How techniques affect meaning: An analysis of Jose Garcia Villa's Poems

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An Analysis of Jose Garcia Villa’s poems- And If the Heart Can Not Love, When I Was No Bigger Than A Huge, First, A Poem Must Be Magical, Lyric 17 and Be Beautiful, Noble, Like the Antique Ant


Jose Garcia Villa, being the first Filipino National Artist for literature and an award-winning poet not just here in Philippines but also in the United States, is known for his “reversed consonance rime scheme” style in writing poetry, 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.” He is also popular for his extensive use of punctuation marks, most especially commas. He puts commas after every word, making the reader pause for every word, resulting in slowing the pace of poem. This leads to what Villa called “a lineal dignity of pace and movement“.

Comma Poet, he is known, with a “ lineal dignity of pace of movement” as his personal take on poetry. What does this phrase really means? How does is principle affect our approach to poetry?

For this paper, I have decided to make an analysis on five of his great works: And If the Heart Can Not Love, When I Was No Bigger Than A Huge, First, A Poem Must Be Magical, Lyric 17 and Be Beautiful, Noble, Like the Antique Ant. These poems exhibit his unusual style in writing poetry, thus giving us a whole new approach in reading poetry. In this paper, I would be analyzing the poems one by one to see what differences his style made on taking poetry.

First: And If the Heart Can Not Love. This poem is one of the first works of Jose Garcia Villa. This poem is a poem about love where the persona talks about things that could happen if the heart cannot love. According to the poem, if the heart cannot love, it becomes hopelessly insensitive to all the beauty that surrounds it. I look at this poem with passion for poetry for in the way Villa has written it, it brings us to the realization that it is not the heart that molds love, it is love that gives significance to the heart. It also gives the idea that he believes strongly to the saying, “it is better to have love and lost, than never to have loved at all”. The poem is presented in a very direct manner. It started the poem with the condition, “And if the heart can not love,” followed by multiple possibilities or effects that could take place if the heart cannot love. The technique he used in this poem made it very simple for the readers to decode the over-all meaning of the poem. The imageries and the figures of speech used were not very complex. His style of writing this poem gave way to the emotion of the poem. It was really evident. The sorrow was felt intensively. He simplified the  poem as a whole to highlight the deeper meaning of the poem; to focus on the weight of emotion presented by the poem.

Secondly, we focus on another poem he had written: When I Was No Bigger Than A Huge. This poem is published in Jose Garcia Villa’s second anthology of poems. This poem is about the persona who is in the midst of reminiscing, as suggested in it’s first line, “When,I,was,no,bigger,than,a,huge.” The second line, “Star,in,my,self,I,began,to,write,” suggests that the persona is maybe in he’s middle age already for it used a star- a star within him. This could suggest that he has reached the point in his life that he has become wise; he has experienced a lot. The fact that that the first line ended with ‘huge’ and the second line started with ‘Star’ emphasizes the difference from then and now, that the persona before is nothing compared to his current state. Noticing the that it is after all a ‘my self’ and not a ‘myself’ shows that the second line is a definition of the persona’s current existence. The next three lines, “My, Theology, Of, rose, and,” leads us to his internalization. The choice of words, the imageries and the figures of speech connected the poem to the Divine. The poem,  as a whole, could be seen as a person’s rediscovery of one’s self, after years of being self-indulgent, and confirmation of the capabilities innate in all of us, overcoming self-doubt and unshakable beliefs. The poem is one of the poems of Villa’s that are classifies as a“Comma Poem.” It is presented in a manner wherein the reader is exposed to an unusual way of reading and/or writing poetry. The structure Jose Garcia Villa had chosen to present the poem, where he placed commas after every word, most of the time without the space as expected, with the objective of gaining a better understanding of the theme and the message of the poem. The technique of dividing the words may lead to a multitude of interpretations.  The commas did not only work as a tool of adjusting the poem’s verbal density and mundane movement, it also gave each word a fuller tonal value, allowing the more precise line movement.

Next, we focus on First, A Poem Must Be Magical. The poem is a presentation of the characteristics of a great poem. Basically, it is an instructional poem about writing a poem. Like the first poem we focused on, it is presented in a direct manner wherein it already stated its main point on the first line clearly that a poem must be magical. Then other characteristics in connection with being magical followed. Notice that the structure of the poem has the traditional rhyme scheme of two consecutive lines: A, A, B, B, C, C, D, D, E, E, F, F, G, G. The imageries, choices of words and figures of speech suggested literal meanings. The structure and the technique made the poem easy to decode. The poem turned out to be an informative one because of the over-all way of writing it.

Then, we go to the fourth poem: Lyric 17. This is a poem is about a persona whou could not see or feel the beauty of life anymore. Unlike the first and the third poem we focused on, this poem is presented in a quite undirected manner. Jose Garcia Villa presented the poem in a specific –to-general structure, wherein he decided to present the things that the persona is undergoing first leading to the over-all conclusion that the persona felt dead. Just like the third poem we analyzed, this poem is written in a structure with the traditional rhyme scheme of two consecutive lines: A, A, B, B, C, C, D, D, E, E, F, F, G, G. Notice that Villa did not finish sentences on every line, instead he divided each sentence into two, presenting the other half of every sentence on succeeding lines connecting them to the first halves of the next sentences. This suggests that Villa is preparing the reader to every revelation of the persona. Though unlike the first and third poem we focused on that it is presented in an undirected manner, like the first and third poems, it is written simply. The technique, the choices of imageries, figures of speech and words are simple. They made it easier for the reader to make sense of the poem as a whole.

Lastly, let us analyze the fifth poem: Be Beautiful, Noble, Like the Antique Ant. This poem, just like the third poem, is somehow instructional and/or informative. The poem is about seeing the importance of little things or creatures in a large world. In this poem, the author did not think of the character of an Antique ant lowly, but instead, he used it as an epitome of what he wants to put across. It is poem suggesting that we should be beautiful, noble and all other characteristics just like the antique ant. It is clear that it uses a commanding tone, suggesting things how can one be like this and that. In terms of structure, it doesn’t follow any conventional form of writing poetry. In some stanzas some lines rhyme, while in some no lines rhyme at all, therefore we can conclude that there really is no rhyme scheme at all. What was very evident in the poem is the use of figures of speech, specifically, metaphor. There were a lot. But though there were a lot of metaphors, the poem wasn’t really hard to understand. The over-all presentation of the poem, though may be quite a mouthful, was quite simple that’s why it is relatively easy to interpret.

Jose Garcia Villa, one of the well-known writers today, really has an eye for poetry. He has a really distinctive take on poetry, which was really evident on all five poems analyzed. His unusual technique and his creative manner of writing and presenting his poems really made a big impact on its readers. In analyzing his poems, the idea that dominated me is that altering the structure of the poem may also result to altering the meaning of the poem. Yes, his poems are unusual, but it is with a purpose. Just like the second poem analyzed. Every comma has a purpose. Putting it after every word has a purpose. The structure, the choices of words, the figures of speech and the imageries all contribute to the over-all meaning of the poem.

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