Book Review: Nuyorican Poetry — Visibly Seen

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UrayoanNoelBy Robert Waddell

Let us begin at the beginning – the front cover. Can anyone recognize the orator – proudly proclaiming his Puerto Ricanness as he stands in a rubble strewn Loisaida lot – on the cover of Urayoán Noel’s new book, “In Visible Movement: Nuyorican Poetry from the Sixties to Slam?”

Noel’s clever title “In Visible” refers to marginalized Puerto Rican poets who are and were very visible on the New York and American landscape for the last 60 years.

Sadly, the number of the original Nuyorican poets has dwindled to a handful with the passage of time but Noel chronicles and records the work of people who have always refused to become invisible or remain voiceless.

Noel writes in his introduction: “Although not a history in the conventional sense, in the juxtaposition of various poetics this book seeks to tell a story about the changing roles of poetry, from the social movement of the 1960s to the market movements of the 1990s and beyond.”

The poet and scholar seeks to understand and explain the value and importance of New York Puerto Rican poetry and writing as it moved from oral poetry to revolution to slam, and how it all makes sense to poets – the Ivory Tower and to Puerto Rican culture.

Noel is a master at taking apart a time piece, examining and explaining all of the intricate pieces and details then putting the clock back together, not better, but with a fresh perspective on a ever -synchronized ticking literature and history that he so obviously respects, loves and is happy to be a part of.

Puerto Ricans, American “citizens” but treated far too long as non-citizens, Noel recognizes that words and poetry are enemies of the colonizer; they are the revolutionary tool that speaks of heart and soul and for that there is no combative defense.

Noel asks the essential question of where do Puerto Ricans belong. In the current national debate over immigration reform, this echoes within the struggle of how Boricuas of the 1950s and 1960s were abused and mistreated. Today, Mexicans and Central Americans are similarly exploited for cheap labor that no other American want to do – all the while resenting the people who do that menial labor. One also hears fragments of the Chinese exclusionary act.

Noel sees the river – a literary Rio Grande de Loiza and Loisaida — that takes readers and poets from past to the present. From the Young Lords and the origins of the Nuyorican Poets Café to chap books, slam poetry and going from invisible to very visible. The scholar hits all the right marks mentioning the best of contemporary Nuyorican poets like Jesus Papoleto Melendez, Mariposa, Willie Perdomo – and the list goes on.

Nuyorican poetry has always been for the page and the stage – from Bimbo Rivas to Tato Laviera to Pedro Pietri. First memorized, from open mic to slam, performance poetry is the evolutionary map that Noel treads wisely. Following a long line of literary footprints, Noel respectfully retraces every their every step.

As Pietri is quoted in “Puerto Rican Voices in English” by Carmen Dolores Hernandez:

“Jorge Brandon…. He was the one who influenced me as a performer…. He was fearless when he gave his performances.”

Jorge Brandon, a part of the first generation of Nuyorican poets who would put any current spoken word poet to shame, had memorized over 100 poems. It is doubtful that he and Petri would appreciate the current crop of spoken word artists who clamor for fame while reading from their cell phones.

No surprise then that Jorge Brandon, “El Coco Que Habla,” graces the cover of Urayoan Noel’s book. Still, the old master on the new master’s work, calls Nuyoricans back to the origins where the echoes of poetic voices past and present still, delight, and saying – yes, we are Puerto Rican. Nuyoricans, visible in plain sight – y muy presente. Take the time, read “In Visible Movement: Nuyorican Poetry from the Sixties to Slam,” and you will find yourself in our poetry.

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