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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

JOSE, GARCIA,VILLA'S, BRIGHT,CENTIPEDE


Poem 40

The, bright, Centipede,
Begins, his, stampede!
O, celestial, Engine, from,
What, celestial province!
His, spiritual, might,
Golding, the, night, --
His, spiritual, eyes,
Foretelling, my, Size;
His, spiritual, feel,
Stamping, in, heat,
The, radium, brain,
To, spiritual, imagination.


--JOSE GARCIA VILLA (1908-1997)
(From Poems 55)



This is a love poem. It hardens the image of physical love, and love-making. It is tantric.

But why a bright centipede on a stampede? Why a celestial engine? Why does it have spiritual might? Why does it “gold” the night? Are these metaphors the objective correlative?

Why does the centipede have spiritual eyes that foretell “my size?” Whose size? What size? Is Villa using a pun here as a figure of thought?

Does the centipede register a spiritual feel? What feel? What kind of feel is spiritual feel? How does it feel?

How does it stamp in heat a “radium” brain to spiritual imagination? Why does it stamp the luminous brain in heat? Why radium? Does it have anything to do with the image of radius (Latin) which is “a thicker and shorter bone in forearm on the same side as the thumb (Oxford Dictionary of Current English). What does this have to do with a “bone”?

Of what use are the commas? As a sensory-impressionistic device (the comma as an ideographic, orthographic medium), does it perhaps suggest the motion of sexual congress, the rhythm of coitus that has just commenced?

How does one reach the conclusion that this is a love (love-making) poem? Through the different levels of Analysis (viz., the abstraction of meaning from formal elements --articulated medium and distinguishable content), one arrives at “a provable meaning.”

Analysis requires that the reader abstract meaning from the empirical base of artistic significance—the articulated medium and content combined in the form. In the formal approach to appreciation, it is always the first step. In fact, T.S. Eliot mentions it as one of the chief tools of the critic (whose critical occupation is moored in analyzed material. –T.S. Eliot, “Criticism” Selected Prose, pg. 19 Faber & Faber, London, 1963. Peregrine Book, John Hayward, ed.)

The preceding requires that the poem as an objective result must preferably be confronted as a physical structure capable of suggesting meaning from its visual appearance. The sensory-impressionistic level in analysis, therefore, is the appreciator’s concession to the oft-neglected premiss that the work of art is itself an independent entity with a structure defining (physically) its “being.” It is a formal appearance. Just as the physical appearance of a man can exude all types of impressions about his character, so can the poem which appears on the page (assuming that the artist has shaped his structure to functionally concretize the experience of reality he is creating).

Villa wrote erotic poetry. He was good at it. Very few poets can write love poems, and those that do can teach the student a thing or two about the human being’s most urgent biological function as a province of art.

The last time I saw the late Villa was at the Tagaytay Vista Lodge, in the Philippines, during a respite from the International Writers Conference organized by the late Adrian E. Cristobal as a project of the Presidential Special Services Centre. He showed me a brass ring. It was embossed with two words: On the side that he shows to the polite world is inscribed LOVE, and on the opposite side, when he twirls it around his finger, is the word F- - -.

Then he said: “My prowess.” Nick Joaquin, overhearing our conversation, guffawed. “Your Abstinence, spare this man’s innocence.” I said: “The ring is functional.” Then I went to show them how to mount a carabao. The beast was part of the Lodge’s ambient décor. My picture, mounting the beast, with Villa and Joaquin gawking with envy at my provinciano prowess was later published by the defunct Women’s Journal by its editor Teresita Rodriguez. The city boys trumped. Recherché du temps perdu.

This helped me understand his poems on love, his comma poems, and even period poems that sought to limn love in all its shapes, forms, motions, and energies that recall the spiritual functions of this human prowess.

When Villa said, “In my desire to be Nude/ I clothed myself in Fire”, was he merely proclaiming his sexuality, his being comfortable in his skin, or was he talking also about this “spiritual imagination reached by the bright centipede now tumescent in its power of golding the night.” And all is well with the emperor in his new clothes. (The Villa poem of this title is a blank page.) In more distant, more circumspect times, one does not talk about sex or coitus flagrante. In his time, Villa outside of the Philippines where he was expelled from school for writing erotic poems (“I shall kiss the coconuts/ they are nipples of a woman!”), decreed that sex is truth, everything else can be questioned, but sex is truth. In his desire to be truthful, he clothed himself in fire.

Down under, one would say: Good on ye, mate! In his old country today, Villa’s poem would excite the canto yelp: Hala bira!

In the daring words of National Artist Bien Lumbera in one of those Silliman University Writers Workshops (one I attended in the 70s) when, as a panellist, he was discussing how sex is treated in Philippine literature, “What the hell is wrong with using the word f- - - when describing the act?”

Après Villa and Lumbera, Philippine Literature in English would never be the same again.

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