eileen tabios


I wrote The Masvikiru Quatrains as a result of Jukka-Pekka Kervinen's poetry collection, cornucopia (xPress(ed), 2004). From Zimbabwe's Shona culture, "masvikiru" means "spirit mediums." But before I tell you about my poems, let me share some background about their inspiration.

Jukka apparently wrote cornucopia as a sample of what he calls "statistical writing." Basically, the poem results from a computer program, in this case one that utilizes three statistical distributions -- uniform, binomial, and Gaussian (normal) -- to avoid patterns. The (pattern) exception is that, in punctuation, a period is used each time the program encounters a space in its source vocabulary. For cornucopia, Jukka's sources were excerpts from John Locke's "The Essay of Toleration" and Antonio Gramsci's Letters from Prison. I enjoy collaborating with Jukka partly because he so takes, as a beginning point, a very different -- nay, perhaps the opposite -- tack from how I approach my poems. That is, he deliberately tries to be dispassionate whereas I, robustly believing in subjectivity, fling myself naked, hair matted and blood rushing into the poetry-writing. [Cough.] Exemplifying what I mean is that, consistent with his long-time investigations into computer-generated texts and poems, Jukka says that he never edits the results: "My 'philosophy' is simple and clear: if I use the computer to generate music/poems I must be satisfied with the results without any editing. I don't change a single word/note. Otherwise I must do whole thing without computers!"

And yet the reason why cornucopia works as a poem is the strength of its poetic music, such that reading through it effortlessly allowed me to write new poems which I intended as pure (abstract) music (to the extent I can muster such). This leads me to the other reason why I like collaborating with Jukka: we may begin from disparate if not opposite points, but we end up in the same space for the poem: music.

cornucopia consists of 65 pages of words. There are no discernible beginnings or endings to the piece. There are no titles, line breaks or paragraph breaks. It's just a 65-page block of words. Yet, as I began reading it, I started reading music by sensing such music (through rhyme and rhythm and my subjective interpretations of pacing and tone) even as I also considered the text "visual" a la dark, seemingly single-color canvases.

After my read -- and conclusion that what I experienced through such reading was music -- I queried Jukka about my response. Jukka replied that he also found the computer-generated results "surprisingly musical." But as Jukka -- who is also a composer -- explained, "One reason for this might be that the program was first used to generate a cello piece (punctuation vs. silence/very loud (low) strokes)."

Jukka's referenced cello piece can be seen at http://xpressed.sdf-eu.org/kervinen (see Compositions-Computer-generated scores-eXudes for cello solo).

I hadn't intended to write poems as I read through cornucopia, but I found that each page generated for me a new poem. Specifically, each line on the page generated a three word line for my poem. Also, for each line, the first word is followed by a colon so that the next two words offers a relationship to the first word based on said colon (I happened to be in the midst of investigating the colon punctuation mark when I began writing this series). Because the diction is based more on sound (music) vs. narrative meaning, I wanted to push the challenge of creating a colon-based relationship within each three-word phrase.

In addition, reflecting the fact that each page of cornucopia contains 39 lines, the poems are formed from quatrains. Every fifth line on the page was deleted, with that line deletion becoming equivalent to a stanza break. Thus, each poem consists of eight quatrains, except for the last poem which is comprised of five quatrains as the last page contains only 24 lines.

To write -- and hopefully for the reader to read -- these quatrains was/is an experience based on a sense of musicality in cornucopia. Here's the first poem in The Masvikiru Quatrains:


foolery: pollinate eyrie
progress: retinal runners-up
forger: nimbus dowdy
round-the-clock: penetrate rot

proton: airship lire
Vaseline: nose dive
freebie: damper promiscuous
specialize: betterment bloat

persuasiveness: midget manipulative
IQ: crabbed Ra
spage-age: hula slake
faintness: instrument snowsuit

lachrymal: slickness profuse
AM: ahem misfire
idiomatic: rations periscope
thrash: quarry inhalator

hobbyist: converse sheaves
epoxy: semen discrepancy
trillion: planetary wintergreen
anthem: lumber jealousy

lodge: slippery atty.
campanile: softball issuance
liquefy: pox downwards
averse: amicable perquisite

copra: nameless feasibility
panorama: negotiable dorm
decadence: outflank tweedy
offal: conjoin uncounted

plainclothesman: radicalism dire
skin: N.Mex. woodwind
upstart; gravestone outmaneuver
pointy: Mediterranean fend

Moreover, cornucopia is so musical that even as I wrote my poems, I sensed that there were other parallel poems threaded through each of the pages. This may be made clearer by looking at the original cornucopia text for the first poem, "The Fourth Page" -- shown in Appendix I. In looking at the prose poem form of the source text, you might sense -- as I do -- that one could just as easily have formed different three-word combinations than what I chose for The Masvikiru Quatrains. For instance, rather than this first quatrain in "The Fourth Page:"

foolery: pollinate eyrie
progress: retinal runners-up
forger: nimbus dowdy
round-the-clock: penetrate rot

I could have written -- chipped out from the stone-prose -- the following for the first quatrain, which (for me) would still have been effective as music:

notoriety: smirch resilience
baptize: runners-up kilowatt
impersonate: unceasing nimbus
ménage: disingenuous moonscape

Still, I didn''t write this series only from a sense of "soundscape." Not only did I wish to extend my exploration of the colon punctuation mark, but I also wanted to translate Zimbabwean Shona sculpture methodology into writing poems. By the latter, I mean that I had to chip away at cornucopia's prose blocks to release new poems. Shona sculptors believe that spirits reside in stones and when they sculpt from stones, they basically are trying to release the spirits into what we later see as sculpted forms. From cornucopia, I sought to write poems to release the many hidden strains of music I sensed as spirits beneath each of cornucopia's pages.

To relate the poems further to Shona sculpture, one might say that Jukka and I have found as a common "ancestor" a type of music that draws out an empathy that we hold in common, a type of music that makes us kin. Through music, Jukka and I zero out notions of Other-hood. Through Poetry, we become the same flesh, blood … and even computer.


Here are two more poems from The Masvikiru Quatrains.


maternity: comforting embroider
rosette: demagnetize equation
verdigris: damask broth
pendulum: fraternal freedom

gravitational: unique margarine
polecat: hairdressing retrospection
unassuming: avarice Iron
inauspicious: slough toenail

metabolic: lightness catalpa
Viking: pea perceptible
lambaste: desiderata loony
tombstone: hardheadedness eligibility

evacuee: operator sassafras
gulag: floppy mandatory
alphabetic: execution FM
cogency: improvise bigamist

testate: music puck
perpetuation: countable wind
mangrove: February flay
excrete: soundtrack blight

mousse: concavity maunder
paleontology: demolish neatness
asymmetrical: putrid translucence
abstemious: applicant saxophonist

feathery: thesaurus dodo
Eustachian: hula pedigreed
buffoonery: Burgundy syncopate
maritime: anticlimactic tie

colloquium: facilitate senna
manna: sweeping sulphur
profligate: pilothouse mother-in-law
sweetener: crisis elevation



tibia: decomposition zodiac
consular: pestle weather
godless: nonevent jeans
impeccable: exclamation bract

savvy: mutability obstacle
notify: cosmetology antitheses
repletion: sled oleander
fluid: crotch fjord

stripling: spring enticement
tenderness: daydream technician
deflation: prevaricator stub
deflation: jack adjutant

waggish: sonar once-over
crucify: slip-up yokel
octogenarian: livable bubble
weevil: fib limerick

dentistry: exclamatory awful
crocodile: epileptic uncharitable
Filipino: conviction encyclopedic
relocation: dependency series

thunderbolt: infringe eager
cockatoo: spacey mandible
cowpox: arson sophisticate
trippery: triumvirate gunnery

ménage: dissolution suspenseful
disputatious: imperialist homer
xenophobic: etiquette clandestine
wing: willies lucid

beryllium: quick mayonnaise
vocal: corpus lame
transact: garble episodic
hedonistic: patchy gamin



foolery chore notoriety smirch resilience drip pollinate eyrie
baptize hemlock colliery progress retinal runners-up kilowatt
periscope impersonate wane. forger unceasing nimbus dowdy
round-the-clock ménage penetrate rot disingenuous moonscape
gabardine ugliness cornucopia pimple front office. Overweening
proton munificence wheelbarrow airship lire scalene denouement
batch. Vaseline nose dive. Unintentional trading post. Substation
blowup freebie scalene gem gas damper promiscuous
monotheistic specialize lubricate alluvial betterment bloat trick
narcissi permissive conductive gritty VCR handyman positron
persuasiveness statehouse midget manipulative recalcitrant
phantasy mantel IQ programmable. Crabbed Ra farmhouse
fallibility space-age namby-pamby exportation stony hula slake
inflexibility least faintness. Spontaneity instrument snowsuit
steppingstone all-purpose odometer housecleaning anytime trot
crystallization lachrymal cheesecloth mummer slickneses profuse
bigot timbre AM corpus defeatism ahem misfire diplomat
idiomatic unintended treatment dogmatic rations periscope
thrash patent medicine. Watt malt swindle quarry inhalator
rummage sale. Dwelling copter augment politician disguise
hobbyist paleness flake paunch nontransferable converse sheaves
epoxy. Hayloft. Iodize self-controlled semen discrepancy nerve
gas. Trlllion speller deterrent bravery planetary wintergreen
veritable autonomous anthem praiseworthy circle lumber jealousy
digit leeway advantage tortuous thimble commissar lachrymal
gainful pushiness reformatory protector lodge slippery atty.
Campanile Na voltmeter imprisonment jewelry softball issuance
Frequent small fry. Quiescence liquefy. Chicken pos. downwards
Touching averse impassive amicable perquisite truthfulness
Postage nevermore proceeds levelheaded groceries breaking and
Entering. Copra markup monastic viability nameless feasibility
Clubhouse eyeliner beast panorama negotiable dorm Pisces
Decadence announce tremendous outflank tweedy browser
Idealism offal viviparous conceal iterate conjoin uncounted badge
Jr. stay malcontent salary boldfaced swordfish. Meek thermal
Plainclothesman radicalism dire thin-skinned capital punishment.
Baker's dozen. Skin southeastern detainment N. Mex. Woodwind
Upstart medicinal. Bunk assortment gravestone outmaneuver
Hungarian picture tube. Pointy Mediterranean fend conclusive

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