I imagine the Yao bride writing, “Indeed, this difficulty in weaving.” [10]







[1] I used the poet’s first name freely as I feel the book has impacted me personally and I am thus reviewing it from a non-academic perspective.


[2] from Part IV. THERE, WHERE THE PAGES WOULD END, pp. 393-486.


[3] Edward Cody, “The Secret Language of Chinese Women,” San Francisco Chronicle, (accessed October 12, 2007).

     Jo Ann Skousen, “Bound But Determined,” Liberty, (accessed October 18, 2007).

     Laura Miller, “Much Ado about Nushu,” Keywords, (accessed October 18, 2007).

     Marisa J. Larson, “A Secret Script, for Women Only,” Selections from National Geographic, 2004, 4.

     William W. Chiang, We Two Know the Script; We Have Become Good Friends (MD: University Press of America, 1995).

     (Studies show that Nu shu was used by the women of the Yao ethnic minority.)


[4] I Do, p. 31.


[5] From an interview by poet Nick Carbo, p. 229.



(Hay(na)ku, the Filipino version of the Japanese haiku, was inaugurated by Eileen Tabios on June 12, 2001.)

Part II. POEMS FORM/FROM THE SIX DIRECTIONS (Eileen Tabios marries Mr/s Poetry), pp. 215-242.

Other forms in the book include the prose poem, footnote, play and story.


[7] Epilogue Poems (No. 8), p. 200.


[8] Six Directions: Poetry as a Way of Life, p. 217; Selected Notes to Poems, p. 497.


[9] paraphrased from:

“It made our lives better, because we could express ourselves that way.” – Yang Huanyi, last Nu shu speaker

“I consider Poetry to be a practice, a way of living.” – Eileen Tabios


[10] The poem ‘Falling Up’ in Part I. ENGLISH THE COURTSHIP, begins with the line, “Indeed, this difficulty in dying.”


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