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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.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

DID JOSE GARCIA VILLA WRITE IN TAGALOG USING ENGLISH WORDS?


In his June 10, 2009, LOL Literature in Other Languages blog entry, Dr. Isagani Cruz continues to discuss Literary Competence by quoting Jonathan Culler as “questioning the foundations of a literary competence that surreptitiously promotes” the "dubious primacy” of the second language over the first in the literary appreciation of multilingual authors. He cites the late Jose Garcia Villa’s poetry as an example of this.

Culler and Jose Garcia Villa

Here is a summary of Culler's idea of literary competence:

"Jonathan Culler, in his Structuralist Poetics, moves away from the idea of the underlying competence of literary works, and considers instead the literary competence of readers. Culler argues that this literary competence, regarded as a kind of grammar of literature, is acquired in education institutions. In his later work, On Deconstruction, he develops the idea further, drawing on diverse critical responses to institutions, and questioning the foundations of a literary competence that surreptitiously promotes the doctrines and values of specific traditions."

What is being "surreptitiously promoted" by the usual way of reading works by multilingual authors as though they were monolingual is the dubious primacy of the second language. For example, by reading Jose Garcia Villa's poems as though the poet spoke English from childhood, we fall into the silly trap that my American graduate school teacher in Survey of American Literature fell into when he pronounced Villa as a "minor American poet." He (and most other readers) failed to see that the line "Then musical as a sea-gull" in Villa's famous "Lyric 17" makes full sense only when we realize that Villa is writing in Tagalog, using English words.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 7:26 AM


Albert B. Casuga Comments:

Is the second language (English) of Jose Garcia Villa a case of a “surreptitiously promoted dubious primacy”?

Trying to find out whether his Lyric 17 exhibits any “literary evidence” of its first being “imagined/thought-of/conceived” in Tagalog before it was written in English, I tried to translate Villa’s “Ars Poetica” in Tagalog using the closest possible literary equivalent of his American-English oxymorons and conceits. For instance,

First, a poem must be magical,
Then musical as a sea-gull.
It must be a brightness moving
And hold secret a bird's flowering.

(Translation mine)

Unang-una, maengkanto* ang isang tula,
At kasing parang musika ng ibong magdaragat.
Dapat ito’y isang kumikilos na kaningningan,
At hawak ang lihim ng pamumulaklak ng ibon

*Could also be “maengkantado”.

Assuming the translation hews close to Villa’s “vision”, I found it difficult to imagine that the English lines were first conceived in Tagalog.

The rhyme scheme is calculated to be “musical” (as in the bell-like sounds of “musical” and “sea-gull” and the ring of “moving, flowering.” That just could not be done in Tagalog since there is no sound equivalent of the words “magical”(maengkanto), “sea-gull” (ibong magdaragat), “moving” (kumikilos), “flowering” (pamumulaklak).

Had it been conceived by the poet in his first language -- (assumed as Tagalog by Dr. Cruz; Villa did speak Tagalog, but he preponderantly conversed in American; there were occasional pleasantries in Spanish when I had the experience of conversing with him at a 70’s International Writers Conference held in Manila) – the intention of the rhyme scheme in Lyric 17 would not be achieved in Tagalog.

Neither would Tagalog succeed in using the oxymoronic conceits “musical as a sea-gull”, “brightness moving”, “bird’s flowering” – close reading would need these to objectify the poem’s being magical – the monotonous “ek-ek-ek” of the sea-gull becomes “musical”; the poem’s brightness could either literally be a kaleidoscopic sparkle or an “enchanting, moving brightness” perceivable only in the ken, conceivable only in the mind; and the mystery of “bird’s flowering” could be the magical flight of the go-soon avis off the encumbering nest, or it could also be Villa’s erotic version of the magic of tumescence, the magic of the sensual/sexual arousal.

Assuming that these are not mnemonic irrelevancies in “interpretation”, the Tagalog mother-language plainly cannot come up with the literarily acceptable use of the conceits and oxymorons, as well as the sounds making sense as “objective correlatives” of the poem being magical.

Then again, this textual hermeneutics may simply be over-reaching. Maybe Villa did not even consider this. But that is beside the point. The achieved form and content of Lyric 17 must be the sole bases for analysis. It is helpful to know that Villa was a formalist, and that he wrote erotic poetry.

Culler, of course, is au courant in postulating literary competence as a reader’s equipment for an educated appreciation of a work of literary art.

While literary critics must, indeed, possess “literary and linguistic competence” in judging multi-lingual work (second language work as influenced by first language/mother tongue), there remains the risk of “missing the many-splendoured thing” (in the second-language poem) in assuming that the second language is inferior to the mother language in literary expression, therefore one must dig into the mother language quarry for the “poetic mother lode”.

The “language of the blood” may altogether be wanting in expressing a cosmopolitan world view that may be better limned in a “mastered” second language – preferably the “lingua franca” of the artist at the time of creation. – ALBERT B. CASUGA

LYRIC 17

First, a poem must be magical,
Then musical as a sea-gull.
It must be a brightness moving
And hold secret a bird's flowering.
It must be slender as a bell,
And it must hold fire as well.
It must have the wisdom of bows
And it must kneel like a rose.
It must be able to hear
The luminance of dove and deer.
It must be able to hide
What it seeks, like a bride.
And over all I would like to hover
God, smiling from the poem's cover.

-Jose Garcia Villa

4 comments:

rose said...

This poem exudes what a poem is. I'm not so much into

linguistics and literary criticism, but I could feel the

verses.

I know that art is not just meaning because it is craft as

many famouse writers say. I dont mind it.

For me, the texts speak and I understand. I could remember

here in Lyric 17, the "Ars Poetica of A. Macleish."

Lyric 17 is God, smiling from the poem's cover.

A poem for me is enjoying oneself. The expressed feeling of

the texts and metaphors makes the body and the poem fuse

together. Actually, the breathing patterns, phrases, and

rhymes do matter - but sometimes it feels strange when the

melody is out of tune because of the need to rhyme. It's

like a clanging cymbal.

I know I have to learn much about poetry and literature and

craft. It is a tedious process and so bloody especially when

you dont have the guns. Literally nothing. Like you are Tom Hanks in Cast Away.

Sir Albert Casuga and Sir Isagani Cruz prod me to speak and

then write about what I don't know and what I have much

inside. Their postings supply my hungry mind and turn my

brains into a running engine....turning so hot, and driving with no brakes.

IN anyway, I thank them for all they share to us in their

blogs. I benefit.


LYRIC 17

First, a poem must be magical,
Then musical as a sea-gull.
It must be a brightness moving
And hold secret a bird's flowering.
It must be slender as a bell,
And it must hold fire as well.
It must have the wisdom of bows
And it must kneel like a rose.
It must be able to hear
The luminance of dove and deer.
It must be able to hide
What it seeks, like a bride.
And over all I would like to hover
God, smiling from the poem's cover.

-Jose Garcia Villa

My respect to you Teachers.

Good night.

Albert B. Casuga said...

Thanks for the comment, Rose. It's good to know our comments make you think.

Anonymous said...

Hi, i have a customer who's teacher/mentor was Jose Garcia Villa. He said he got unpublished poems from Jose Garcia Villa and is looking for a filipino publisher.

Albert B. Casuga said...

To Anonymous:

Write me at albertcasuga@gmail.com and please give me some details which I could pass on to publishers. Thanks.