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.