from “Comma Poems”: On José García Vílla






TO SINK
MEAT HO,OKS        ON THE RINDS
OF MY BACK,,,        HOL,D
                                    ITS C,HAIN,E,S
                                    AND PULL

TO DE,SIRE, TO BE, THE MEAT


,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,



In his second book Volume Two (1949), the poet José García Vílla introduces his “Comma Poems,” in which every word is separated not with a space, but procedurally with a comma, disrupting, mutilating its syntax—a technique he compares to Seurat’s “architectonic and measured pointillism.” Time moves, or rather, hitches, simultaneously slows and shortens the measure, the line, what he calls “a lineal pace of quiet dignity and movement,” recalling his earlier dictum in the 1930s that “the poet has a breathlessness in him that he converts into the breathlessness of the reader,”

























TO DESIRE                TO FOLD
TO SOW A                 TIME
LINE, HOLDING       THIS MEASURE
HITCHED                   SET TO
BREATH, I KEEP       THE BREATH
GOING,,,

TO RE,STORE BREATH     IN,TO BODY,,,


,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,



On Shakespeare’s comedies, Northrop Frye in Anatomy of Criticism (1957) notes “the action of the comedy begins in a world represented as a normal world, moves into the green world, goes into a metamorphosis there in which the comic resolution is achieved, and returns to the normal world,”—a parallel movement of summer’s victory over winter, through the arrival spring. He draws an analogy to the dream world of our desires, “not as an escape from ‘reality,’ but as the genuine form of the world that human life tries to imitate.” The green world, untethered by the murk of our making, allows us to arrive at a redemptive truth. In Paulina’s garden, Hermione dreams of waking,
























                     swells like greenness

unyielding
            then                      tender, over
& over
            soft as sod                   & longweed
                                    leaves

                grassbite on your legs,,,


,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,



Nathaniel Mackey in his lecture “Breath and Precarity,” traces a poetics of breathing through the 1950s and 60’s. Drawing from Charles Olson’s influential essay “Projective Verse,” as well the early works of Sun Ra, Fred Moten, Amiri Baraka, Allen Ginsberg and Robert Creeley, Mackey gathers their post-World War II literature into a hermeneutics of breath. He signals Creeley’s performance of steep enjambment and short, single word and syllable lines as conveying the general atmosphere of “trepidatious, anxious, apprehensiveness”; “hesitant” and “asthmatic,” and later, he adds, a “[jittery measure] for jittery times.” Mackey draws a contemporary parallel to life in our present moment—an invocation of Eric Garner’s last words turned-rallying cry, “I can’t breathe,”

























In what ways is the green world a figure for literature itself; the lucid dreamscape in which re,s,v,olution becomes feasible. Lisa Robertson in Nilling (2012), describes the act of reading as commodiousness. One enters a metaphysical space, is enabled to rid oneself. Like her, I too, feel a violent dismay. In any given room, one is not always allowed to breathe. Occupancy doubles in the margins and necessitates a degree of resistance. Some days it is hard to tell if someone is shouting at you or through you,






















,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,



To be less than just a presence, to be a shadow of a g,host,
























THE MEAT SLOUGHS OFF,,,  I COULD BE
AGAIN AND AGAIN OVER
            THE HEAD
            THESE HEAVY         HOUSES
            COLLAPSING
TO H,F,OLD O,I,NTO

TO CON,SPIR,AT,E,,,


,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,



Efforts to reclaim José García Vílla from the caprice of history have been few, and largely from an ethnographic perspective, as a poetics of exile and diaspora, as an anomaly in and of 20th century American literary circles. He earned the high-regard and friendship of many, including his contemporary e.e. cummings. I read some of his poems; dripping in religious overtones, it makes me queasy. The only salvation I find is in the bizarre eroticism, e.g.



      Through,whose,huge,discalced,arable,love,
Bloodblazes,oh,Christ’s,gentle,egg: His,terrific,sperm.
























Inscribed in the negative space is a violence. Daniel Immerwhar in How to Hide an Empire (2019) notes that in the draft of FDR’s speech post-Pearl Harbor, the former president crosses off mentions of simultaneous bombings in the Philippines and Guam, which were at the time, U.S. territories like Hawaii. Not mentioned were the 16 million people living as U.S. nationals in the Philippines. With this exclusion, the Philippine territory had been deemed a distant, foreign land—definitively not American. In the aftermath of WWII, Manila was only the second most devastated city in the world after Warsaw. The U.S. quickly granted the war-torn Philippines independence, and vacated their former colony, leaving much of the rebuilding dependent on conditional aid from their former owners. In their extended theater of Pacific War, America continued to use the Philippines as a military outpost, as Americans swiftly elided the country out of their memory and mythos. In what ways am I always asking to be seen,


,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,



TO INVEST,IGATE HOW STRUCTURES
MANI,FEST RE,CUR,SIVELY IN,CORP,
ORATE THE BODY, ORIENT N,REL,ATIONS
OF STATE TO SUBST,R,A,T,E TO SUB,ALTER,N
IN,DI,C,T,ATES, LANGUAGE, DESIRE, TO BE
HELD AS A POWER, TO BE HELD DOWN, TO BE
HELD DOWN, TO BE HELD DOWN, TO BE,
























              shoot empty a field
                                    the width of it
                                    the rib              I make of it
a threshold,
            of trees           
                                                            wheatline
            marks                                      a looming
                                                            reflects

                                                an overcast,,,


,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,







E. San Juan Jr. in “Jose Garcia Vílla—Critique of a Subaltern Poetics” (2010) lays out in vivid clarity, a historical-materialist analysis of Vílla’s oeuvre, leading us through Vílla’s life and reception in his chosen home, New York, and the tensions pulling on him as both successful literary figure and racialized subject of American empire. Of Vílla’s poetics, San Juan understands it to be a nihilist project akin to Berger’s reading of Pollock’s process—a (death) drive to “avant-garde purity and novelty,” a fatalistic “desire to free oneself from all historic determinants, apotheosizing the imagination as the creator/demiurge of one’s world.” San Juan concludes Vílla’s work to be a gradual annihilation of the self, a slow march to death,
























In what ways can a poetics be salvaged. Vílla writes of his Comma Poems, they “[enable] each word to attain a fuller tonal value, and the line movement to become more measured.” The mode is expansive, one of brea,d,th. With each comma, Vílla asks us to increase our intake of breath, to examine each word and their distance, to contemplate what is and isn’t being said. In the re,enactment of the line, one must commit to glottal pause, pronounce each consonant with plosive clarity. The resulting sounds remind me of the hard consonants of Filipino-accented English, or the syllabic phonology of Tagalog, Vílla’s native tongue. Or even moreso, the slow, purposeful melody of learner’s English, familiar to subjects of American empire. It is interesting to imagine what Vílla’s poetry would sound like recited by his American critics and peers. The methodical alienation of language to his fluent audience is a kind of displaced ironic performance of subaltern English onto the hegemon, not entirely as bitter parody, but a reorientation of the reader to his perspective at the margins of empire. Vílla’s voice is resurrected, quite literally, speaks through us. In his Comma Poems, Vílla records a measure of himself, replicable across time and body,


,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,


                                  Twin,me!
                   
                                        Vílla, “31” from Aphorisms I
























To consider Vílla’s poetics as instructive, not destructive—as generative. Rather than an abstraction into death, Vílla enters the metaphysical space to escape the fatal, overdetermined nature of his own precarity. In the green world, outside of the reality that suffocates being, a life can transpire. Vílla writes,


At,the,in,of,me,
More,real,than,unreality—
There,greens,an,infinity,

Ripens,and,does,not,fall:
Fruit,of,very-whole,
My,saint,my,prodigal.

Unbody,and,end,only—
Vision,and,end,only—
More,ill,more,beautiful,

More,still,more,musical,
Than,death,and,rose,in,love,
Than,rose,and,death,in,love.”

                                    Vílla,“138” from Divine Poems


,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,









































,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,


empty your barrel
chest, your
            wood,                                               cask
                    sorrel arching                          distilling
                                 towards           the sun

                        unfurls like spines,,,
       
        canopy patterns over prickling
                         skin, unseams

























O,U,TTHEO,F,I,BRE,ATH,T,HISG,W,AR,DEN,OFB,R,EATHTH,ISPR,ECARI,OUSM,ANGE,RW,E,W,O,A,NDE,RW,IL,DSTH,ISG,OO,DEARTHWH,ICHG,IVES,U,SA,NDG,IVE,SU,SAWA,YTO,CON,SPIRE,U,SO,UTOFG,OO,DBR,EATHTH,EIR,DRE,AMST,AT,EPAR,ADISED,ENI,ED,USF,ORUR,SIN,SCANTL,IVEI,NTH,EEX,ILES,S,ILEN,CECATT,EROF,BRUSHA,NDD,ES,ERTO,UTTH,EREI,NTH,EWI,LD,SOU,STE,DUSO,FTH,ESPIREO,FLANG,U,AGE,OUTSI,DE,BEY,ONDO,URSEL,VEST,HEWA,LLSO,FGRI,EFS,PIT,OFGA,RD,ENTHE,YSPI,TONU,SOUT,OURRI,TUALOF,SINO,URPRA,YERO,FDEA,THEA,RTHE,WA,STETH,EYLA,YONU,STHE,YTO,OKU,SOUTH,EYO,UTTO,OKOU,TFROMU,STO,OKAB,ITEOF,USWWI,THTH,EIRB,ULLE,TTEE,THTOO,KF,RO,MUNDE,RUST,HESOD,SO,ILOU,RCI,TYOFS,ULF,UR,M,BR,E,A,KSO,URBRO,KENHE,ADTH,EYM,AK,EUSM,AKE,USOU,TTO,BEDE,ATHTHE,YBRE,ATHD,EATHK,NO,WON,LYTHEE,M,PTIN,ESS,THA,TISDEA,THTH,EIRF,ALSEN,ESSO,FGARD,ENFA,LSEU,NI,VERSE,OURH,OLYH,EA,DOURH,OLESM,EANT,FORDE,ATHTH,EDE,A,N,THTH,EYBR,EEDIN,USB,REED,USWEB,RE,ATHE,USLI,FEOU,RSAL,TSKI,NOUR,TERM,INA,LBREA,THOUR,IN,SPI,RA,TIONFER,TIL,IZE,RO,URWE,FTOF,EXHALA,TEO,URAN,ALPA,RADIG,MFRO,MMU,SEO,FCUL,TIVAT,IONOU,RPER,VERSI,ONSO,URPOET,IC,SOF,BR,D,EA,R,TH,OUTO,FDEA,TH,ANER,OTICS,,,








Works Cited


Villa José García. Doveglion: Collected Poems. Edited by John E. Cowen. New York: Penguin Books, 2008.

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,   1971.

hollowayseries, “Nathaniel Mackey - ‘Breath and Precarity,’” YouTube Video, 1:30:07,   November 15, 2016, https://youtu.be/QlrPmLEYmsE

Robertson, Lisa. “Time in the Codex.” Essay. In Nilling: Prose Essays on Noise, Pornography,    the Codex, Melancholy, Lucretiun, Folds, Cities and Related                     Aporias. Chicago: Bookthug Press, 2012.

San Juan, E. “Jose Garcia Villa—Critique of a Subaltern Poetics.” EurAmerica 40, no. 1 (March   2010).





Leon Barros (he/they) is a Filipinx poet and editor and studied English and Creative Writing at UC Berkeley. Their work has appeared in The Daily Cal, HOLD: A Journal and is forthcoming in Diacritics, Call Me [Brackets] and beestung.