Pedro Pietri (b. 1944)
Contributing Editor: Frances R. Aparicio
Classroom Issues and Strategies
As with other Nuyorican poets, the language switching and references to either Spanish or Puerto Rican culture need to be explained. Preparing a handout with a glossary and giving a small introduction to life in El Barrio (perhaps with photos, pictures, or videos) might also be helpful.
Pedro Pietri has produced two records, "Loose Joints" and "One is a Crowd" (Folkway Records). If available, they would be good for classroom use.
Some students might have a difficult time understanding the anger and the bitterness of Pietri's voice against "the system," an issue for disagreement and discussion.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
Pietri's poetry is political poetry in its most direct sense: a poetry of denunciation, directed to create a cultural consciousness among the members of the Puerto Rican community. Other themes are the demythification of authority figures and social institutions (government, schools, church, "the system"); alienation in contemporary urban life; a surrealistic search for the truth in the irrational and the absurd. In addition, the political status and the poverty levels for Puerto Ricans in New York can be discussed in light of Pietri's denunciation of "the system." How do students feel about the welfare system and about the Hispanic poor in this country? About the First World/Third World dichotomies within the United States?
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
"Puerto Rican Obituary" can be read as a parody of an epic poem (the dream and the search and the epic deeds of a nation inverted), and within an antiaesthetic attitude. Again, as in Laviera, this is oral poetry to be recited and screamed. In Traffic Violations, Pietri's poetry falls within the surrealistic mode, fragmented images, search for the absurd in everyday life, irrational, surprising metaphors and imagery, humor, and sarcasm.
Though quite contemporary, Pietri's poetry has to be understood in terms of its original objective of addressing the masses as oral poetry. This is important in order to achieve a true understanding of his use of popular language, anger, and antiaesthetic style.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
I believe that fruitful comparisons may be drawn if one looks into Allen Ginsberg and other poets of the beat generation and of the '60s (as poetry of social denouncement, protest, and harsh, antiacademic language). Also compare with contemporary African-American poets who deal with urban themes, alienation, and social injustice.
Questions for Reading and Discussion/ Approaches to Writing
1. For "Puerto Rican Obituary," questions dealing with theme: What is it denouncing? How are the "puertorriqueños" portrayed? Analyze image of death. Would you define it as an "epic" poem? What is the use of Spanish in the poem? Consider the poem as an example of urban literature; define the utopian space that Pietri proposes.
2. Paper topics might deal with Puerto Rican migration; use of Spanish and English (for aesthetic effect); functions of humor and irony; analyze the poems as "outlaw" literature.
Two general articles on Puerto Rican writers discuss Pietri's work:
Acosta-Belén, Edna. "The Literature of the Puerto Rican National Minority in the United States." The Bilingual Review 5:1-2 (Jan.-Aug. 1978): 107-16.
Cruz, Arnaldo. "Teaching Puerto Rican Authors: Modernization and Identity in Nuyorican Literature." ADE Journal published by the Modern Language Association (December 1988).