Villa, José Garcia
José Garcia Villa 1904–1997
Philippine poet and short story writer.
José Garcia Villa was an award-winning poet in both the Philippines and the United States. In 1973, he became the first Philippine writer in English to be declared a National Artist, earning a lifetime pension. American awards include the Shelley Memorial Award and numerous fellow-ships. Villa's poems, which are marked by technical innovation and rich imagery, have been the subject of heated debates among critics who have widely different opinions regarding their artistic value. The majority agree with Dame Edith Sitwell, however, who wrote that Villa's best poems are "amongst the most beautiful written in our time."
Villa was born in Manila on August 5, 1904. His father was a doctor and Army chief of staff in the Philippine revolution against Spain. Villa attended the University of the Philippines for a short time, but was suspended for writing subversive poetry. While there, he and fellow writers founded the UP Writers Club—the oldest existing literary club in the Philippines. In 1930, Villa immigrated to the United States and attended the University of New Mexico, where he earned a B.A. in 1933. He began publishing short stories during this period, earning immediate recognition; Edward J. O'Brien's Best American Short Stories of 1932 was dedicated to Villa. Though his interests soon turned to poetry, it was 1939 before Villa completed his first collection, which was published in the Philippines. Villa attended graduate school at Columbia University before marrying Rosemarie Lamb in 1946. Highly respected in his native land, in 1968, Villa became advisor on cultural affairs to the President of the Philippines. He died on February 7, 1997, in New York City.
Villa's first book of poetry published in the United States, Have Come, Am Here, won widespread critical acclaim and was in contention for the Pulitzer Prize. In this volume, he introduced a new method of rhyming, which he termed "reversed consonance." This rhyming mode requires that consonants be reversed through word choice from one line to the next, such as "said" and "days." In Villa's Volume Two, he included "comma poems," which make use of a symbol shaped like a comma that is attached without space to the words on either side, thus
providing a weighted pace to the moving line. Despite such innovative techniques, Villa prefered traditional stanza forms of couplets, triplets, and quatrains. The content of Villa's poetry does not provide any identifiable cultural content, but instead contains romantic and visionary images intended to be universal and to convey the sense of a liberated spirit ascending. His poems are primarily concerned with essence, or, as Villa once claimed, with "the search for the metaphysical meaning of man's life in the Universe."
Critical response to Villa's poems has varied significantly over the length of his career. Early critics, such as Edith Sitwell, wrote of Villa's poetry with unassailable praise. Sitwell observed that his "poetry springs straight from the depths of the poet's being, from his blood, from his spirit, from his experience …" Such critics often compared Villa's poems to those of William Blake, Emily Dickinson, and e. e. cummings. Several, pointing to the religious content of Villa's works, have compared him to the Metaphysical poets. Later critics have been more scrupulous. L. M. Grow considered the majority of Villa's poems "prosy, pretentious, and contrived," adding that "Villa, like Wordsworth, would benefit from a selective fire, one which would consume a fair portion of his published work." Even so, Grow was unduly impressed by Villa's visual imagery in certain poems, especially "Clean,like,iodoform,between,the,tall," "Because,thy,smile,is,primavera," and "The,caprice,of,canteloupes,is,to,be." According to Grow, "If any poet has ever been blessed with the visual acuity, the instinct for uncluttered composition, and the historical consciousness to make the genre viable, Villa has been."
Many Voices 1939
Poems by Doveglion [as Doveglion] 1941
Have Come, Am Here 1942
Volume Two 1949
Selected Poems and New 1958
A Doveglion Book of Philippine Poetry [editor as Doveglion] 1962
Poems 55: The Best Poems of José Garcia Villa as Chosen by Himself 1962
Poems in Praise of Love 1962
The New Doveglion Book of Philippine Poetry [editor] 1975
Other Major Works
Philippine Short Stories [editor] 1929
Footnote to Youth (short stories) 1933
A Celebration for Edith Sitwell [editor] (essay collection) 1946
Selected Stories 1962
(The entire section is 74 words.)
SOURCE: "Have Come: A Good Poet," in The New Republic, Vol. 107, No. 16, October 19, 1942, p. 512.
[In the following review of Have Come, Am Here, Deutsch praises the collection as "a group of poems that, for all their obscurity, which is sometimes witty, sometimes profound, are luminous and vibrant with the quality of crystal. "]
The title and even more the dedication of these poems lead one to expect the unexpected. And indeed, paradox and ambiguity leap out of the pages like so many rare and strange animals. What fascinates the observer, however, is not the difficulties that these lyrics present, though they are as singular as the work of Emily Dickinson or of Hopkins, but rather their pure intensity. There is not one, however faulty, that lacks the burning signature of the poetic imagination. José Garcia Villa belongs to the small company of religious poets who have been able to communicate their vision. He belongs to the still smaller company of those who have not needed to cry out their doubt.
This may be because his "Divine Poems" are variations on a theme of Blake's:
Thou art a Man, God is no more,
Thy own humanity learn to adore.
Villa goes further than Blake: he announces that God is his miracle, his work, his creation, wearing the poet's head upon His shoulders, and, therefore, perhaps...
(The entire section is 999 words.)
SOURCE: Preface to Selected Poems and New, by José Garcia Villa, McDowell, Obolensky, 1958, pp. ix-xiv.
[In the essay below, Sitwell declares: "The best of these poems are amongst the most beautiful written in our time. "]
In the late summer of 1944, I received a book of poems from America, by an author hitherto unknown to me.
I learned afterwards that the young poet in question hailed from the Philippines, and is at present living in New York. I learned, also, that this book had been acclaimed by the principal critics of America as a work of genius, and had had, in America, an enormous success. But this I did not know at the time, and even had I known it, an enormous success does not necessarily prove that an author is a great or even an estimable writer.
Opening the book, Have Come, Am Here, I received a shock. For my eyes fell first upon "Number 57," a strange poem of an ineffable beauty, springing straight from the depths of Being. I hold that this is one of the most wonderful short poems of our time, and reading it I knew that I was seeing for the first time the work of a poet with a great, even an astonishing, and perfectly original gift.
Next, I turned to the poem beginning with the lines
I will break God's seamless skull
And I will break His kissless mouth,
O I'll break out of...
(The entire section is 1307 words.)
SOURCE: "A People of Many Pasts and Complex Parts: José Garcia Villa," in New Writings from the Philippines: A Critique and Anthology, Syracuse University Press, 1966, pp. 103-10.
[In this excerpt, Casper provides an introducton to Villa's stories and poems.]
Although five of his earliest tales were reproduced in the Selected Stories of Jose Garcia Villa (1962), in tribute to the first prolonged revisit by the distinguished expatriate in nearly thirty years, the fiction of Villa is mainly an academic curiosity today. When Scribner's published his collection, Footnote to Youth: Tales of the Philippines and Others, in 1933, Villa had already committed himself to writing exclusively as a poet. Consequently, the stories are primarily of interest as commentaries on the kinds of attitudes and techniques now associated with his poetry; and, ultimately, Villa's importance to fiction is as its critic, not as its writer.
A third of the twenty-one stories in Footnote are semiautobiographical and as casual as diary entries. Rarely are the great plains of the commonplace interrupted; and then by minute near-mirages, apocalyptic consolations for the hermit-protagonist who has driven himself out into the wilderness. His world is so walled in that the irony of recurrence becomes a constant theme and monotonous structural device. There is a repetitive pattern of illegitimate...
(The entire section is 2122 words.)
SOURCE: "José Garcia Villa: The Poetry of Calibration," in World Literature Written in English, Vol. 27, No. 2, Autumn, 1987, pp. 326-44.
[In the following essay, Grow explores Villa's shortcomings and eccentricities as a poet, as well as his talents.]
Certainty and uncertainty
Two sides of the same flame.
["A Certain Morning Is"]
Jose Garcia Villa is, without question, "the premier poet of the Philippines" [Leonard Casper, New Writing from the Philippines, 1966]. He has been praised by Filipino, American, and British critics for both short stories and poems since his mid-twenties. Teodoro Locsin, often comparing him favorably to Blake, Chatterton, Thompson, and Shelley, recommends a government sinecure for him [Philippines Free Press, January 18, 1947]. Amador T. Daguio's spontaneous letter to the editor, in response to Locsin's proposal, seconds Locsin's evaluation and his sinecure proposal [Philippines Free Press, February 22, 1947]. Locsin cites the laudatory notices of, among others, Conrad Aiken, Babette Deutsch, Marianne Moore, Mark Van Doren, Peter Munro Jack, and Edith Sitwell. Edward J. O'Brien dedicated The Best Short Stories of 1932 to Villa and classified Villa "among the half-dozen short story writers in America who count" [Introduction to Villa's Footnote to...
(The entire section is 6238 words.)
Abad, Gemino H. "The Self as Genius and God as Peacock: A Study of 'Mysticism' in José Garcia Villa's Poetry." University College Journal 8 (1964): 172-85.
Defines the purported "mysticism" evident in Villa's poetry as "a 'theology' of Self as God."
Demetillo, Ricaredo. "José Garcia Villa vs. Savador P. Lopez." In The Authentic Voice of Poetry, pp. 294-321. Quezon City: University of the Philippines, 1962.
Closely analyzes Villa's poetry in a discussion of the aesthetic conflict between the poet and his harshest critic.
Moore, Marianne. "Who Seeks Shall Find." The Nation 155 (October 17, 1942): 394.
Favorable review of Have Come, Am Here, which emphasizes Villa's poetic technique.
Solberg, S. E. "Bulosan—Theseus—Villa: A Cryptography of Coincidence." MELUS 15, No. 2 (Summer 1988): 3-25.
Compares the responses to America by Villa and fellow Filipino writer Carlos Bulosan by comparing the two authors' treatment of the mythological figure of Theseus, the subject of a poem by each.
Tinio, Rolando S. "Villas' Values; Or, The Poet You Cannot Always Make Out, or Succeed in Liking Once You Are Able to." In Brown Heritage: Essays on...
(The entire section is 231 words.)