PLAYING WITH SHADOW and spark, the book?s cover exemplifies the multifarious nature of its author, the poet José Garcia Villa.
Tipped one way, the cover shows a young Villa?s profile; tipped another way, the words ?dove,? ?eagle? and ?lion? emerge.
Doveglion, an amalgamation of the three words, was Villa?s pen name, and is emblematic of Villa?s iconoclastic and meaningful writing life ? born in 1908, died in 1997 and named a National Artist for Literature in between.
That unmatched resonance is captured and celebrated in Doveglion: Collected Poems (Penguin Classics, New York, 2008, 260 pages) edited by John Edwin Cowen with an introduction by Luis H. Francia.
To be included in the august Penguin Classics line is honor enough, but the book also comes on the occasion of the centennial of Villa?s birth. It is the perfect time for an entirely new generation of Filipino readers to discover one of our literature?s most original and powerful voices.
Easily recognized are Villa?s comma poems, which can be vexing but also prove irresistible to a reader?s open mind, although there?s a lot more to Villa than those poems.
Doveglion gathers a voluptuous volume of Villa?s work, a stunning 304 poems in all, ranging from the lyrics in 1942?s ?Have Come, Am Here? all the way to the intricate devices of 1979?s ?Appasionata: Poems in Praise of Love,? as well as a fascinating selection of Villa?s Xocerisms.
Yet not even Villa?s beginnings as a writer in Sampaloc, Manila, could portend exactly how far he would go to harness and unleash the current running within words.
Even his early lyrical efforts feel advanced and affecting: ?I can no more hear Love?s/ Voice. No more moves/ The Mouth of her. Birds/ No more sing. Words/ I speak return lonely.?
By the time Villa was exploding preconceived notions of punctuation, spacing and verse in ?The Anchored Angel?? with lines like
?Light?s,latticer,the,angel,in, the,spiderweb: By,whose,espials,from,the,silk,sky,
With,fatherest,fingers, lets, down,
? it was clear that he had become a poetic force of nature.
Still, he yearned to be more, moving on to meditate on the very nature of writing as expressed by the Xocerisms such as: ?The meaning of a poem is danced and sung by its language?but the language is a masked dancer.?
Providing insight and analysis to this voluminous poetic out-of-body experience is Francia, through his finely wrought introduction, noting how he had heard of Villa in the Philippines but was scarcely prepared for what he would find once he actually met him in New York.
?Villa had no fashionable cause to advance or defend except that of poetry itself,? Francia writes. ?In his hands it evolves into a mighty engine of flight, winged with an exacting spiritual and aesthetic vision and an abundant lyrical gift honed by a keen critical intelligence.?
There are several excellent volumes discussing his work, most notably Eileen Tabios? ?The Anchored Angel? and Jonathan Chua?s ?The Critical Villa.? Here is a chance to experience the unfettered word quest that filled Villa?s days.
Transplanted to New York, Villa ? once dubbed ?The Pope of Greenwich Village? ? continued to awe and inspire others. So unique were his poems that E.E. Cummings?no stranger to experimentation himself ? wrote a poem toasting Villa. All anyone has to do is read this book to see why.
?Villa?s music, language, imagery, and versification mesh in a totality that is deeply pleasurable and magical, with an adamantine beauty that simultaneously cuts and illuminates,? Francia writes. ?These poems ensorcell, and I have no doubt they will ensorcell for a very long time to come.?
To read Villa is know that a poet can indeed make magic.
That Villa should join José Rizal as the only Filipinos included in the Penguin Classics line is only fitting. This is simply a stunning book of naked poetry and poetic thought at any time, in any place.
In the kind of cosmic and literary alignment that Villa would likely have found fulfilling, Doveglion: Collected Poems installs José Garcia Villa, our greatest and most original poet, as proof of his own wisdom that ?the fine poet is an erotic Holy man,? and that ?poetry is a treasure hunt for language by language.?
(The book is available in paperback at the National Book Store.)