Eileen R. Tabios is a poet working in multiple genres and in-between. She also loves books by writing, reading, publishing, critiquing, romancing and advocating for them. This blog will feature her bibliophilic activities with posts on current book engagements and links to her books and projects related to books.

Friday, February 7, 2014


[If interested in participating in this series, "What Do You Re-Read?" please go HERE for more information. We welcome your participation.]

Tom Beckett Re-Reads!

1) What books and/or authors do you re-read?
2) Optional: Please provide comments on your answer.

I most often re-read Robert Creeley, Wittgenstein,  Charles Bernstein and a number of the poets originally associated with L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E writing.  These are the writers who ultimately helped to form my sensibility.

In the early 1970s, when I was starting out as a poet, Robert Creeley used to routinely issue small, evocative books of often tiny poems.  I have a sentimental attachment to these volumes—books such as Thirty Things (Black Sparrow, 1974) and His Idea (Coach House Press, 1973).  There were several others, but these publications were particular standouts for me.

Thirty Things, I’d like to say, is just that: thirty short poems.  Looking though at the table of contents and counting down the page, it looks as if there are actually thirty-one pieces.  Ha!  You don’t always get what you expect, sometimes you get more!

There are also, in Thirty Things, great monoprints by Bobbie Creeley.  NB: I counted them, there are 31 of those too!

Thirty Things.  The poems are at times kind of gnomic, abrupt, notational.  I responded to that as a young person and I respond to it still.  I lean toward economy (less being more)  in writing.  Love this one:

                     Post Cards
                     For Bob Grenier

Each thing, 
you didn’t even taste it.
A red flag 
on a red pole.
Heaven must spell something.
If the telephone rings, 
don’t say anything. 
A beating around 
the bush. Green 
Dad’s mother’s 

His Idea comprises poems  written to accompany a suite of photographs by Elsa Dorfman of a couple having sex. 


Both of these volumes—Thirty Things and His Idea—were received by me, back in the day, as imperfect but urgent bulletins from the front of a developing psycho-social consciousness.  And the work continues to resonate.

Ludwig Wittgenstein.  I’ve read all of his work more than once, but it is Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus  which I am haunted by and which slays me.  It is lean relentless poetry. 

“The world is everything that is the case” is, I think, the best opening line of any book ever. 

What so moves me about Wittgenstein is his palpable struggle  to understand.  Peter Sloterdijk puts it this way in Philosophical Temperaments:

The story of Wittgenstein’s life and thought is the passion of an intellect that sought to explain its place in the world and at its boundaries.  What the contemporary world of the philosopher perceived as his rigid and demanding aura was the high tension of a man who required constant concentration on his ordering principles so as not to lose his mind.  As one dwelling on the borderline of Being, the philosopher is never concerned with anything less that the block of the world as a whole, even when he is merely pondering the correct use of a word in a sentence.(88)

It was reading and re-reading Wittgenstein and Gertrude Stein (not to mention Marx and the Frankfurt School) that prepared me for L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, the periodical, when my friend Judy Platz first sent me copies from Boston.

I was a Cold War baby, a baby boomer, born in 1953.  I avoided the war in Vietnam,  just barely, despite a low lottery number, because of a history of epilepsy.  Poetry is, for me, bound up with socio-political considerations as well as with linguistic ones.  Indeed, I still believe that it is possible for a poet to effect political change on, at least, an individual level by affecting consciousness.  If reading a poem jars one, causes one to see the world differently, isn’t that revolutionary?  I think, hope, so. It has been the case for me that poems have changed my life.  How can I not hope that such will be the case for others?

Charles Bernstein’s work is exemplary.  It’s socially aware. It mixes genres.  It jams codes.  It supercharges sentences and makes me look at the world differently. 

Bernstein’s “The Klupzy Girl,” a poem first published in my magazine The Difficulties (a print magazine,  published from 1980-1990, which will soon be available online at https://jacket2.org/reissues), famously opens:

Poetry is like a swoon, with this difference: 
it brings you to your senses.

It’s been over thirty years since I first read that line.  It still makes me shiver.

In the course of editing, assembling and publishing The Difficulties, I learned that typing another person’s poem or essay could become a profound way of reading and re-reading a text.  I think that this is an editorial process that’s been somewhat lost in this era of digital cut and paste. (Remember, I was working on The Difficulties back in typewriter days.)   I would argue that if one truly wanted to engage Finnegan’s Wake, the best entry into its material and metaphysical universe would be to take the time to slowly and deliberately copy the book (either on a keyboard or by hand).

3) Please provide a list of your books (including chaps) and links, if any. Books can be written or edited. (This details is to provide some info about the responder.)

Tom Beckett's Print Publications:



As Editor/Curator:
E-X-C-H-A-N-G-E-V-A-L-U-E-S, VOL.S 1,2,3

Tom Beckett's Web Publications:

FORMER SESTINAS (chapbook of collaborations with Thomas Fink)
excerpts from APPEARANCES: A NOVEL IN 365 FRAGMENTS (the book I’ve been at work on for the last 2 years)

After putting together this list of publications, I thought I should mention another type of re-reading—the re-reading of one’s own work.  Writers don’t talk about this much.  But we all do it to a certain extent.  Whether in preparation for a new volume, a reading, or whatever.  Sometimes it is like time travel—what planet was I on when I wrote that?  What was I thinking?!?  Or sometimes you’re pleasantly surprised.  Writing is ultimately about having a conversation with others, but it begins as a conversation with one’s self.


  1. Tom,
    Some meaty remarks from one whose understood his experience. And, yes yes, to your last paragraph!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Eileen. And thanks for hosting my post!

  3. I love this Tom. It always interests me to find out what poets I admire are reading. And yes to reading (loving) ones' own work.

  4. Thanks Rebecca. I hope Vermont is being good for you.

  5. interesting "stuff" via TB's responses.
    maybe try-on-for-size:
    Matei Calinescu's : Rereading

    I ould have, unconditionally, titled it either:

    Re:reading or Re-reading.).


    listen to Carl Rakosi..., up on the right:


    as for here?

    m in process of re-reading my ARS POETIC HER

    thinking of changing the opening line/salvo ... but, only so thinking so far...

    or as Art Shopenhauer put it:

    "Any book which is at all important should be reread immediately."

    (which I am so-doing right now with
    Freund's Secrets of the Cave of Letters

    which NOVA/PBS made a doc called:

    Ancient Refugei n the Holy Land

    which is free to view on the net

  6. "refuge" not as i first spelled it.... maybe I should re-read that Collegeate Webster's Dictionary and learn how to spell ?

    here is the nova / bps film