Rosalinda Ruiz Scarfuto & Eileen R. Tabios


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In 2020, California-based Eileen R. Tabios and Madrid-based Rosalinda Ruiz Scarfuto both came out with poetry collection/memoirs in response to Covid-19. Relatively early on in the disease’s spread, Rosalinda was diagnosed with Covid-19. The two poets decided to have a conversation about their projects based on three questions each.

Rosalinda Ruiz Scarfuto:
You have made a collection and I have made a self-survival journal, A Poet’s Survival Journal in the Covid-19 Pandemic: Mind, Body and Soul Reflections. However, we, across the globe (Thailand) (USA) (Spain) have ex-perienc-ed this event COVID as a HUMANE ONENESS.

How did you decide on the collection or re-collection to include in your book? Did you have a criterion? Random seems appropriate in this “novel” virus Erra-tic frame. If other/wise, I would like to grasp the concept.

I highlighted sections of your book in yellow. These lines bellowed the fire (fanned the air) of this unique year 2020 and ignited my tangential/inter-outer-sections in the gap between gorges of continents (mind you, the gap is inter-resting). It gave me solace and a sense of be-longing. Longing to connect and to be rather than not to be. I am re-reading your work with marvel in a comedic, upcoming resurge! Poetry is to be read, over and over, and over. This is my impression after three (3) reads.

Eileen R. Tabios:
Inculpatory Evidence was an unanticipated book. Key to its creation was the chance to be translated into Thai. For that offer I could choose the poems. So, I chose to send what poems I’d created in the relatively early days of the virus and its lockdown effect—to make that be the collection’s theme. Because I anticipated that the book would have Thai readers, I wanted to choose a theme that would be relevant to Thai readers and that’s Covid-19, a global pandemic.

Of course, one of poetry’s marvels is how it tends to stray away from the poet’s intent. So the collection came to address ars poetica as well, as in the first poem “Poetics” where I observe “I’ve been writing poems / the entirety of my writing life / on the collapse of language” which becomes a frame for the various collapses created by the coronavirus.

Inculpatory Evidence is also a type of eco-project. I chose the title, which means proof of guilt, because the coronavirus—and so many of the things damaging our planet—are man-made.

I appreciate your highlights of various words/phrases from the book, like “etched earth”, “valued soldiers stock,” and “mirror. ‘So it can nourish.’” For me, it means that the weighty and often harsh subject of Covid-19 didn’t overwhelm poetic language.


I was pleased to read your A Poet’s Survival Journal in the Covid-19 Pandemic. The form is actually one of my favorites among hybrids—where one combines memoir-ish prose and poems to show the context of the poems. When done well, the prose context does not dilute the poems’ stand-alone effectiveness. The prose is also a poet’s, such as when you say, “a small virus opened my eyes wider and quicker than any other situation I had come up against in life. It was a novel bullet train with its own fast forward time frame.” My very first question should be, “How are you?”

How are you? We’re still learning so much about this disease. How long has it been since your infection and do you still see physical after-effects?

I am doing well, and would almost say the ordeal of Covid-19 could be described as post - euphoric-trauma (PET) having overcome an infection that was unknown. People still ask “what medicine did you take?” I have to explain, “NONE" reminding them there was no medicine, no cure, no antibody, no therapeutic remedy at the time in March 2020. My body just had to fight its own battle and leaving me with courage and deep appreciation. The trauma is real, no doubt. Personality types could view the outcome from an array of perspectives. Close call moments in battle can be taken as optimistic (lucky) or pessimistic (wretched). I have overcome several challenges over my lifetime and so for me it has become a mix of trauma and euphoria—adrenaline based on victory and petrifying based on fear.

Now, 6 months after initial recovery, I am physically feeling strong in the remake of my internal organ functions and body mass structure. Walking is no longer a problem, digestion is on track, energy levels are normal (maybe better with all the rest), muscle is building in legs and arms. I noticed the weight loss continued, so I had to add healthy fats to my diet. Hair loss had not been apparent at first, but became quite noticeable in early October. I suppose I was not focused on it. I am not a news junkie so I missed the Instagram hair loss testimonies. I have solved that with an herbal formula recommended for Flamenco dancers! My hair is sprouting, so to speak! I am generally feeling re-freshed.

Mentally, commuting to the center of Madrid remains a trauma to me. It seems like a petri dish for the virus as that is where I most likely contracted it. Having said that, just around the corner the medical center here in a small town has an outbreak. So, we are surrounded by Covid-19 all around, but at least there is plenty of country air. My first trip to downtown Madrid was SCARY, in fact. I went at a non-rush hour train and survived. I have been back a few times, but have had to turn down work there. Once, in late August, I had a scare from a simple bus ride to a village nearby. I came home with a slight fever. It was part of the seasonal changes, and did not amount to anything important. In July, I also had a dry cough attack in the night and could feel a tremendous anxiety well up inside of me. I gargled with salt for a week, twice a day. Now, I am balanced both mentally and physically. I am not as fearful of a chill in the air or sneezing. I do still wake up and take a deep breath on my balcony as a habit to check my lungs.


“Often harsh subject of Covid-19 didn’t overwhelm poetic language”. Although you use the collection as “Evidence” how do you view poetry in times of strife? Is it a tool to offer healing, moving away from the “harsh reality” connecting us across continents, a valid response to the pandemic as Nietzsche proposed with grammar rules that limit us (culturally), but poetry provides us, a door or detour from ‘harsh reality’ to avoid suffering? Thus, universal? Is the “Trans-lation” a living “ars poetica” to unite us? Uni-Verse, versus Mani-fest (human centered) as you propose with Dear Reader, “Thank you, Universe? Are we moving towards, “Uni-fest” with the pandemic? What was your motivation for this ending?

Notes: I share Christian J. Emden’s essay, “Nietzsche on Language, Consciousness, and Body.” Maria Zambrano also merges her philosophy with Poetic Reason between heart and head. She proposed that the poet was a philosopher, offering a way out of reality to the evolution of society.

You ask how I view poetry in times of strife, and I consider how I view poetry the way I always would view poetry: for we are always in times of strife, are we not? So, sure, poetry can be one of healing or transcending some brutal reality.

But I didn’t want the brutal to override how life, nonetheless, can be wondrous. That’s why my last poem is “Kapwa on Covid.” Kapwa is a Filipino indigenous trait that relates to how everyone and everything is interconnected, or, as others put it, seeing one’s self in others or “shared self.” 2020 is such a brutal year but my book, any book, can last beyond the year’s temporality and I wanted that opening to be more positive. I do like to “end” books with openings into futures that may still be unknown at the time a book ends but presents (better) possibilities.

Still, whatever I posit about poetry, poetry can easily contradict. For instance, while I don’t view poetry as an escape from life, it wouldn’t surprise me if other poets take succor in, through poetry, “moving away from the ‘harsh reality’.” In any event, I empathize with the idea that, paraphrasing Danish poet Paul Lafleur, to be a poet is not to write poems but to figure out a better way of life. That approach, it seems to me, is not (necessarily) one of denial but of some recognition or understanding in order to move forward.

The idea of translation as one of universalizing or creating unity is interesting. But because translation inherently depends, too, on the translator’s subjectivity or limits, I can envision translation as failing in those attempts, but in the same way the poet (in their original language) might fail. Having said that, in writing and elsewhere, failure need not be the last word; one only needs to maintain the effort—to keep trying.


As I read through your book, I also was interested in seeing a couple of “list poems”—I once wrote an entire book on list poems and found the constraint a good way to maneuver through difficult, complicated situations. Was this the case for you?

I suppose the list came out of a desperate need to get the task done. It was a natural response and I created a workable list for perhaps a future shopping spree. The so-called practical shopping list is contained in those poems. It was part of the inertia of the moment. I believe those first poems express how it feels to jump into task mode when faced with a lockdown that will confine you for 10 days. The poem becomes a task as well. Jot down notes to remember and then it became humorous in the recall poem. The parody of 12 days of Christmas song ticked off in my head by the end of one poem, “a partridge in a spare tree.” Everything was based on getting spare food, and yet I forgot spare parts: clothes pins, candles, paperclips, tape, batteries, etc. Hardware and stationary stores and other sources of mundane goods were shut down. That poem is yet to be finished, “Things I forgot” in Covid-19. How to reuse candles, focus on not dropping your clothespins in the patio (3 floors below), reusing tape, and so on…

I once wrote a poem to fulfill a 90-poem requirement based on the contents of my desk, literally things sitting on my desk. It was a list and quite useful to express the "present moment" and later I appreciated it beyond that utilitarian "last poem". Your Hay(na)ku format could serve as an innovative list that is more poetic. I commend you for that gift and now I could try that next time. I love it! However, the translation could be tricky as you noticed if needed to be followed strictly. Beat poetry is also difficult to translate given the internal clock that keeps it going with words, double meanings, and pauses for oral recitations (not standard) according to each poet's voice/style of speaking. In that sense, poetry is not as universal as perceived. Lists make easier for translations and cut through to the chase, so to speak.


Eco-project seems to be a common reaction with the pan-demic given the planetary awareness both physically hitting humanity around the globe and the slow-down caused by the virus. How do you see yourself in the future with this “eco-project” as Inculpatory Evidence? Has this book changed your perspective? Reaffirmed it? Will provide more “evidence” in the future? Did you journal during the Spring 2020?

My concern for the natural environment is long-standing; Inculpatory Evidence is not the first poetry collection I’ve written out of such concern. No doubt I’ll write more in the future about this issue but I don’t force the writing on this or other matters anymore. I’ve gotten to a point in my poetry where I feel my primary task as a poet is not putting down words—which is why I haven’t written in journals in a long while—but paying attention. I pay attention, I learn, I think about things, and when things get to a boil a poem will surface because it has to surface, because its existence is necessary. I’ve learned to get out of the way of the poem’s making rather than control it.

Ecopoetics is useless unless one is actually doing something about it in addition (perhaps) to writing about it. One recycles, one minimizes one’s footprint on earth, one supports initiatives that diminish our (ab)use of natural resources, one educates, and so on. As regards the latter, my poem “Regret” is an example by raising how, out of concern of viral transmission, the use of plastic bags has risen during the coronavirus and “plastic bags// adrift in the ocean require/ up to 20 years to decompose.”


And notwithstanding the topic of Covid-19, you veer away in your book to address elements clearly close to you, like art. Can you talk a bit more about relating cubism and surrealism to your Covid-19 experience? Those art approaches obviously dispute—or expand—the normative.

“Cube” and Cubism were a play on words to describe the feeling of being confined to four walls in 3D, and in my case alone. We all had to deal with the reality of small spaces in the city and countryside.

Suddenly we were stuck in those small structures, “CUBED”. No walking, strict rules on shopping trips, family lunches and dinners (a tradition still in effect in 2020) were forbidden outside of households and that struck everyone weirdly.

Cubism, known via Picasso or Maria Blanchard, was designed to paint a picture from a range of perspectives with hard angles and presented neatly on a canvas, framed. This experience of Covid-19 put us in the same frame, glued together for a moment in time—static yet dynamically in unison with silent actions for the common good. “Es lo que hay” they would say here— “That’s all there is.” Believe it or not, Spanish people are patient due to their experiences. They can be into the long-haul, if it serves a peaceful end.

So, we CUBED and the tragic comedy began.

People were very innovative with videos and jokes to get us through it. That’s the Spanish legacy personality trait (Don Quixote) and a response to hardship. This is not a happy-go-lucky society, but rather practical both mentally and physically having learned from a violent war inside its borders. It was comic relief to me to be in my "cubicle" with chats and jokes from my Spanish friends.

Surrealism is more fluid and describes the dream-state that pervaded my low oxygen levels and first-time effect of a lockdown (enforced). It was all surreal starting from first 10-day lockdown on my way home March 10th to the extension of lockdowns that followed until May 2, 2020. The SILENCE was unbelievable at that time! It was SURREAL for Spanish people who are extremely social and loudly expressive.

We were all in a Dali surreal painting with melting clocks in an open desert with no oasis in site or a Laura Esquivel’s surreal novel (Like Water for Chocolate). Poets knitting a magical bedspread trailing over land-scapes through time and loosely connected. On one hand my Covid-19 reality was dreamlike being sick, but to others (friends, family, et.) it was a nightmare of self-imposed/communal house arrest. No one really had a REAL response. I noticed at first people were not coping well with their reality (text and audio messages); a surreal situation that teetered on avoiding the obvious plague outside their door and complaining about being confined. It was a disparate stream of consciousness unraveling in every direction. All ideas were valid, so we lived in SURREAL parallel realities in every group, every household, even one’s own mind. Of course, I was in no-woman’s land knitting a surreal long poem with scrapy notes to confront a timeless agony. It was surreal to be surrounded by people (physically) and love (emotionally) and yet so isolated.

Food shopping became SURREAL to me during the Covid-19 lockdown. Police did roam the streets and checked people’s bags or ID’s for evidence of the permissive “shopping trips”. It was one of the reasons no one could help me with grocery shopping (no on-line shopping here). I was in quarantine and stuck in my SURREAL-ity! Time was melting. I was running out of fresh fruits and veggies. I was scavenging and rationing in the midst of an abundant Mediterranean food supply (in another reality), just to last another 14 days. My body was ravishingly hungry for CRISP, FRESH anything. Needless to say, I have frozen half my summer harvest for winter (first time). It is surreal how your priorities change due to illness.

Since no one was as sick as I in my inner circle during the first 6 weeks, I could not relate. We were living two different realities. It was SURREAL to be struggling to stay alive with ever changing realities of Covid-19 symptoms and losing tons of weight, when others were bogged down with boredom and complaining of how fat they were getting on their couch. I drifted into a free-fall vacuum that created a pure BEAUTY-filled existence, while others were in a mundane routine expelled from the splendor of Spring. We were in two different universes, writing vastly different stories. I recorded bird songs from my balcony as an inter/section to connect the dots with my “tribe”, some responded with their own birdsongs. A surreal "tweeting" concerto from one end of Madrid to another. Last but not least, birds were in another SUR/REAL-ity. Their songs were easily heard across the plaza to each other, connected with less effort, I suppose.

Thank you, Rosalinda, for sharing your direct experience with Covid-19. Let’s each share a poem from our books. Here’s mine:

Sudden Asian Prepper —March 2020, U.S.A. A dozen jars of macapuno preserves, 20 bags of dried mango jerkies, dye for turning hair blonde, tape for double-lidding eyes, an ankle sheath, 15 propane cans, 100 MREs, then 8 large buckets of vegetable stews with 25-year shelf lives that become revived by water if blisteringly hot
Rosalinda: Thank you, Eileen, for your thoughts in the aftermath of Covid-19 first wave and beginning of the next wave. I so much enjoyed reading/conversing outside my bubble. It seems we have both been caught off guard (interruptions/eruptions), but survived poetically intact.
Who left the window open in my lungs? Isolation erases your “common” sense. Signs of Covid-19 narrowed down, To sound bites, panic buttons flare, Fever and shortness of breath! Not me! Run to the doctor, better yet the hospital Overloaded doctor doors, Revolving in my head, Emergency; no rooms available, It’s time to put your big boots on, Stay home and isolate, mate. If I could just stay away from the hospital, I would be a forsaken winner, but happy. Formula 1, race to keep it together. After the fever subsided, kidneys calmed, Legs took their turn tormenting my sleep, Gotta do a lymph scrub, lonely chore, Relief at last! Quiet slumber. Then came the strange sensation: Who left the window open in my lungs?

Rosalinda Ruiz Scarfuto, PhD, is a native Californian, published poet, multimedia artist. She is a poet-painter and researcher investigating the 3D poetic canvas with tactile perception. Her poetry has been featured on KAZU’s public radio program, Ars Poetica and her art has appeared in an Art Basel side-line event and a MOMA digital exhibit. Rosalinda is never far from her roots in California and is available for workshops about the Forest Flaneur methodology she developed in her doctoral thesis including creative writing, painting, and mindfulness. She enjoys her organic garden and yoga in her free time. Currently, she is working on a Riverscape outside Madrid, in the land of Don Quixote and finishing—Covid-19 interruption—her poetry book, Footsteps behind Frankenstein and Mary Shelley Wollstonecraft (1819-2019/20). More information at https://www.forestflaneur.com/

Eileen R. Tabios has released over 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in ten countries and cyberspace. Her 2020 books include a short story collection, PAGPAG: The Dictator’s Aftermath in the Diaspora; a poetry collection, The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets 1996-2019; and her third bilingual edition (English/Thai), INCULPATORY EVIDENCE: Covid-19 Poems. In 2021, she releases her first long-form novel: DoveLion: A Fairy Tale for Our Times. Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form, and the MDR Poetry Generator that can create poems totaling theoretical infinity, as well as a first poetry book, Beyond Life Sentences, which received the Philippines’ National Book Award for Poetry. Translated into 11 languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 15 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays. Her writing and editing works have received recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More information is available at https://eileenrtabios.com
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