Books by Eileen Tabios using the Hay(na)ku, a 21st century poetry word-count form.

Hay(na)ku Books by Eileen Tabios
reviewed by Ariadne Unst

* Hay(na)ku History. * Hay(na)ku Example. * Hay(na)ku Form.
* Eileen Tabios, mother of Hay(na)ku.
* Eileen Tabios Hay(na)ku chap (chapbook): The Singer and Others: Flamenco Hay(na)ku.
* Interview with Jean Vengua, anthologist of Hay(na)ku.
* Your Hay(na)ku Composition. * References on Poetry Form.

The hay(na)ku is a 21st-century poetry form invented by poet Eileen Tabios, and officially inaugurated on the Web on June 12th, 2003 (Philippine Independence Day).

The Singer and Others: Flamenco Hay(na)ku

  arrived today
  Flamenco Hay(na)ku singing   

  from the soul
  of Eileen

  review to
  be written soon

  muchas gracias escribo
  la verdad

  Ariadne Unst

Review of The Singer and Others: Flamenco Hay(na)ku
by Eileen Tabios

This gorgeously presented handmade chap of 64 pages is a joyful experience, starting with the wrapper of recycled newsprint-de-jour (reflecting Tabios's ecopoetics) on which a rosy smooch has been lovingly kissed.

I take a sip from my glass of sangria, then break the handmade sticker, undo the glossy green gift ribbon (also ecopoetically recycled), and open up the package. Anyone who would not feel anticipation at this point has been deep-sixed.

What an exuberant double cover: the outer cover of luminous flamingo pink shows the top of a played guitar beneath the active fret hand of a flamenco guitarist and beside the extended hand of a flamenco dancer; the inner cover of shiny apple green is revealed, as a petticoat is glimpsed at a torn skirt hem, beyond a satisfyingly raw edge to the outer cover, created by the poet's deliberate hand-tearing of an edge strip.

Black and white images of flamenco scenes from Tabios's travels in Spain intersperse the poems. All are placed on faded want-ad sheets (another kind of desire).

It is delicious to figure out how the chap is put together, including how torn strips appear at critical places -- a labor of love and passion -- very tango-esque.

The poems are all sequences in the form of the hay(na)ku and reverse hay(na)ku forms invented by Tabios: each stanza is a tercet (3 lines) totaling 6 words, with 1-or-3 words in the first line, 2 in the second, and 3-or-1 in the last.

There are a dozen poems by Tabios, telling stories of flamenco dancers and singers, passionate people of the flamenco culture, and the relationship of flamenco to poetry writing:


  would be the
  worst thing
  about my poetry?
  I created

  that moved you.
  [From "The Singer"]	

The writing is strong, particularly with a glory of fierce verbs, including:

astonish, bait, beg, bewilder, bruise, burrow, calibrate, chop up, clap, clash, claw, cleanse, conspire, cut, demand, drench, drown, drug, eliminate, flick, forbid, forced, fumble, howl, knock, lance, lick, lure, mate, overwhelm, pierce, pound, prolong, pucker, rap, reveal, rip, slam, shiver, shrivel, snarl, stain, stalk, stamp, sweat, tap, wither,

The chap includes Federico García Lorca's "Cancioncilla del Primer Deseo", which starts (restoring stress and pronunciation marks that Tabios dropped):

  En la manaña verde  
  quería ser corazón.
  Y en la tarde madura  
  quería ser ruiseñor.

  In the green morning
  I wanted to be a heart.
  A heart.
  And in the ripe evening
  I wanted to be a nightingale. 
  A nightingale.

Poet and visual artist Jean Vengua (personal communication, June 17, 2007 10:11 P.M.) asserts the importance of Lorca:

His theory about duende is, I think, mostly a mystical view, in which Duende is the muse (for Lorca, a homosexual, it was a male muse), something like a dark angel that bequeaths a special artistic power only to those artists who are passionate enough to risk everything, unto death, for their art. See for example her [Tabios'] poem "Sangre Negra" on page 10, "The way / cantaores // drown in their / own blood / singing// one last letra."

The Author's Notes report that much of this work is generated from a pre-existing text, Sarah Bird's The Flamenco Academy using the techniques of "scumbling" and Vicente Rafael's "fishing" technique. The obscurity of what these mean for the text is our main quibble with the chap.

Despite our quibble, for the four-dimensional glory experience of opening up this smoochy chap, contact the author. Beg for a copy. Kneel on your flamenco-infused knees.

Scumbling and fish-ing

A weakness of the chap is that the Author's Note alludes to scumbling and fish-ing, but without explanation. The reference is coy. It's irritating to have to go tracking down what she means by these words, especially when I find them and discover that she's giving fancy names to techniques used by other. If an academic did this, it would be over-intellectualization: vocabulary generation for the sake of staking out mindspace.

Scumbling and fish-ing, she tells us, are techniques of leveraging other material:

But the referenced books were not available to us and the web site did not have any clear pointer to a lightning-bolt definition. So what did we find in browsing the Web? In painting, according to

According to, the verb form can be in this kind of sentence: "To blur the outlines of: a writer who scumbled the line that divides history and fiction." Ah, this sounds like Tabios has simply used a word from art for a technique used widely by other authors, especially by one of my favorite novelists, Jim Crace, in Arcadia, Being Dead, etc. and by many others.

Jean Vengua (personal communication, June 17, 2007 10:11 P.M.) reports her view that Tabios:

sees scumbling as a process of layering words, like paint. Not exactly like collage, with its hard edges, but think of it as a softer, tonal process, where words (some taken from the lines of other poets or textual sources) layered one over the other might reveal juxtapositions and relationships.

What does scumbling mean for the poems of The Singer and Others? What is their relationship to found poems? Information of the distance between Tabios's text and Bird's would be helpful. We assume that the poems in Tabios's book are sufficiently different (include sufficient layers of fish and scumble) from Sarah Bird's The Flamenco Academy that our praise of Tabios's poems should not be given instead to the brilliance of Bird's work.

On "fish-ing" Craig Perez ( comments on the use of the term by Paolo Javier and Vicente Rafael:

[Paolo] Javier describes how "during friar rule in the Philippines, a method of homophonic translation called 'fishing' was used during the church sermons by the uneducated, non-Spanish speaking native congregations." He then quotes Vicente Rafael's Contracting Colonialism:

'for whom the priest's words rouse in [them] other thoughts that have only the most tenuous connections to what he is actually saying. It is as if they saw other possibilities in those words, possibilities that served to mitigate the interminable verbal assaults being hurled from the pulpit. To the extent that such random possibilities occur, the native listeners manage to find another place from which to confront colonial authority.'

Javier suggests an analogy: the way in which he "fishes" Neruda's Spanish to find and construct variable possibilities parallels the native congregations' "fishing" the Spanish sermons. To me, this is a barely tenable analogy considering that Neruda's Spanish is not being hurled at Javier from any pulpit; nor is he assaulted, linguistically, in as desperately strange a situation as the "native listeners."

Perez's criticism of Javier's "barely tenable analogy" of Rafael's term would also apply to Tabios.

Setting aside that cricism, what does "fish-ing" mean for the poems of The Singer and Others? Isn't this just another name for the English-to-English translitics (translations/conversions based on word sounds rather than meaning, as in poetry texts such as Steve Kowit's In the Palm of Your Hand)?

But mostly the questions don't distract from the pleasure of reading the poems.

Ariadne's Jean Vengua Interview

Jean Vengua made time from her book tour to talk to our interviewer Ariadne Unst about Hay(na)ku and The First Hay(na)ku Anthology. Here is the transcript.


The First Hay(na)ku Anthology introduces the new poetic form, the hay(na)ku, invented by Eileen Tabios (with inspiration from Richard Brautigan, Jack Kerouac, and meditations on the Filipino transcolonial and diasporic experience). Poems and essays by 38 poets.

[Thanks for visiting.]