Jose Garcia Villa (August 5, 1908 – February 7, 1997) 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 the Comma Poet. He used the penname Doveglion (derived from “Dove, Eagle, Lion”), based on the characters he derived from himself. These animals were also explored by another poet e.e. cummings in Doveglion, Adventures in Value, a poem dedicated to Villa.
Villa was born on August 5, 1908, in Manila’s Singalong district. His parents were Simeon Villa (a personal physician of Emilio Aguinaldo, the founding President of the First Philippine Republic) and Guia Garcia (a wealthy landowner).He graduated from the University of the Philippines Integrated School and the University of the Philippines High School in 1925. Villa enrolled on a Pre-Medical course in the University of the Philippines, but then switched to Pre-Law course. However, he realized that his true passion was in the arts. Villa first tried painting, but then turned into creative writing after reading Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson.
Villa 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.” 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 for Mir-I-Nisa. He also received P1,000,000 prize money, which he used to migrate to the United States. He 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.
Villa worked as an associate editor for New Directions Publishing in New York City between 1949 to 1951, and then became director of poetry workshop at City College of New York from 1952 to 1960. He then left the literary scene and concentrated on teaching, first lecturing in The New School|The New School for Social Research from 1964 to 1973, as well as conducting poetry workshops in his apartment. Villa was also a cultural attaché to the Philippine Mission to the United Nations from 1952 to 1963, and an adviser on cultural affairs to the President of the Philippines beginning 1968.
On February 5, 1997, at the age of 88, Jose was found in 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.
New York Centennial Celebration
On August 5 and 6, 2008, Villa’s centennial celebration began with poem reading at the Jefferson Market Library, at 425 Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue) at the corner of 10th St. In the launch of Doveglion, Collected Poems, Penguin Classics’ reissue of Jose Garcia Villa’s poems, edited by John Edwin Cowen, Villa’s literary trustee, will be read by book introducer Luis H. Francia. Then, the Leonard Lopate Show (on WNYC AM 820 and FM 93.9) will interview Edwin Cohen and Luis H. Francia on the “Pope of Greenwich Villages” life and work, followed by the Asia Pacific Forum show.
In 1946 Villa married Rosemarie Lamb, with whom he has two sons, Randy and Lance. They annulled ten years later. He also has three grandchildren.
As an editor, Villa first published Philippine Short Stories: Best 25 Short Stories of 1928 in 1929, an anthology of Filipino short stories written in English literature English that were mostly published in the literary magazine Philippine Free Press for that year. It is the second anthology to have been published in the Philippines, after Philippine Love Stories by editor Paz Márquez-Benítez in 1927. His first collection of short stories that he has written were published under the title Footnote to Youth: Tales of the Philippines and Others in 1933; while in 1939, Villa published Many Voices, his first collection poems, followed by Poems by Doveglion in 1941. Other collections of poems include Have Come, Am Here (1942), Volume Two (1949), and Selected Poems and New (1958).
In 1962, Villa published four books namely Villa’s Poems 55, Poems in Praise of Love, Selected Stories, and The Portable Villa. It was also in that year when he edited The Doveglion Book of Philippine Poetry in English from 1910. Three years later, he released a follow-up for The Portable Villa entitled The Essential Villa.Villa, however, went under “self-exile” after the 1960s, even though he was nominated for several major literary awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. This was perhaps because of oppositions between his formalism (literature)formalist style and the advocates of proletarian literature who misjudged him as a petty bourgeois.
Villa only “resurfaced” in 1993 with an anthology entitled Charlie Chan Is Dead, which was edited by Jessica Hagedorn Several reprints of Villa’s past works were done, including Appasionata: Poems in Praise of Love in 1979, A Parliament of Giraffes (a collection of Villa’s poems for young readers, with Tagalog language Tagalog translation provided by Larry Francia), and The Anchored Angel: Selected Writings by Villa that was edited by Eileen Tabios with a foreword provided by Hagedorn (both in 1999). Among his popular poems include When I Was No Bigger Than A Huge, an example of his “comma poems”, and The Emperor’s New Sonnet (a part of Have Come, Am Here) which is basically a blank sheet of paper.