Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Poem366: "Achilles" and "5 Tankas" by Eileen R. Tabios

Achilles and 5 Tankas by Eileen R. Tabios

Achilles and 5 Tankas by Eileen R. Tabios (both San Diego, California: Poems-For-All, 2019)

One of the lovely aspects of writing about poetry collections in this blog is how I occasionally receive surprises in the mail. I’ve put out a call for recent books (anything after 2018 is fair game), and some poets have been kind enough to respond. When a book shows up in my mailbox, it is always a treat—and having two books show up at once is doubly fun.

The books I’m looking at today are tiny ones — really tiny. Poet Eileen R. Tabios sent me two titles published in 2019 by Poems-For-All, a San Diego-based press that puts out miniscule books. I just measured the two in front of me, and they are 1 ¾ inches by 2 inches, which means they would fully fit in a small child’s palm.

What a wonderful concept for a book of poetry. The tagline on the website says, “Little books of poetry, scattered like seeds,” and I love the comparison, since lovers of poetry know how some words can take root in us and, to continue the metaphor, bear fruit forever. There are lines from poems that I come back to again and again, and I think I’ve been meditating on them my whole life.

The two books Eileen sent included Achilles, which included only one poem about the poet’s dog (presumably the German shepherd that is pictured on the book’s first page), and 5 Tankas, which delivered on its promise with five tanka about various subjects.

I don’t like to state the obvious, but I also don’t like to leave anyone behind, so pardon me while I remind you what a tanka is. (You wrote one in fourth grade and may have forgotten.) This Japanese form is ancient, dating from the seventh century, and it contains five lines. Some people compare it to a sonnet, rhetorically, since its first three lines typically offer observations in the manner of a haiku and the last two provide a commentary on that observation. Tabios follows the conventional syllabic constraints, so that the lines’ syllable counts are 5-7-5-7-7.

“Achilles” is a poem about putting a dog to sleep, and it brought back some familiar pain:

We put down our dog—
We agreed to cross that line
To end his anguish—
We did not anticipate
Our pain lasting forever

Have I mentioned a hundred times yet that I’m the Poet Laureate of the State of Missouri? I’ve reminded my friends repeatedly every day since I was sworn in. And maybe it’s this official role that has me thinking about the importance of poetry for the people. I think it’s very good for poems to be accessible in at least two ways. These little books are lovely, and I’d love to have a Poems-For-All title of my own to strategically leave behind here, there, and everywhere.

It’s also refreshing to read poems that are accessible the other way, too, and that’s true for these little poemlets as well. That doesn’t mean they’re not richly rewarding, like the tanka “April”:
Ping! We’re alerted!
The space station is flying
over our slumped heads—
Eyes opened, we rush outside
To be reminded of stars

There is some depth to this poem. I remember how different the night sky looked when I was young, and I guess I thought there would always be plenty of stars. Not so. This poem expresses that worry about technology dominating and changing the night sky.

If anyone else has any poetry books to share, I’m eager to read them.


  1. Thank you so much! I truly appreciate it especially as this publisher is special (there’s a nifty YouTube video of Poems-For-All). I much enjoy how you share your love for poetry,

    1. Thank you so much! Your books are a pleasure.