October 27, 2011


Jose Garcia Villa

José Garcia Villa was born in Manila in the Philippines in 1908, a grew up the son of a physician who participated actively in the Revolution of the late 19th century against the Spanish domination of the Philippines. The father, who with the Revolution’s collapse, had become what writer Nick Joaquin has described as “a grim, silent man,” disapproved of his son’s artistic activities. The young Villa grew more and more interested in painting and, as he began medical studies at the University of the Philippines, in writing. As a sophomore in the university, Villa wrote a collection of sexual lyrics,Man Songs, that were so controversial—and successful—that he was expelled from the university for obscenity. An award from the Free Press, however, allowed him to leave home; he emigrated to the United States, studying first at the University of New Mexico, where he edited an avant-garde publication, Clay.

Villa soon moved on to New York City, where he attended Columbia University, and where, except for a brief return to the Philippines in 1937, he would remain for the rest of his life.

In 1933 he published a collection of short stories, Footnote to Youth: Tales of the Philippines and Others. But it was only in 1942, with the publication of his second poetry collection, Have Come, Here Am by Viking Press, that he gained international notoriety. By that time the Philippines, involved in World War II, was basically isolated from the world, and Filipinos discovered this publication only after liberation. Honors and fellowships soon followed, including a Guggenheim grant, the Bollingen Prize, and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Dame Edith Sitwell had taken up his cause and recommended him as “A poet with a great, even an astonishing, and perfectly original gift.” Villa also corresponded with and ultimately met regularly with the poet E. E. Cummings.

In the preface to his 1949 collection, Volume Two, published by New Directions, Villa explained a new development in his poetics, the placement of commas after every word which the poet argued regulated “the poem’s verbal density and time movement: enabling each word to attain a fuller tonal and sonal value, and the line movement to become more measured.” Thereafter, Villa would be described as “the comma poet.” In 1959 he was awarded an honorary doctorate in literature in his homeland’s Far Eastern University, and he briefly considered returning permanently to the Philippines.

Although Villa had now become a near legendary figure, during his later years he was increasingly isolated from the more traditional literary scenes. Although he regularly haunted Greenwich Village institutions such as the White Horse Tavern, Villa met more commonly with other Filipino writers, and it is only recently that his work as been rediscovered, most notably through the Kaya Press publication of The Anchored Angel.

ose Garcia Villa was a Filipino poet, literary critic, short story writer, and painter. He was awarded the National Artist of the Philippines title for literature in 1973, as well as the Guggenheim Fellowship in creative writing by Conrad Aiken. 
He is known to have introduced the "reversed consonance rime scheme" in writing poetry, as well as the extensive use of punctuation marks—especially commas, which made him known as theComma Poet. He used the penname Doveglion (derived from "Dove, Eagle, Lion"), 
based on the characters he derived from himself. 

Jose Villa also was considered the leader of Filipino "artsakists", a group of writers who believe that art should be "for art's sake" hence the term. He once pronounced that "art is never a means; it is an end in itself. "Jose Garcia Villa - Finest Filipino Poet in English.Villa's tart poetic style was considered too aggressive at that time. In 1929 he published Man Songs, a series of erotic poems, which the administrators in UP found too bold and was even fined Philippine peso for obscenity by the Manila Court of First Instance. In that same year, Villa won Best Story of the Year from Philippine Free Press magazine forMir-I-Nisa.

Villa enrolled at the University of New Mexico, wherein he was one of the founders of Clay, a mimeograph literary magazine.He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree, and pursued post-graduate work at Columbia University.Villa had gradually caught the attention of the country's literary circles, one of the few Asians to do so at that time.

After the publication of Footnote to Youth in 1933, Villa switched from writing prose to poetry, and published only a handful of works until 1942. During the release of Have Come, Am Here in 1942, he introduced a new rhyming scheme called "reversed consonance" wherein, according to Villa: "The last sounded consonants of the last syllable, or the last principal consonant of a word, are reversed for the corresponding rhyme. Thus, a rhyme for near would be run; or rain, green, reign."

In 1949, Villa presented a poetic style he called "comma poems", wherein commas are placed after every word. In the preface of Volume Two, he wrote: "The commas are an integral and essential part of the medium: regulating the poem's verbal density and time movement: enabling each word to attain a fuller tonal value, and the line movement to become more measures."

On February 5, 1997, at the age of 88, Jose was found on a coma in his New York apartment and was rushed to St. Vincent Hospital in the Greenwich area. His death two days later was attributed to "cerebral stroke and multilobar pneumonia". He was buried on February 10 in St. John's Cemetery in New York, wearing a Barong Tagalog.

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