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.

Sunday, November 30, 2014


I am pleased to announce that my poetry books have made it to that most significant element of Philippine culture: the sari sari store! My book THE THORN ROSARY is now carried in Dona Tilan Valdez’s tienda in Ilocos Sur, Philippines.  This, of course, is the kind of innovative grass roots move that a poet must do to allow her poems to reach a wide-ranging audience even as capitalism continuously reduces poetry distribution venues (that be the theory component of this blog post. Anyway…) From Wikipedia, that fount of information whether true or not: “Dickie Aguado of Magna Kultura Foundation notes that the Sari-sari store is part of Philippine culture, … an integral part of every Filipino’s life. It is a constant feature of residential neighborhoods in the Philippines both in rural and urban areas, proliferating even in the poorest communities.

To celebrate, I’ve remixed—a la “halo halo”—Wikipedia’s entry on the sari-sari store with photos from Dona’s store.  You’ll see Dona below, and also her son Eudy – Dona, tell him he can have anything he wants from your store for posing with my books! 


A sari-sari store is a convenience store found in the Philippines. The word sari-sari is Tagalog meaning "variety". Such stores form an important economic and social location in a Filipino community. It is present in almost all neighborhoods, sometimes even on every street. Most sari-sari stores are privately owned shops and are operated inside the shopkeeper's house. Commodities are displayed in a large screen-covered or metal barred window in front of the shop. Candies in recycled jars, canned goods and cigarettes are often displayed while cooking oil, salt and sugar are often stored at the back of the shop. A small window is also present where the customer's requested commodity is given. A cigarette lighter tied to the window can also be found. Benches and sometimes tables are also provided in front of the sari-sari store. A shade is placed above it which is also used to cover the large window when the store closes.

The sari-sari store allows members of the community easy access to basic commodities at low costs. In the Philippines, following the concept of tingi or retail, a customer can buy 'units' of the product rather than whole package. For example, one can buy a single cigarette for one peso (0.02 US dollars) rather than a whole pack. This is convenient for those who cannot buy the whole package or do not need much of it.

The sari-sari store also saves the customer extra transportation costs, especially those in rural areas, since some towns can be very far from the nearest market or grocery. The store also serves as a secondary or even primary source of income for the shopkeepers. The owners can buy commodities in bulk in groceries then sell them in the store at a mark-up price. Trucks usually deliver LPG and soft drinks to the store itself. The store requires little investment since the products are cheap and only a few modifications on one side of a house are needed to convert it to a sari-sari store.

The sari-sari store also allows credit purchases from its "suki" (repeat customers known to the store owners). They usually keep a record of their customers' outstanding balances on a school notebook and demand payments on paydays.

Often sari-sari store owners put a markup of about 10% on average, compared to the 20% markup average of the alternative 24/7 convenience stores such as 7-11, so most Filipinos tend to buy at sari-sari stores whenever possible.

According to Dickie Aguado, Executive Director of Magna Kultura Foundation, the network of Sari-sari stores nationwide account for almost seventy per cent (70%) sales of manufactured consumer food products, which makes it a valuable part of the economy and an important conduit for making vital goods available to Filipino neighborhood communities. Aguado adds that, while the Sari-sari store owners are small business people, they are the backbone of the grassroots economy. It is estimated that 800,000 sari-sari stores hold a substantial portion of the Philippine retail market, and accounts for a significant chunk of the country’s GDP. About 13 percent or Php 1.3 trillion of the Philippines GDP of Php 9.7 trillion in Y-2011 came from retail, which is composed largely of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) or small businesses like sari-sari stores. While many of the Sari-sari store owners may be un-schooled in business, they are an integral part of the eco-system of society and contribute to the grassroots micro-economy.

About ninety-three percent (93%) of all Sari-sari stores nationwide are located in residential communities. The neighborhood Sari-sari store (variety or general) is part and parcel of daily life for the average Filipino. Any essential household good that might be missing from one’s pantry –-- from basic food items like sugar, coffee and cooking condiments, to other necessities like soap or shampoo –-- is most conveniently purchased from the nearby Sari-sari store at economically-sized quantities which are affordable to common citizens.

The sari-sari store offers a place where people can meet. The benches provided in front of the store are usually full of men and women. Some men would spend some time drinking while women discuss the latest local news. Youths also use the place to hang out. Children would also rest here in the afternoon after playing and buy soft drinks and snacks.

Pinoy rock band Eraserheads' song Tindahan ni Aling Nena (aling Nena's Store; from the album UltraElectroMagneticPop!) tells the story of a man buying food at a sari-sari store and his attempts to court the affections of the eponymous storeowner's daughter.


Thanks to Dona for distributing THE THORN ROSARY.  If you're not lucky enough to live in the Philippines and would like a copy, other distribution venues are cited HERE.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Eleven years later I'm still unpacking.  Literally and not just metaphorically.  Which is to say, I recently took out of boxes a ceramic sculpture of our German Shepherds (Achilles and Gabriela) made by master ceramicist David Regan.  I vaguely recall sending him a poetry book or two at the time he was making these, and I believe the second image below may partly reflect some read he got out of REPRODUCTIONS OF THE EMPTY FLAGPOLE (I think).  Anyway, they're gorgeous and worth blathering about, to wit:

(Click on images to enlarge)

David Regan's fabulous draftsmanship creates a painterliness to these images that I adore.  I thank him for immortalizing my beloved dogs.  And if you take a look at the first image above, you'll see the link to the image which Mr. Regan sourced for inspiration -- this was from the first day Achilles and Gabriela met (an image that Allen Bramhall once mischievously cited as a visual metaphor for how poets, or certain poets, treat each other):

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


The deadline for next GALATEA RESURRECTS is Nov. 30 but as I’m a tad behind on things, I’m likely to be able to keep taking reviews for a few more days – let’s say up to Dec. 5 … as long as you let me know ahead of time. 

This is going to be another wonderful issue.  While I often (and deliberately) flake on many of my own “engagements” (vs. reviews), I’m always bolstered by many great thinkers volunteering to share their reviews.  Here’s an excerpt, for example, from T.C. Marshall’s review of Fred Moten’s THE FEEL TRIO:

The Feel Trio has been getting a lot of attention ever since it came out because it is delightful and enjoyably challenging to read, because its author is delightful and often challenging to listen to, and because it moves just far enough beyond his other very fine books to challenge the world to give him the notice he has deserved all along. The core of his fans has broadened, and now the book is getting read all over the place mostly because it made the short list, and then the finalists list for the National Book Award in Poetry. It did not win, and that may in the end be a good thing. Besides the travesties at the ceremony, there are other dangers in that prize. Winning it can be a stamp of approval for reductive pleasures. The aesthetics of the poetry world obscure some interesting challenges, one way and another, and there’s at least one challenging thing about The Feel Trio that should not be missed.

Plenty of folks have been, and will be, writing about the many great things about this book of poetry. The one thing that puts some extra challenge into reading this book by Fred Moten is another book: called The Undercommons by Stefano Harney & Fred Moten. If we read The Feel Trio without an understanding of The Undercommons, we may be in for that reductive trouble. It’s the trouble that the National Book Award can bring, even without its ceremonial brouhahas and idiocies.


That difference in reading is part of what makes The Undercommons a necessary companion book to The Feel Trio. If we merely read The Feel Trio as we have been reading other advancing work in recent decades, we risk consigning it to the same kind of aesthetic arguments that continue to simply help keep the world as we know it afloat. Art has its place in that world, and mostly is kept in it, contained in it, but The Feel Trio exceeds art and aesthetics—just as its namesake musical combo did. Another part of that companion volume’s necessity is that if we read The Feel Trio without the difference created in the hard work and play of thinking in The Undercommons, The Feel Trio just might get turned into a “manageable,” understandable book. Giving it a prize might turn out to be domesticating it. That’s what the challenge is: as usual, resistance, kept alive beyond hope of any prize.

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Stopped by the library to return a book (Daniel Silva's latest THE HEIST and I think Mr. Silva does his genre so well), and saw a book someone had sculpted into an apple.  I'm always interested in which books people reconfigure into something else -- even when they turn it into artwork, doesn't said reconfiguration imply they may not feel the book's not worth reading?  For me, for example, I've got a set of books I plan to turn into sculptures and it'd make sense as my raw material are cookbooks...(just kidding; actually, not). Anyway, I made sure to photograph the title of the book too... I guess the author wasn't that effective for the sculptor-reader...

Monday, November 24, 2014


I've been unpacking some boxes.  So I stumbled across this old framed photo that Mom must have had nearly all of my life -- I estimate I'm about two years old.  I know the venue was Baguio City.  Anyway, I guess Mom had a foretelling about me even then, given the nature of the frame...

Friday, November 21, 2014


If only because I'm prolific, I try to avoid writing poems that repeat their language. I try to do something fresh with language.  When I did my first Selected book, it was  THE THORN ROSARY which focused on a selection of prose poems. The compilation, for me (and any interested reader), allows for a look at what I've done with the prose poem form and see if I've contributed to it--expanded the form's expanse--in some way.  

A focus on poetic form opens up for me a way to do a Selected Poems type of book which, for many other poets, seems to focus on a best-of perspective: the best poems the poet has written over a period of time.  It's a point of view that doesn't resonate or challenge or interest me, if only because I've no interest in the "best poem" perspective.  Still, I enjoy reading many Selecteds and Collecteds precisely because I like what they reveal about the poet's trajectory.  But by focusing on an individual poetic form, I can see more clearly that trajectory and, thus, privately judge whether I've done justice to that particular form and earned my title as poet.

All this leads me to share news of my second Selected.  It will focus on a selection of catalogue or list poems, hence its title:



The period covered ends in 2015 because I have a publisher interested and it looks like it'll come out next year--thank you Universe.  Anyway, the reader will be able to see what I've done with the list poem form over the past 19 years and see if I've warranted the paper and ink I've used for such...

As I begin putting together the manuscript, I have to retype up many of the older poems since I don't have them e-saved somewhere.  So I thought I'd share what is the first poem of the collection which I plan to structure chronologically.  It is also the first List Poem I've written--I wrote it in 1996 when I first started writing poems:

Listening To What Woke Me

in the city, as summer evaporates off the streets:
the stilled, sharp blades of a three-pronged fan
behind the curve of its grated mask

the fragments of dust wakened
by the sole of a gavel
slamming as the judge stands

the pale-pink cotton fluttering
from my baby’s tiny snore,
bereft of nightmares cracking the eggshell of his brow

the memory of Black Mesa (New Mexico), an infinite sapphire
past the horizon as I drive by in a red car with Foreplay
surrounding … then the smoke in Anita’s songs

your finger trailing the ragged seam of my stretchmark

the last puddle of spicy, flour-thickened gravy
as a crumbling piece of warm cornbread
hovers, the butter dripping

you cannot translate the scattered remnants of a circle
covering the box from Chinatown in the hands of a boy
and I think of moths as the sun disappears

—the flutter of wings as they tease a dim porchlight

I think it'll be interesting to contrast that first list poem with my current work on list poems (e.g., HERE).  In between, the trajectory has been ... turbulent.  But I suppose, as a poet, I wouldn't have it any other way.