Poetry. Asian & Asian American Studies. When John Ashbery died in September, 2017, all the obituaries noted that he had been a member of the New York School of poets, that his roots were in western New York and that, despite living for a decade in Paris, his career had unfolded over many decades in the City. Ashbery was, indeed, something of a local poet, constantly using references from the places he had lived. Lost in the very local memorials, however, was the fact that Ashbery's work also influenced writers in the Pacific, including writers of color. Eileen Tabios has taken up Ashbery's influence and engaged in a project of "the browning of John Ashbery," as she told Tinfish's editor once. Using one or two lines at a time from Ashbery's Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, (1976), Tabios inhabits Ashbery's mode, while moving our focus of attention many thousands of miles west of New York City. Tabios, who grew up in the Philippines, studied and worked in New York City, and has lived in California for many years, appropriates Ashbery to her own ends. These include cultural appropriation, genocide, militarism, sexual and racial violence, art history, and many other interests she shared--or did not share--with the older white male poet. WITNESS IN THE CONVEX MIRROR is a tense act of homage, one that draws Ashbery away from the region that is most comfortable with him, and into a place where the discomfort is palpable, but extremely generative.
Eileen R. Tabios loves books and has released about 40 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in nine countries and cyberspace. With poems translated into eight languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized ten anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays in addition to serving as editor or guest editor for various literary journals. She maintains a biblioliphic blog, Eileen Verbs Books; edits Galatea Resurrects, a popular poetry review; steers the literary and arts publisher Meritage Press; and frequently curates thematic online poetry projects including LinkedIn Poetry Recommendations (a recommended list of contemporary poetry books).