‘the essentiality of the comma’

so francois guessed the last title! altho he is behind, he is still a ‘contender’.

so today was a great day because the Oakland A’s won game one! it was great also cause the game was at 10 am, and since i dont work till 3, i got to watch it! game two is tomorrow at 10 also, so i will roll outta bed onto the futon in front of the TV – i tell you what, only one other thing is better than morning playoff baseball 😉

i was referring to coffee and donuts (get your mind out of the gutter FORREST!) so last night i made pumpkin and butternut squash soup when i returned from work at 9. it was yummy. did i mention that the discussion re: WAR REPARATIONS has continued two posts down (feel free to join the discussion).

THIS POST is about the poet JOSE GARCIA VILLA, and is continued from the post before…

so to address some of the issues that barbara and mephis raised, i typed up Villa’s intro to his collection of “comma poems” (NOTE: the prose-to-verse poems are actually a different collection, not the comma ones, and i will post on that method also in exactly 2 days).



here is another excerpt from the comma poems:

Sun. After,pure,eyes,have,peeled,

Off,skin,who,can,gaze,unburned? Who,
Can,stand,unbowed? Well,be,perceived,
And,well,perceive. Receive,be,received.



The reader of the following poems may be perplexed and puzzled at me use of the comma: it is a new, special and poetic use to which i have put it. The commas appear in teh poems functionally, and thus not for eccentricity; and they are there also poetically, that is to say, not in their prose function.

These poems were conceived with commas, as “comma poems,” in which the commas are an integral and essential part of the medium: regulating the poem’s verbal density and time movement: enabling each word to attain a fuller tonal and sonal value, and the line movement to become more measured.

The method may be compared to Seurat’s architectonic and measured pointiliism — where the points of color are themselves the medium as well as the technique of expression: therefore functional and valid, as medium of art and as medium of personality. Only the uninitiate would complain that Seurat should have painted in strokes.

Regarding the time movement effected by the commas — a pause ensues after each comma, but a pause not as long as that commanded by its proper use: for this reason the usual space after the comma is omitted. The result is a lineal pace of dignity and movement.

I realize of couse that this new poetic employment of the comma is an innovation which may disconcert some readers: for them I can only say that they can still read the poems by ignoring the commas if they find these in the way; personally i find that they even add visual distinction.

With the more poetically and texturally sensitive reader, i believe that he will see with me the essentiality of the comma: the best test, which i have myself employed, is to copy out a poem omitting the commas and then to read this text comparatively with the comma’ed version: the loss is distinctly and immediately cognizable. Therein lies the justification for this — true enough — strange innovation.



(There is a generative connection to gertrude stein’s conception of the comma which i will post on tomorrow…but till then, peace and quietude)

14 thoughts on “‘the essentiality of the comma’

  1. i’m glad you’re getting into villa — to be honest i agree with barbara jane that he relies (too) much on the form. his preface pushes really hard on the “innovation” aspect of it all, though i agree with him that the commas add a visual distinction that i find personally interesting. the pacing effect of the commas also makes me think of the performative aspect of the poetry; i’m not sure about you but trying to read the poems aloud is really hard for me. the commas seem to produce a monotone effect, but that could just be a result of my own shortcomings as a reader and/or of my preference for poetry that is attuned to the cadence of daily conversation.

    villa’s case, however, also leads me to imagine the kind of pressure that this modernist circle of poets put on themselves and each other to create new forms that would capture the literati’s imagination and praise. that villa wrote that preface in the first place is telling, perhaps? or was this a common practice among these poets?

    by the way, have you read or are you reading tim yu’s two essays on villa? one in melus (spring 2004) and another in carbo’s edited pinoy poetics. both essays are very interesting in their reading of villa’s bio and work.

  2. Gertrude Stein… that I knew, but I had never read this one… whacky man, she’s nuts….


    Aider, why aider why whow, whow stop touch, aider whow, aider stop the muncher, muncher munchers.

    A jack in kill her, a jack in, makes a meadowed king, makes a to let.

  3. right, see, i have to remember that villa was in manifesto mode, just like any other good modernist. and personally, while i kind of think the comma poem and the comma poem manifesto is a bit of a crock (kind of), i gotta give it to villa for trying to create a gimmick.

    so to answer a previous commenter’s question re one-word lines, no the effect would not be the same as the comma. one word lined poems i think are or can be abrupt, but spacious and i think comma poems are dense and suffocating.

    still caffeinating. may pipe in later.

  4. why mephis whow you get the point!

    great to hear from you gladys, yeah the visual aspect is fascinating – especially his comparison to Seurat! each word as a dot of paint and the idea that the poem exists both as these dots of signifiers to create a larger picture / impression.

    as far as reading aloud, yeah it does feel strange to me too. the more i read them aloud, however, the more i noticed that the form really does accentuate each word, thus the monotone effect is subverted by the ‘sonal’ differences of each word … one thing i like also is that is does seem to subvert the heirarchical grammatical structures, giving a word like ‘the’ as much weight as ‘angel’ (otherwise, the ‘the’ would simply serve the noun).

    yeah and the preface is def. telling … as well as in the tradition of manifesto modes – what for me prevents it from too gimicky is the fact that he gets rid of the spaces after commas….if i imagine myself inventing this form, it is easy enough to conceive of a comma after each word in relation to e.e. and seurat, BUT to omit the space after the comma i never would have thought of (so that is the redeeming quality for me). but it also accounts for the suffocating feel (and really does not feel as harmonic / mathematical as a Seurat canvas…

    anyways, i hope more people chime in! and there is a new title up: GOOD LUCK!

  5. Jorie Graham! The Dream of the Unified Field.

    I have this collection (Pulitzer Prize winning, I think) but haven’t read all of it yet. I dip into the poetry books I have and read a poem here and a poem there, unlike CPerez here who devours poetry books!

  6. def. read all of it — it’s great! her new stuff is pretty exciting too! devour? i eat poetry books for breakfast 😉

    needless to say, you get the point!

  7. I know this one too, I think. Is it Dictee by Theresa -two middle names I don’t remember how to spell- Cha?

    And in regards to commas, I tried to read some other poems as if they had commas after every word and some were much less successful than Villa, especially poems which were partially reliant on the headlong speed of the line and the sense of suspense/excitement/tension that brought to the poem. Like Stein I do sometimes feel I could do without commas but then I come around again and think that commas are indeed useful. In that last sentence I think I miss the commas, but I’ll leave them out as a tiny homage to Gertrude.

  8. You should see this man with meat on a stick… ravenous I tell you… ravenous!

    Did I just say that?!


    bad len, bad len…

  9. well, being on the road, I obviously have a handicap. But I will say K. Silem Mohammad’s “Limetree” for the current title.

  10. bad len, dont you know what happens in a uzbecki restaurant in st.petersburg stays in st.petersburg!

    great experiment iseult! didnt even think to do that!

    sorry francois — iseult guessed it was dictee, by cha — it is actually nice to hear from you from the road because then at least we know you are still alive!

    mephis! you get the point! and damn you, i just posted that, had a cigarrette and returned! that is the second time!

  11. Allen Tate – Ode to the Confederate Dead

    What shall we say who have knowledge

    Carried to the heart? Shall we take the act

    To the grave? Shall we, more hopeful, set up the grave

    In the house? The ravenous grave?


  12. If you think morning playoff baseball and coffee and donuts are better than morning play, you’re obviously getting too much of it. You need to get your mind in the gutter.

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