A Look at the Comma Poem

“I,It,Was,That,Saw”   |     Jose Garcia Villa

I,it,was,that,saw
God,dancing,on,phosphorescent,toes,
Among,the,strawberries.

It,could,have,been,moonlight,or,
Daylight-or,no,light,at,all.
His,feet,cast,light,on,all.

On,phosphorescent,feet
On,phosphorescent,feet,he,danced,
And,His,eyes,we’re,closed.

He,made,strawberries,tremble!
Yet,He,hurt,not,the,littlest,one,
But,gave,them,ripeness,all.

How do you read such a poem? How do you read it aloud, and how do you read its deep structure? Some tell me that to read a comma poem requires pausing between words. The comma represents that pause, and by that pause, each word seems disconnected, so that when we look at the poem, we jump from word to word (paying attention to each individual component). Each word thus is “framed” by the comma.

My suggestion is that the comma does not represent a pause, but rather, a connection between the words. In the traditional poem, each word is separated by an empty space. Distanced by that empty space. The comma provides substance between them, as the words are substance. Kind of like a continuing flow of  energy.

By framing each component, Villa charges each word with energy. He could have just separated the words by line; something like:

I

it

was

that

saw

God

dancing

on

phosphorescent

toes

But of course, the form is spatially inconvenient. And the reading of the poem tends to be much faster than the reading of the comma poem. Villa maintains the structure (three lines per verse) to retain poetic unity, but he also retains the charge of energy to be concentrated on each word, and not on each line. The idea is compositionality: each component has its own meaning (even articles and prepositions that do not have real world referents), and the meanings they have as well as their placement in the line influence the overall meaning of the line, the verse, the entire poem.

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The comma poem is mostly associated with the poet Jose Garcia Villa. 

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