[I am so behind on this! But here we go; I shall try to catch up.]
This month, I shall be posting one APIA poet (or book) recommendation per day, so that all of you who are asking me what to read will know what to read.
Today’s recommendation is José Garcia Villa. Know history, know self, people. I don’t get the “Art for art’s sake” label/judgment imposed upon Villa. He was a poet of immense ideas, God, divinity, the meaning of human life within this context. Poetry was his vehicle for exploring that kind of immense meaning. How is this art for sake of itself. To me, it is art for sake of humanity, no mere navel gazing affair.
Villa is also known for his invention and innovation. Here, I am referring to his comma poems, and to his reverse consonance rhyming. And actually, what interests me about reverse consonance is what he wrote: “this new rhyme method is subtler and stricter, and less obtrusive on the ear, than ordinary consonance.” Compare the music of his reverse consonance poems to his sonnet, “First, a poem must be magical,” in which his lines, meant to sing, to me, singsong instead. I wonder whether that singsong takes away from the largeness of the poem’s intent. So then, rather than just do away with poetic constraint, the poet finds other, more appropriate poetic constraints. Lesser poets would make themselves accept the singsong (or not even know they are singsonging), or abandon poetic constraint altogether. But a poem is a container for language, to house big, big ideas and beliefs.
Here’s Ned O’Gorman in 1959 in Poetry magazine: “It is perhaps true to say that Jose Garcia Villa’s vision and understanding are considerable. But his poetry is unachieved. In the end it is a failure. The artifact shatters under close study. For Mr. Villa has not yet found a language that can contain a vision so immense and theological.”
My last thought for now on Villa is the “Doveglion,” the hybrid dove, eagle, lion, whose country is not land and commerce, but the “strange country” with “no boundaries,” inhabited by “Earth Angels.” Open yourselves to the bigger implications here, rather than dwelling in surface/cliché reaction that casts Villa as a wacky artist stereotype. Also, think about why a Filipino poet, decades in America, would create a hybrid mythical identity and nation to inhabit. He was, as e.e. cummings wrote about him in the poem, “Dovegion,” looking for a new, different way of seeing.
National Poetry Month APIA Poets:
04/01 Rajiv Mohabir
04/02 Amanda Ngoho Reavey
04/03 Truong Tran
04/04 Al Robles