Wednesday, October 24, 2018



(Unlikely Books, New Orleans, 2018)

I think of that phrase I’ve heard—and, yes, said, too—more than once: The best poems write themselves. I thought of that when I read Belinda Subraman’s Left Hand Dharma: New and Selected Poems—but I felt its significance most in the grouping of the oldest poems within the covered time period of 1986-2018.  In this section, “Notes of a Human Warehouse Engineer,” Subraman writes poems from her experience as a nursing aide (while she attended nursing school). These poems seem to surface effortlessly, which is ironic as I believe nursing is hard work. But the poems surface organically, thus seeming effortless, as Subraman details her experiences. For instance,

Here’s another poem where, through poetry, humor (at least by my sense of humor over that deadpan last line) rises up to lighten the morbidness of this story:

Yet, even as I thought of that phrase and thought it apt, Subraman also shows how that same phrase—The best poems write themselves—is reductive. Consider this poem:

That last line is not rooted solely in the described incident between Mrs. Garcia and Mrs. Fulladosa—it’s a line resulting from the poet’s own wisdom.

Consider as well this poem:

Mrs. Rodriguez, with an angelic smile,

an Alzheimer’s wanderer
who winds up in anybody’s bed or bedroom,
happened to wander into the room
of Mrs. Garcia (the pincher).
As the sweet and confused
was being pinched by
the mean and confused,
Mrs. Fulladosa, Garcia’s roommate,
began singing Jingle Bells
to add the Fellini touch.

Pulling Rodriguez away,
she began rubbing her injury
as Mrs. Carnero passed by
asking us if we’d seen the baby
she keeps in her room.

“No, Mrs. Carnero, are you sure
you have a baby?”

By this time Mrs. Rodriguez
had wandered toward Jay
who sat guarding his doorway
and pushed her away saying,
“Go on, get out of here.”

I put an arm around her waist
and lead her briefly away
from the pain of bitchy woman
and rejecting men.

For a moment
we were two mad sisters,
one due to brain deterioration,
one to impending divorce.

As its last line shows, Subraman displays agility in moving from one world to another—from Mrs. Rodriguez’s life to hers (or the poem’s persona).

It’s logical that the more recent poems in this collection also benefit from the poet’s wisdom, but I was most appreciative of what I felt to be the lack of a seam between poem and life in the older poems.

Notably, the collection benefits from the author’s Introduction in which she summarizes her life in poetry. Seeing her dedication to the art, and then the poems created from that devotion, makes the book a more well-rounded and welcome portrait of the poet.


Eileen Tabios is the editor of Galatea Resurrects (GR). She loves books and has released over 50 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in nine countries and cyberspace. Her 2018 poetry collections include HIRAETH: Tercets From the Last Archipelago, MURDER DEATH RESURRECTION: A Poetry Generator, TANKA: Vol. 1and ONE TWO THREE: Selected Hay(na)ku Poems which is a bilingual English-Spanish edition with translator Rebeka Lembo. Forthcoming is WITNESS IN A CONVEX MIRROR which will inaugurate Tinfish Press' "Pacific response to John Ashbery." She also invented the poetry form “hay(na)ku” whose 15-year anniversary in 2018 is celebrated at the San Francisco and Saint Helena Public Libraries. More information about her works is available at