Summer 2004


Summer 2004


Pedro Pietri (1944-2004), New York City street poet and political activist, cofounder of the Nuyorican Cafe, promoter of Nuyorican society and a fixture on the performance scene in Manhattan, died Mar 3 2004 at the age of 59.

The New York Times, in its obituary, said that Pietri "defined the Nuyorican experience, inspiring a new generation of Latino poets."

Pietri was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico's 'second city' on the south coast of the Caribbean island, on March 21, 1944. Three years later, his family moved to Harlem. He attended public schools in New York City and was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War from 1966-68.

Recipient of several New York State Creative Arts in Public Service grants and a grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts, he was author of dozens of books of poetry, among them Illusions of a Revolving Door: Plays (1992), The Masses are Asses (1984), Traffic Violations (1983), Lost in the Museum of Natural History (1980), Invisible Poetry (1979), and the widely known Puerto Rican Obituary (1973).

His work was widely anthologized, according to the Academy of American Poets, including The Prentice Hall Anthology of Latino Literature (ed. Eduardo del Rio, 2002); The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry (ed. Alan Kaufman, 2000), The Latino Reader (eds. Harold Augenbraum and Margarite Fernandez Olmos, 1997), Inventing a Word: An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Puerto Rican Poetry (ed. Julio Marzan, 1980), and The United States of Poetry.

Woke up this morning / feeling excellent! / Picked up the telephone / dialed the number / Of my equal opportunity / employer to inform him / I will not be in / to work today! / Are you feeling sick? / the Boss asked me, / "No Sir" I replied, / I am feeling too good / to report to work today! / If I feel sick tomorrow / I will come in early.
--TELEPHONE BOOTH NUMBER 905, by Pedro Pietri

Aside from his important role in creating the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe, "El Reverendo" Pietri was a riveting performer in his own right. He mixed a keen playfulness with politically charged directness. His sense of performance reached the level of insurgency at times - and in this he had something of the public persona about him people attributed to Bob Kaufman in 1950s San Francisco.

Pietri was known to wander into events bearing a cross and handing out condoms to demonstrate his activist stance on AIDS, for example. In recent years he performed an attention-grabbing Vieques poem against US Naval bombing - replete with scatalogical invective that he enunciated with a punctuated excitement that resembled an exploding string of firecrackers.

Diagnosed with stomach cancer, Pietri was the beneficiary of a nationwide grassroots fundraising on his behalf in recent months which had reportedly raised in the vicinity of $30K. Pietri had been in Playas de Tijuana, Mexico for six weeks undergoing alternative treatment for stomach cancer and was flying back to New York in an air ambulance when he died.




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