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The Imagination of Jose Garcia Villa
Avid followers of Philippine literature will rejoice in the publication of Jose Garcia Villa’s Doveglion-Collected Poems (New York: Penguin Books, 2008). Editor John Cowen writes that "this Centennial Edition celebrating the birth of poet Jose Garcia Villa, aka Doveglion, on August 5, 1908, collects the best poems written and published by Villa in his lifetime, including the complete 1942 publication of Viking/Penguin’s Have Come, Am Here, the poet’s first U.S. book of poems. All of the poem from Selected Poems and New (1958), appear here, including Villa’s designated poems from Volume Two (1949) and thirty-one previously unpublished U.S. poems from Appassionata: Poems in Praise of Love (1979). Also appearing for the first time are Villa’s versification innovation (Duo-Technique), his new adaptations, and witty, brilliant aphorisms (Xocerisms) on sex/love, God, poetry, et cetera..." Indeed, this is a feast, offering Villa at the height of his genius. As Luis Francia says in his enlightening Introduction, this book should "accelerate the growing revival of interest in his work. There is no question that he deserves a place in the pantheon of American literature. . ."
Villa is interesting, no doubt. His poetry surprises and amazes with its unique metaphors and eccentric philosophy, shaping a world where a tiger is invited for a weekend, God is a peacock, the antique ant is noble, roses race with rabbits, a radio made of seawater has mermaids for music, all the horses are gold, and a pigeon’s breast contains God. Seeing print in an America still largely dominated by traditional tropes, the symbolic purity of these images clashed with Victorian artistic values. They seemed to be out of place in a poetry where truth and discourse were predetermined. Yet Villa is uncompromising in his imperial notion about poetry—it is, above all things, a craft. "To be emancipated in art is to bind yourself to craft," he says. Since the poet is a maker, his thought and technique should form the poem in such a harmony that the one becomes indistinguishable from the other—form becomes content and content becomes form. This requires a high level of rationality, a focused consciousness, at the moment of production, testing really the poet’s ability to articulate without being obvious about it, for "language has secrets only good poets can reveal." Because these secrets have to be explored and contemplated, it is not for public sharing. Villa asked me once, "Will you consent to read your poems before an audience?" When I said yes, he smirked. "Bah," he said, "so you are one of those public declaimers!"
Since reading a poem is a private transaction, the readers must strive as much as the poet to know the poem in all its aspects. This usually takes time. They must, in essence, be poets themselves, or else how could they enjoy it? In a public reading, such a rational process does not obtain because of the absence of privacy. Indeed, very little poetry occurs there. What you get are readers trying to outshine the poem with their fancy antics and interpretations. Some even sing or dance the poem! Or you get poetry of inferior quality chosen for instant appeal to the audience. You need time to attain aesthetic delight. This explains why Villa never read his poems in public, in spite of invitations and substantial fees he stood to gain. But we must not assume that he gave little attention to poetic orality. On the contrary, what makes his poems delightful is the unparalleled arrangements of sound patterns that leads to delectation—a delectation that, however, must be processed through intellectual meditation. It is not politics or ideology or mass movement that impels it, but a conscious striving by the poet to create a delightful linguistic construction. Poetry cannot bring down a government or stop congressional corruption, but it can ease the human suffering. It is to Villa "the joy of language amidst the pain of existence."
Villa’s theology can best be seen in his so-called "divine poems," or poems that reflect his propositions about God-Man relationship. A perfect connection between the two happens when understanding and love exist between them: "The way my ideas think me/Is the way I unthink God./ As in the name of heaven I make hell/That is the way the Lords says me." And God must be made to know the way of man if He is to judge him fairly: "In the chamber of my philosophy/God is instructed./God is all naked/For reception of my energy./God is all naked./I am all incandescent./God must begin His ascent/To me the Created." Such pronouncements undoubtedly appeared weird or egocentric to people raised in traditional poetry, but they prefigured the voice of modern writing—one that searched for freedom from unjust restraints and wings for the imagination. With Doveglion—Collected Poems, Villa has a chance of easing himself into the mainstream of American letters.
from the Breaking Signs By Cirilo F. Bautista (Panorama, 9/7/2008)
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A Tao 道 Sign
Santiago B. Villafania, a bilingual Filipino poet who writes in English and in his native language of Pangasinan, is the author of poetry collections Bonsaic Verses (2012), Pinabli and Other Poems (2012), Malagilion: Sonnets tan Villanelles (2007), and Balikas na Caboloan (Voices from Caboloan, 2005) published by the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA) under its UBOD New Authors Series. He has been published in several countries and translated into several languages. Villafania is one of the 11 Outstanding Pangasinan conferred with the 2010 ASNA Award for the Arts and Culture (literature) during the first Agew na Pangasinan and also the 430th Foundation Day of the province on April 2010. He is a member of Philippine PEN writes a regular weekly column for the Sunday Punch.