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 386-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 60 poems 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. Hey Yo! Yo Soy! is available for sale on Amazon.com and other online outlets.
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!
Hey Yo! Yo Soy! inhabits an exact geographical space — El Barrio — and employs the language of the street to document urban realities during the 1960s and 1970s. The poems include “Spanglish” and colloquial language imbued with wondrous musical qualities, onomatopoeic effects and catchy rhyming patterns that strive to convey an intellectual message. While many of the poems are about poverty, racial encounters; injustices suffered through police bias or brutality; and linguistic bias and cultural conflicts; the poems do not exemplify total despair, there is also love, beauty, and hope for both personal and communal change in Meléndez’ lines. Many of the poems exemplify delightful inventiveness, prodigious imagination, wit, and double entendres, while at their core raise unsettling questions about human nature, the precariousness and the meaning of human existence, and mankind’s place in the universe. While Meléndez transforms his observations and personal experiences into poems that touch upon the universal or even the cosmic, he never gushes emotionally, nor does he allow himself any poetic pontification or jeremiads. In this regard, Meléndez succeeds in giving testimony of a community’s life in the margins of both U.S. and Puerto Rican society in a readily accessible and vocal way.
A bilingual edition of Melendez’ poetic achievements has never before been published and was made possible by the Intercultural Alliance and Artists & Scholars, Inc. (IAAS), a New York-based nonprofit organization that promotes multicultural literature and literacy that publishes the quarterly publication, phati’tude Literary Magazine. Executive Director of the IAAS and Editor-in-Chief of phati’tude, Gabrielle David felt it essential that such an influential Nuyorican poet be published in both English and Spanish, thereby allowing the work to reach an even wider audience.
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 has expanded to include 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.
From the profound to the poignant to the comedic, Jesús Papoleto Meléndez provides an important, historical look at a pivotal period in American society. Hey Yo! Yo Soy! 40 Years of Nuyorican Street Poetry, A Bilingual Edition is a collection to be devoured as a single sustained narrative, from the first page to the last; a worthy addition in anyone’s library.