2Leaf Press is pleased to announce the publication of its first book, Hey Yo! Yo Soy! 40 Years of Nuyorican Street Poetry, A Bilingual Edition by Nuyorican poet Jesús Papoleto Meléndez. This 300-page collection, comprised of three previously published books, Casting Long Shadows (1970), Have You Seen Liberation (1971), and Street Poetry & Other Poems (1972), consist of stories about growing up Puerto Rican in New York City’s El Barrio. Meléndez has long been considered one of the founders of the Nuyorican Movement and the political, intellectual and linguistic topics he approaches in his work remain extremely relevant to this day.
The publication date was pushed up from November 1st to October 26th so that Meléndez could present “¡Hey Yo / Yo Soy!” at The Puerto Rican Studies Association for Research Advocacy and Education, Inc. (PRSA) Conference at State University of New York (SUNY), Albany. PRSA is a nonprofit organization brings together scholars, educators, public policy experts, artists, community activists and students from diverse fields of knowledge whose work focuses on Puerto Ricans in the United States and on the Island. Meléndez will participate in a panel discussion, read his poetry and have books available for sale and book signings.
The Spanish translations, which appear alongside the English, have been superbly rendered by Adam Wier, Carolina Fung Feng, and Marjorie González. The collection includes a forward by Samuel Diaz and Carmen Pietri-Diaz, a commentary about the translation process by Wier, an introduction by Sandy Maria Esteves, and an afterword by Jaime “Shaggy” Flores, as well as historical photos of Meléndez and an exclusive interview. All of this material, both Melendez’ original work and the new translations and critical work, has been brought together for the first time by editors Gabrielle David and Kevin E. Tobar Pesántez.
¡Hey Yo / Yo Soy! chronicles the evolution of Meléndez’ relationship with his community, and his political and social awakening as a poet, writer and activist. Born and raised in New York City from parents who migrated from Puerto Rico, Meléndez notes, “Back then, it was a different experience being a Puerto Rican in New York City. The sense of not belonging to Puerto Rico and not belonging in the United States is something everyone was going through. Writing gave me a chance to prove that I was a human being and in doing so, I became part of a movement that connected me to my heritage.”
Meléndez is referring to the Nuyorican Movement that critiqued and challenged the social and political institutions and policies that were hindering Puerto Ricans’ life opportunities in New York City. Consequently, a Nuyorican literature emerged from a handful of writers whose main preoccupation was the survival, inspiration, and pride of their fellow community members. It is this social commitment and activism that serves as the defining characteristic of Nuyorican poetry and is evident in Hey Yo! Yo Soy!
Head translator, Wier, a recent graduate of Hunter College’s translation department, and currently a translator for the Diocese of Brooklyn, worked closely with Fung Feng and González to assess and capture the meaning of Meléndez’ poetry and then transmute Meléndez’ voice into Spanish. Meeting weekly with Meléndez and the editors, they honed in on the emotional impact of the words, structural rhythms, subtle implications, the complexities of meaning, and the ambient, cultural inferences found throughout the work. The idea was to present an historical collection that incorporates elements of artful composition and poetic diction, in both languages. Like Walt Whitman, whose poetry reflects scenes of the American Civil War that occurred during his lifetime; Meléndez’ poetry witnesses the evolution of the Civil Rights and Nuyorican Movements. The goal is for Hey Yo! Yo Soy! to reach out to both poetry lovers and students of history and culture alike.
Today’s Puerto Rican writers continue the Nuyorican tradition of cultural resistance that speaks for the community and for those unheard voices within the United States. However, this tradition also allows for influences that range from minimalist poetry to code-switching, from Afro-Caribbean music to concrete poetry in a literature of resistance which continues to explore political and social issues of an international dimension. Hey Yo! Yo Soy!’s greatest legacy is the inscription of a new Pan-Latino identity of American literature that embraces the past, present and future writers of the Nuyorican Movement.
Hey Yo! Yo Soy! 40 Years of Nuyorican Street Poetry, A Bilingual Edition will be available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and other online outlets on October 26, 2012; with digital editions available on January 1, 2013.