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Intercambio Brings Puerto Rican Poetry To The People


August 15, 2000
Copyright © 2000 All Rights Reserved.

In 1992 poet Lady Lee Andrews started what many have called a "re-enchantment" of her isla del encanto, Puerto Rico. Working with other island poets, she's sought out ways to bring poetry back to the people.

Poet Lady Lee AndrewsPoet Lady Lee Andrews.

"We looked at New York," she said. "We wouldn't have that extra driving force if it wasn't for the poets in New York."

Back in Puerto Rico, Andrews thought that poetry on the island was too elitist, only written by and enjoyed among professors and professionals. Someone from the vernacular, it was thought, could not become a poet. So she began holding weekly poetry readings she called "Poetry Etcetera" in El Condado, the island's popular destination for tourists.

Soon, Andrews was able to break through the popular belief that poetry could not come from the people.

"It's a different language, but very heartfelt," said Andrews. "We speak for and to each other on our own. We do, share, and publish our own work."

Author of four books of poetry, Andrews was able to bring the urgency of the spoken word to popular venues. Local poet Raul Morris said a few years ago locals knew very little about Puerto Rican poets or their work. Today, he said, poetry is mentioned daily in the island's newspapers.

"This is the power of change, which gives us a different point-of-view," Morris said.

In a plaza in old San Juan, "Palabra Dicha" is one of 50 poetry events thoughout the island each month which take place in parks, bars and college campuses, transcending previous notions of what poetry was thought to be. While some of the poetry is thought to be of a more political than literary nature, it is nonetheless poetry for the people by the people.

Poet Lady Lee AndrewsPoet Lady Lee Andrews.

"Some of us have come out of the closet as poets," said Morris. "We can live with real feelings in our poetry and talk about the real pain and suffering and responsibility in our lives."

Poets like Andrews and Morris look to New York Puerto Rican poets for inspiration. They see the vibrant fire of poets like Mariposa and the Welfare Poets as poetic role models.

In early June, several poets from Puerto Rico went to New York to exchange ideas about poetry. As guests of Mariposa, the visiting poets were introduced to the New York poetry scene. Later this month, she and a group of six other poets will travel to Puerto Rico to complete the cultural and poetic intercambio. "There's a lot of confidence in New York," said Andrews. "It's raw, from the heart. There's a certain violence in the way they share their word."

To be sure, this is not a formal exchange of ideas.

"The collaboration and unification of Puerto Rican underground poets from New York and Puerto Rican poets from La Isla's subterráneo is a manifestation of our people healing from the wounds of colonialism," said Mariposa.  

The first real poetry exchange between New York and the island probably started in the 1950s with Julia de Burgos, a Puerto Rican poet born on the island who lived and died in New York. About 30 or so years ago, Nuyorican Poets went to the island. According to modern legend, Miguel Algarin and Pedro Pietri traveled to Puerto Rico, where they were first called "New York Ricans" or Nuyoricans.

Today, the export and transport of poetry beyond time and land extends to today's Taco Stand Poets in Los Angeles and The Welfare Poets of New York.

"We are continuing a legacy. Julia de Burgos began her career as a poet in Puerto Rico and gained recognition in Latin America but eventually wound up in is only natural that the young poets of our generation do the same," said Mariposa. "That phenomenal poets from La Isla come to New York and that we go down there...."

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