EILEEN TABIOS Engages
ENTANGLED BANK by James Sherry
(CHAX, Victoria, TX, 2016)
I read James Sherry’s ENTANGLED BANK in one sitting, which is to say, from beginning to end in the order presented by the book. So, there I was, reading the poems, appreciating the project’s underlying conceptual underpinning, as some (well, me) are wont to say, … but candidly being just so-so about the whole thing (perhaps it was that tough balancing act of admiring affection unfold but in relationships of which one is not a part).
At one point, I thought about the not-so-secret secret about the poetry world—how some poets get books because of who they know. And it’s not to say the published writing is bad or doesn’t deserve publication. It’s just that there are a lot of good writing out there and the difference between being book-published or not can be if you know the people who, uh, happen to be book publishers or know book publishers. This irritating side-riff is to say, this is the kind of topic (I assume) many poets don’t want their poems to elicit in response.
But then—and this is a BIG HOWEVER—Page 75 occurred. And the work there entitled “Written in a Subway Stalled Under the East River” stretches through to Page 83. Eight pages about Sherry’s relationship with poet Stacy Doris who passed from cancer. Sherry’s described conversation/engagement with Doris encompasses his own diagnosis for prostrate cancer. Blurber Rae Armantrout describes these eight pages to be on “the limits of empathy.” I agree. Also, that such is the case does not diminish the anguish—and inescapability of anguish—that, for me, is also parsed by and in Sherry’s and Doris’ engagement with each other.
This is “literature,” one of Sherry’s friends is cited as saying in the book and it’s a testament to Sherry’s craft that after reading “Written in a Subway…,” I came to realize the necessity of the poems on Pages 11-74. Those poems pre-Page 75 had left me initially untouched even if some occasionally amused or made me raise an eyebrow (i.e. affected me, if briefly). But after reading “Written in a Subway…”, those prior works emphasized the context of what was raised beginning on Page 75: connections, the difficulty of connections, and the inescapability of connections.
Key to making the whole thing work is Sherry’s honesty—such sheer honesty despite the stoic writing style. That moved me, leading me to read the book again. And during my second reading of the book, that reading space (where one contained the prior knowledge of “Written in a Subway…”) was different. It became holy: the book became an acknowledgment of human mortality (as well as environmental mortality). With that acknowledgment, the book became a prayer, ... and a blessing upon the reader. It is a book after all that offers what many great books offer: it is about the reader if the reader so wishes.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor (the exception would be books that focus on other poets as well). She is pleased, though, to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work: THE CONNOISSEUR OF ALLEYS was reviewed by Joey Madia for New Mystics Reviews, Book Masons and Literary Aficionado; and EXCAVATING THE FILIPINO IN ME was reviewed by Aileen Ibardaloza for "Filipina American Literature: Reading Recommendations" (Barbara Jane Reyes Blog). She released three books and two chaps in 2016, and is scheduled to release at least three publications in 2017. More info at http://eileenrtabios.com