Pedro Pietri

Pedro Pietri

Pedro Pietri (March 21, 1944-March 3, 2004) born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, was a Nuyorican poet and playwright who co-founded the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. He was the poet laureate of the Nuyorican movement.

Early years

Pietri's family moved to New York City in 1947, when he was only three years old. They settled down in the Spanish Harlem section of Manhattan where he and his siblings received their primary and secondary education. Pedro was greatly influenced by his aunt, who often recited poetry and on occasions put on theatrical plays in the local church. Pietri himself started to write poems as a student at Haaven High School. After graduating from high school, Pietri worked in a variety of jobs until he was drafted into the Army and sent to fight in the Vietnam War. The experiences which he faced in the Army and Vietnam plus the discrimination that he witnessed while growing up in New York, were to become the main factors that would forge his personality and style of poetry.

"Puerto Rican Obituary"

Upon his discharge from the Army, Pietri affiliated himself with a Puerto Rican Civil Rights activist group called the Young Lords. In 1969, he read for the first time his most renown poem, "Puerto Rican Obituary. The poem which was published in 1973, tells about five Puerto Ricans who travel to New York in search of a better way of life only to find hardships and suffer heartbreaks.

Nuyorican Poets Cafe

Pietri, helped found the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, together with Miguel Piñero and Miguel Algarín. The Cafe is an institution where many Puerto Rican intellectuals perform. Pietri wrote the play "El Puerto Rican Embassy". The theme was that an island, which was neither an independent nation nor a state of the United States, should have an embassy. The idea for the play came about Pietri's nationalistic views. During the performance, he would sing "The Spanglish National Anthem" and hand out simulated "Puerto Rican passports".

Other works

Among his other works are: "Invisible Poetry" (1979), "Traffic" (1980), "Plays" (1982), "Traffic Violations" (1983), and "The Masses are Asses" (1988). His writings have been published and included in the following anthologies: "Inventing a Word: An Anthology of Twentieth Century Puerto Rican Poetry (ed. Julio Marzan, 1980)", "Illusions of a Revolving Door" (1984), "The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry (ed. Alan Kaufman, S.A. Griffin, 1999)", "The Prentice Hall Anthology of Latino Literature (ed. Eduardo del Rio, 2002)" and many others.

Pietri not only wrote poetry but also recorded it. In 1979, Pietri came out with an LP entitled "Loose Joints" and later "One is a Crowd" which were produced by Folkway Records.

Pietri was a free spirit whose performances were nontraditional. In his irreverence toward religion, he called himself Reverend, dressed in black and walked around with a large collapseable cross. In reaction to the romanticism of the community by groups like the Young Lords and others on the left, he wrote that "The Masses are Asses." In the first published collection of Nuyorican poetry (Nuyorican Poetry: An Anthology of Puerto Rican Words and Feelings edited by Miguel Algarin and Miguel Piñero in 1975), his contribution was a poem consisting entirely of punctuation marks. He would throw condoms at audiences during some of his performances. He was a nonconformist, constantly reminding the Movement of the importance of tolerance, intellectual freedom and not losing its humanity. His was a unique voice, both in substance and style, to which failed attempts by all to imitate his reading of his "Puerto Rican Obituary" out loud readily attest.

Later years

Pedro Pietri was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2003. He went to Mexico to receive an alternative treatment for a year. On March 3, 2004, Pedro died en route from Mexico to New York. Funeral services were held in East Harlem at the historic First Spanish Methodist Church, which was taken over in 1969 by the Youngs Lords and renamed at the time as "The First People's Church" to provide free breakfast and other programs to the poor and working people of El Barrio. This is where, fittingly, Pedro first read in public his classic poem, "Puerto Rican Obituary," in support of the Lords' takeover of the church.

Pedro is survived by his children Diana, Evava and Speedo.


Further reading

  • Dalleo, Raphael, and Elena Machado Sáez. "Periodizing Latino/a Literature Through Pedro Pietri’s Nuyorican Cityscapes." The Latino/a Canon and the Emergence of Post-Sixties Literature. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 17-44.
  • González, Ray. Ed. Currents from the dancing river: contemporary Latino fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1994.
  • Hathaway, Heather, Josef Jarab, and Jeffrey Melnick. Eds. Race and the modern artist. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Hernandez, Carmen Dolores. Puerto Rican voices in English: interviews with writers. Westport: Praeger, 1997.
  • Marzán, Julio. Ed. Inventing a word: an anthology of twentieth-century Puerto Rican poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980.
  • Reyes, Israel. Humor and the eccentric text in Puerto Rican literature. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005.

See also

External links

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