from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems
José Garcia Villa
– from “Lyrics”
O Lovely. O lovely as a panther. O
Creation’s supremest dissenter.
Enter. Teach me thy luminous ire.
O jeweled, pacing, night-displacing
Fire. O night’s nimble-dancing, No-
Saying lyre. Embrace me. Defy me.
Reave me. None shall defend me.
Not God. Not I. Purify me. Consume
Me. Disintegrate me to thy ecstasy.
O lovely and without mercy. O dark-
Footed divinity. O Lovely and Terrible.
O Death-irreducible. O Unimpeachable.
The ecstasy at work in José Garcia Villa’s poem is the voice in the presence that is the poem. Its power made dark and beautiful in the form of a panther. The great “dissenter” – a bit of paradoxical language music – that enters. Using enjambments, line after line, forces the reader to lunge forward. The stop and go syntax is a perfect fit for the tone that is a radiant anger, a glow of passion:
O jeweled, pacing, night displacing
The energy of the language creates a poetry that is bold, stripped-down to essentials – a music that is both holy and sensual: “Not God. Not I.” … but “dark-Footed … Lovely and Terrible”. The idea of language as violence – in its creative workings – is a focus that Villa, a Filipino / Asian / American and giant of an underread, brilliant poet … and here recall the famous photo, Gotham Book Mark, 1948, of Villa with, among others, W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, Randall Jarrell, Edith Sitwell … a poet who would continue to develop throughout his oeuvre an expansive, unorthodox use of syntax, punctuation, and grammatical mechanics.
This piece presents a vision of poet as creator … as one might encounter in the world of Jorge Luis Borges’ El Hacedor. There is a truth here that is “without mercy,” a poetics that is relentless in forcing the reader to a new place. But it’s a place that is welcomed. No turning back.
Villa’s collected poems, Doveglion, was published this summer (2008) by Penguin Classics – a collection made inevitable by the success of The Anchored Angel: Selected Writings (Kaya, 1999), Eileen Tabios’ edited volume that reintroduced his neglected work to the English speaking world. His is a poetry that is raw and fearless.