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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Pedro Pietri

Born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Pedro Pietri has lived most of his life in New York City. He writes poetry and plays, some of which have been presented in off-Broadway theaters. Illusions of a Revolving Door, a collection of his plays in English, was published in Puerto Rico in 1992, the first time a Nuyorican writer published his work in English on the island.

His texts illustrate the literature of protest and denunciation that characterizes the work of Nuyorican writers, who address their literature to Puerto Rican readers in order to raise consciousness of social and political oppression within American society. Nuyorican poets began to read at the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe, at 505 East Sixth Street in New York City, where they met with other writers, artists, and community people. Their “poetic” language is anti-lyrical and harsh; it is the street language of blacks and Puerto Ricans in El Barrio. Such a stylistic choice implies a resistance to Americanization, and an expression of dignity and pride in the puertorriqueño’s heritage.

In Puerto Rican Obituary, a key text for Nuyorican poets, Pietri creates a mock epic of the Puerto Rican community in the United States. Through humor, sarcasm, and an irreverent irony, the poet presents the American Dream—which motivated many Puerto Ricans to emigrate to this country—not as a dream but as a nightmare and, ultimately, as death. The puertorriqueños find themselves shut out of America’s economic opportunities and lifestyle, and realize that they are unemployed, living on welfare, bitter, degraded. Pietri’s image of a collective death is symbolic, denouncing the death of the Puerto Ricans’ dignity as a people and individually. Yet Pietri is not altogether pessimistic, for the poem proposes a utopian symbolic space of Puerto Rican identity.

In Traffic Violations, Pietri moves away from the specificity of the social conditions of Puerto Ricans in New York, and expresses a broader poetic vision of life as absurd. As his title indicates, his poetry reaffirms the need to break away from norms, the healthy rupturing of expectations, of logic, and of civilization. By inverting many American idiomatic expressions and clichés, he surprises and moves the reader. This book presents the figure of the poet as a self-willed outcast, who drinks and uses drugs in order to avoid falling into any mechanization of the self. It is a surrealist work.

As representative of the literature of protest in Nuyorican culture, Pedro Pietri’s work is a strong denunciation of the American system and of Western capitalism. To struggle against these forces, Pietri’s poetry invites the puertorriqueños to acquire a sense of dignity and pride in their heritage, and to avoid complete cultural assimilation.

Frances R. Aparicio
University of Illinois at Chicago

In the Heath Anthology
Puerto Rican Obituary (1973)
Traffic Violations (1983)

Other Works
Lost in the Museum of Natural History/Perdido en el Museo de Historia Natural (1981)
The Masses Are Asses (1984)

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Telephone Booth Number 905 1/2
Pedro's poem provided by Tribes Magazine.

There Was Never No Tomorrow, Nuyorican Pedro Pietri In His Own Words

Secondary Sources

Edna Acosta Belen, "The Literature of the Puerto Rican National Minority in the United States," 5:12 The Bilingual Review (Jan.-August 1978): 107-116

Arnaldo Cruz, "Teaching Puerto Rican Authors: Modernization and Identity in Nuyorican Literature," ADE Journal published by The Modern Language Association, December, 1988

William Luis, Dance between Two Cultures: Latino Carribean Literature Written in the U.S., 1997

Marc Zimmerman, U.S. Latino Literature: An Essay and Annotated Bibliography, 1992