It was 1940 when Commonwealth Literary Contest was marked by a debate on the role of the writers in society. The writers were divided into 2 groups: those who advocated “art for art’s sake” and those who stood for social consciousness. This was initiated by Philippine Writer’s League with government’s support declared the following as their objectives: “to defend the political and social institutions that make for peace and encourage a healthy culture- and specifically to defend the democratic rights to education, the freedom of thought and expression”. What is your opinion?
Two people were known to have something peculiarly unique entries. Jose Garcia Villa is known for his love poems, one of which actually caused his expulsion from the University of the Philippines, his comma poems, and metaphysical-philosophical poems and Salvador P. Lopez strove to locate the significance of literature in the mainstream of social struggle.
Jose Garcia Villa was a painter, Filipino poet, literary critic and short story writer. He was born in Manila’s Singalong district, son of Simeon Villa (personal physician of Emilio Aguinaldo) and Guia Garcia (wealthy landowner). Villa graduated from UPIS and UPHS in 1925. He enrolled on a pre-medical course but then switched to pre-law course. But then he realized that his true passion was in the arts so he tried painting then turned into creative writing after reading Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. In 1929 he published Man Songs, a series of erotic poems, which was found too bold by the administrators in UP and was even fined for obscenity by the manila court of first instance. He won best story of the year from the Philippine Free Press magazine for Mir-i-nisa, received P 1,000 and used this to migrate to the US. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree, published Footnote to Youth in 1933 From prose he switched to writing poetry and published a lot of works until 1942. He introduced a new rhyming scheme called “reversed consonance where the last sounded consonants of the syllable, or the last principal consonant of a word, are reversed for corresponding rhyme (Ex. Near=run, rain, green, reign). Presented a poetic style called “comma poems” in 1949 saying “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 value, and the line movement to become more measured”. Villa described his comma poems similar to pointillism, a technique that relies on the ability of the eye and mind of the viewer to blend the color spots into a fuller range of tones which forces the readers to slow down resulting in what villa calls “a lineal pace of dignity and movement”. He also created verses out of published prose, put them all together and formed what he liked to call “Collages”.
Salvador Ponce Lopez born on may 27, 1911 in Currimao, Ilocos norte was an ilokano writer, journalist, educator, diplomat, and statesman. Also studied in UP and obtained a BA English in 1931 and a Master of Arts degree in philosophy. He became a drama critic for the Philippine Collegian. He taught literature and journalism at the University of Manila and became a daily columnist and magazine editor of the Philippine Herald until World War 2.
He was appointed by Pres. Diosdado Macapagal as Secretary of Foreign Affairs and was an ambassador to the UN for six years before re-assigned to France for seven years. He was the president of the UP from 1969-1975, established a system of democratic consultation and reorganized UP into UP System. Lopez’ essay Literature and Society won in the Commonwealth Literary Awards in 1940. This essay pointed that art must have a substance and that poet Jose Garcia Villa’s adherence to “art for art’s sake” is decadent; this also provoked debates, discussions centered on proletarian literature, engaged or committed literature versus the art for art’s sake literary orientation. His essay mainly deals about the argument that literature should be socially conscious saying, “art was a utilitarian device” and should “not merely to fill idle hour with pleasure excitement but invoke the favors of the gods.” Hear this; nobody would get benefits from reading a fantasy poem or a love poem about my first love that’s why literature should connect with society. He said that art is an egotistical output — emotions, feelings, realization and such. But, creative writing is not at all useless in the society. A love poem can be a plain poem but when people read it and felt uplifted, picked up some morals, changes might occur. If writers kept on writing about the economic or society issues, will it really benefit the country? Given that it will be helpful in informing the citizens and presenting the writers’ different perceptions about a certain issue, what would come next? Honestly, journalism today is more focused on broadcasting the negativities of the society. Sure, there are also good issues or news but they are rarely stated. You know, creative writers can be the architects of the human soul. Their thoughts and perceptions may challenge and change others perceptions, or even persuade people. They are agents that seek the still-beautiful-world despite of the world’s dark issues. They actually give hope to some people who had given up; making them realize that there’s more to life than K+12, or RH Bill, or corruption or rallies. If writers kept on writing about social issues they’ll eventually poison their readers’ minds. But all of these depend on what kind of writer they are, the time, the place, the perceptions or the norms of the people and how they understand and take a literary work.
You choose, you decide. Who weighed more, Villa or Lopez? Which side are you on?