Books and Publications

Dove, eagle, lion: Danton Remoto on Jose Garcia Villa and Doveglion

From the Philippine Star:

Doveglion.

That was the pseudonym of Jose Garcia Villa, our first National Artist for Literature, who wrote luminous poems in English in the first half of the 20th century. The qualities of the three animals he conflated into one word Doveglion and blazoned his poetry as among the century’s best.

Penguin Classics published the Collected Poems of Garcia Villa to commemorate his birth centennial. The book has undergone several reprintings. The Pope of Greenwich Village, as Villa was known, belonged to the modern literary giants of the 1950s. This global poet set the standards for fiction and poetry in English in the Philippines, through his yearly list of the best and the worst works, notable for the acidic wit of his annotations. Such iconic American poets as Marianne Moore only had awe “for the reverence, the raptness, the depth of concentration in (his) bravely deep poems.” For her part, the grande dame of English poetry, Dame Edith Sitwell, wrote: “(Villa is) a poet with a great, even an astounding, and perfectly original gift. . . . The best of his poems are among the most beautiful written in our time.”

Who was Villa and why did he make a splash on world literature? His mother was a teacher and his doctor-father a colonel in the 1898 Revolution. He was separated from them by language (they spoke Spanish, he spoke English) and by a century (they were still in the 19th, he was moving on into the Jazz Age). He turned his back on a medical, and later, legal studies, and pursued his art with ferocity of vision.

When he was 17 years old, he wrote “The Coconut Poem,” where he compared the coconuts to a woman’s nipples, followed it up with ellipses as a visual mirror to the shape of both coconuts and nipples. And then he ended with this line: “I shall kiss a coconut because it is the nipple of a woman.” Shocked, the administration of UP suspended him, and the courts fined him for obscenity. The young literary lion never went back to school. After he won first prize in the Philippines Free Press short story award for “Mir-i-Nisa,” he used the P2,000 prize money to book passage for the United States.

And thus began his life as a writer in exile.

Read more.

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