“First, a poem must be magical / Musical as a seagull” These are the first lines of our favorite Jose Garcia Villa poem. We first read these lines in a freshman literature class decades ago.The poem appears in Villa’s first poetry anthology, “Have Come, Am Here” (1942).
This month marks the 20th year since the death of Villa, Philippine National Artist for Literature. Though many people know him best as a New York poet (“the Pope of Greenwich Village”) who introduced a new way of writing poetry (“reversed consonance rhyme scheme”) and was friends with the other leading literary figures of his time (including e.e. cummings, who dedicated a poem to him and Dame Edith Sitwell, who thought he was a poet with “an astonishing and perfectly original gift”), there are at least two things about Villa that are not as well known:
First, he lived in DC in the early 1940s during the war and worked for the Philippine government that was then in exile. He published his anthology, in fact, while in DC.
Second, several of his poems were set to music–one of them, “Moonlight’s Watermelon”, by Richard Hundley. Fortunately, several versions of the song are available online including this live performance from a 2015 audition.
Someday, together with friends who love to sing, maybe we can organize a mini-concert featuring Villa’s poems that have been set to music. We’ll call it: “Musical as a Seagull: The Music of Jose Garcia Villa’s Poetry”. Join us!