José García Villa Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

ph_0111207636-Villa.jpg José García Villa Published by Salem Press, Inc.

In 1929, José García Villa (VEE-yah) edited the first comprehensive anthology of Filipino short stories in English, for the Philippines Free Press. The earliest published volume of his own work was also a collection of stories, Footnote to Youth: Tales of the Philippines and Others, released by Scribner’s in 1933. Many of these tales had appeared earlier in Clay, the mimeographed literary magazine which he founded at the University of New Mexico and which first drew the attention of Edward O’Brien. The Best American Short Stories of 1932, in fact, was dedicated to Villa by O’Brien, whose introduction included Villa “among the half-dozen short story writers in America who count” and compared him with one of O’Brien’s earlier discoveries, Sherwood Anderson. Even as O’Brien was prophesying a career for Villa as novelist, however, the young writer had already turned his attention exclusively to poetry. The stories, therefore, retain their interest chiefly as preliminaries to attitudes and techniques associated with Villa’s poems.

A third of the twenty-one stories in Footnote to Youth are semiautobiographical portraits of a hermit protagonist suffering self-imposed isolation in the Philippines, New Mexico, and New York City. There is a repetitive pattern of rejected illegitimate children, either unwanted or inadequately cared for; of antagonism between fathers and grown sons; of the protagonist’s alienation from those with whom he is, only temporarily, most intimate; of a love-hate identification with José Rizal, martyred hero of the 1896 Revolution, as a father-image whose own paternity is clouded; of rejection in courtship and marriage; and of self-importance recovered through sentimentalized identification with the suffering Christ, the god mocked and misunderstood.

This sense of recoil from hurt was conveyed in Villa’s stories principally through antinarrative devices. In some cases, the paragraphs are numbered and condensed, so that typographically they resemble stanzas in a poem. Also, incident is not allowed to flow into incident. O’Brien wrote of Villa’s combining “a native sensuousness of perception and impression” with the “traditionally Spanish expression of passionate feeling in classical reticence of form.” More likely, however, the compartmentalization of the narrative indicates the aftermath of a series of unhappy encounters between a sensitive personality and an insensitive world unprepared to give him the recognition he deserves. The stories dazzle with color, their principal emotion being intensely lyrical.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

As a self-exile from the Philippines for decades, José García Villa earned awards and a reputation in both the Western and Asian worlds. In the United States, he was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Academy Award for literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1946, a Bollingen Fellowship, and a Rockefeller grant. In Greenwich Village during the 1940’s and 1950’s, he was considered a “regular,” as a member of the New Directions avant-garde. In Great Britain, his reputation also flourished, as a result of Edith Sitwell’s high praise of his “great and perfectly original work.” Gradually such distinction, coming from overseas, influenced his countrymen at home. Although there were complaints that he did not write about subjects identifiably Filipino, and that he did not write with the folk simplicity of Carlos Bulosan’s New Yorker tales of sweet-sour satire, an entire generation of college-educated Filipinos began not only to envy his success but also to emulate his sophistication and inventiveness. The prominence given him by this growing cult assisted in securing for him a Pro Patria Award, in 1961, and a Cultural Heritage Award in 1962. In 1973, he became the first Filipino writer in English to be declared a National Artist, with a government pension for life.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Abad, Gemimo. “One Hundred Years of Filipino Poetry: An Overview.” World Literature Today 74, no. 2 (2000): 327-331. Identifies the various periods of Filipino poetry in the twentieth century, placing Villa as a Romantic.

Cowen, John Edwin. “Doveglion: The E. E. Cummings and José García Villa Connection.” Knight Ridder Tribune Business News, December 3, 2006, p. 1. A book of poetry by E. E. Cummings inspired Villa to write poetry. Villa would write to Cummings and they developed a relationship.

Cullum, Linda E. Contemporary American Ethnic Poets: Lives, Works, Sources. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004. Contains a short biography of Villa.

Espiritu, Augusto Fauni. Five Faces of Exile: The Nation and Filipino American Intellectuals. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2007. A chapter on Villa discusses the difficulty of placing the Filipino writer whose poetry bore little mention of the Philippines.

Francia, Luis H. Introduction to Doveglion: Collected Poems, edited by John Cowan. New York: Penguin Books, 2008. Provides a perspective on the life and works of Villa. The collection draws from poems throughout the poet’s career.

Grow, L. M. “José García Villa: The Poetry of Calibration.” World Literature Written in English 27 (Autumn, 1987): 326-344. This article contends that Villa is usually revered for the wrong reasons. He is hampered by moral earnestness and thus does not make the fullest use of his lyric gifts, which are visible in spectacular opening lines.

Tabios, Eileen, ed. Anchored Angel: Selected Writings of José García Villa. New York: Kaya, 1999. Brings together a collection of Villa’s writings with critical essays by a number of leading Filipino and Filipino American scholars. Among the contributors of critical essays are E. San Juan, Jr., Luis Francia, Nick Carbo, Nick Joaquin, and Alfred Yuson.

Yu, Timothy. “’The Hand of a Chinese Master’: José García Villa and Modernist Orientalism.” MELUS 29, no. 1 (Spring, 2004): 41-60. This lengthy examination of Villa’s poetry looks at his place as a Filipino poet and as an American poet.