Pedro Pietri (1944-2004)

0
Students and educators interested in Pedro Pietri’s legacy and works may contact his widow, Margarita Deida Pietri directly by email at: GypsyMargarita@hotmail.com or (914) 969-7167.

Pedro Pietri, 59, Poet Who Chronicled Nuyorican Life, Dies

By David Gonzalez
NY Times, March 6, 2004

Pedro Pietri, a poet and playwright who chronicled the joys and struggles of Nuyoricans — urban Puerto Ricans whose lives straddle the islands of Puerto Rico and Manhattan — died on Wednesday en route from Mexico to New York. He was 59 and lived in Manhattan.

Mr. Pietri had been at a holistic clinic in Tijuana since January because of advanced stomach cancer. He was flying back to New York for specialized treatment of a bleeding ulcer when he suffered renal failure, said his sister, Carmen Pietri Diaz.

Mr. Pietri’s poetry about the competing cultural tugs of New York and Puerto Rico was often playfully absurd. He was perhaps best known for “Puerto Rican Obituary,” an epic poem published in 1973 that sketched the lives of five Puerto Ricans who came to the United States with dreams that remained unfulfilled. By turns angry, heartbreaking and hopeful, it was embraced by young Puerto Ricans, who were imbued with a sense of pride and nationalism.

Through countless poems and plays — he continued to write even after his illness was diagnosed late last year — he defined the Nuyorican experience, inspiring a new generation of Latino poets, including the streetwise slam poets whose provocative performances were showcased at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, a Lower East Side institution that he helped to found. His writing has been included in many anthologies and translated into more than a dozen languages, although his books are hard to find in this country.

Though often humorous, his work was also deeply political, like the performance piece “El Puerto Rican Embassy,” which he staged throughout New York with the photographer Adal Maldonado. At ceremonies here he sang “The Spanglish National Anthem,” Puerto Rican “passports” were distributed, their pages filled with poetry and images of dominoes and roosters. This idea of an embassy for an island that is neither independent nor a state captured Mr. Pietri’s own nationalist beliefs.

“This is about proclaiming the whole thing about being sovereign without the trials and tribulations of armed conflict,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 1996. “You don’t have to leave or go anywhere. You don’t have to be a radical or wear a beret. You just have to have a passport.”

Mr. Pietri was born in Ponce, P.R., and moved with his family to Harlem when he was 3, eventually settling into the Grant Houses, a housing project on Amsterdam Avenue. His father, a dishwasher at the St. Regis Hotel, had come to New York ahead of his wife and children.

His interest in poetry, his sister said, was encouraged by their aunt Irene Rodriguez, who often recited poetry and put on theatrical productions at the First Spanish United Methodist Church in East Harlem, where the family worshiped. He started composing his own poems when he was a teenager at Haaren High School, his sister said.

After high school Mr. Pietri worked in a variety of jobs in the garment district, his friend and biographer Robert Waddell said. He was drafted into the Army and served with a light infantry brigade in Vietnam, an experience that Mr. Pietri said had further radicalized him. Upon his return, Mr. Waddell said, Mr. Pietri barely lasted one week working at a hospital before he quit in disgust to pursue poetry.

The Methodist church he attended in his youth became the stage for his first public reading of “Puerto Rican Obituary”: when the Young Lords, an activist group, briefly took over the church in 1969, Mr. Pietri read his poem as an act of solidarity. It was the beginning of his association with activist causes, including the fight against AIDS.

In addition to Ms. Pietri Diaz and his brother, Joe, both of New York, he is survived by his wife, Margarita Deida Pietri, of Yonkers, and four children.

When doctors told him he had inoperable cancer last year, he sought alternative treatment in Mexico.
Within a few weeks his friends and fans had donated $30,000 for his care. Their generosity, he said, was humbling and reassuring.

“We’re still together, despite our differences,” he sa before he left for Mexico. “I see the foundation of a community that ensures our survival, that perseveres. This history we made, these poets we created. “We’re here to stay,” he said. “They can’t replace us.”

Resources

Pedro Pietri: 1944-2004
por Juan Fernando Merino
El Diario-La Prensa, March 5, 2004

El destacado poeta, dramaturgo y activista político Pedro Pietri, una de las voces más representativas de la diáspora puertorriqueña y uno de los fundadores del movimiento literario Nuyorican, falleció el miércoles pasado en su camino de regreso a Nueva York después de seguir en México un tratamiento para un cáncer de estómago.

Pietri, o el reverendo Pedro Pietri de la Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Tomates—como también se le conocía— fue un poeta de pluma vigorosa y palabra certera que nunca dudó en enfrentarse a los molinos que fuera necesario.

Iconoclasta en la más amplia acepción de la palabra, además de su enorme talento literario Pietri se distinguió siempre por su compromiso con la causa puertorriqueña, su apoyo a las reivindicaciones de los perseguidos y los oprimidos y una actitud de permanente irreverencia hacia los poderes establecidos, con una palabra que sabía mezclar el adjetivo cortante y efectivo con la ironía y el humor.

Entre sus numerosas obras de poesía destacan Puerto Rican Obituary (1973), traducida a varios idiomas; Invisible Poetry (1979); Lost in the Museum of Natural History (1980),; Traffic Violations, (1983); y The Masses are Asses, (1984), traducida al español como ‘Las masas son crasas’. Varias de sus piezas de teatro están incluidas en su volumen Illusions of a Revolving Door (1992). Dos de sus piezas, El Living Room y Lewlulu han sido escenificadas bajo la dirección de José Ferrer y otras más han sido llevadas a escena en el Public Theatre y el teatro La MaMa.

Pietri nació en 1944, en Ponce, Puerto Rico; su familia se trasladó a Nueva York cuando él tenía tres años. Fue reclutado en 1966 para la guerra de Vietnam, una experiencia que entre muchas otras cosas le deparó un vitiligo avanzado —deccoloración de la piel por efecto del agente naranja— y su permanente vestimenta negra, en ‘recuerdo a las víctimas de aquella invasión’.
A su regreso en 1968 encontró trabajo en la librería de Columbia University, sitio donde entraría en contacto con varios poetas de la generación Beat, así como con importantes poetas afroamericanos.

Pietri, una presencia permanente en la actividad cultural latina de la ciudad y en todos los círculos poéticos, también será recordado por sus contribuciones al Spanglish, la fundación del Nuyorican Poets Cafe en compañía de Miguel Algarín y Miguel Piñeiro y su oposición frontal a la presencia de la marina norteamericana en la isla de Vieques.

El poeta de Loisaida Ricardo León Peña Villa, quien lo invitó a participar en 2002 en el Viequetón, una de las últimas ocasiones en que Pietri visitó Puerto Rico, resumió así su legado: “Si alguien ha sido un poeta en Nueva York, desde la pobreza, desde la lucha y la resistencia, desde el amor y el humor, desde la ternura y el compromiso con sus causas, su familia y sus amigos, ése ha sido Pedro Pietri. Con perdón de todos los demás poetas.”

La familia, inmersa en el dolor, ha decidido oficiar un funeral estrictamente privado. El servicio religioso abierto se llevará a abo el domingo 7 de marzo de 4:00 a 8:00 pm en la Primera Iglesía Metodista Hispana (163 Este de la calle 111, con Lexington avenue), llamada por Pietri “The People’s Church.”

Other Articles/Materials on Pedro Pietri

Share.

Leave A Reply