Miguel Piñero: poet, playwright, actor, and the cofounder of Nuyorican Poets Café with Miguel Algarín, Pedro Pietri

  • His poetry and the plays are so fraught with the things that aggravated and influenced him and ultimately made his life successful. He took this form and infused it with an urban, Latin lifeblood that had never been used in poetry before. He was remarkable as a writer in terms of never really self-editing himself or censoring himself.
  • I happen to feel that [Piñero] was a romantic character and there was something about his love for land that was very wonderful, the way he held Puerto Rico, that elusive homeland in the foreground of his thoughts and writing. For all of us who are uprooted and thrown into this city, to keep a semblance of that is always so dignified. That would make it perhaps a bit nostalgic for me because people like that don’t seem to be around anymore.


I spent the better part of yesterday responding to submissions to The BeZine and setting up International Poetry Month blog posts for our special series, which I am collaborating on with Michael Dickel. When I was through I decided to watch the acclaimed movie, Piñero, which I’ve been wanting to see for some time. I’m streaming through Amazon. So far, so good.  Benjamin Bratt’s performance is stellar. I’ve taken a break to share this with you.

Miguel Piñero was an award-winning poet, playwright, actor, and a leading member of the Nuyorican literary movement. He was inducted posthumously into the New York Writers Hall of Fame in 2013.

Piñero was born on December 19, 1946, in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. In 1950 he moved with his parents and sister to Loisaida (the Lower East Side) in New York City. When his father abandoned the family, his mother moved her children into a basement, applied for and received welfare.

Piñero would steal food to feed his mother and siblings. Thus the criminal convictions came early in his life. The first time when he was eleven years old. He was sent to the Juvenile Detention Center in the Bronx, New York, and to Otisville State Training School for Boys. He joined a street gang called “The Dragons” when he was 13; when he was 14, he was hustling in the streets of Manhattan. Over time he was drawn heavily to alcohol and drugs and died prematurely – aged 41 – on June 16, 1988 from cirrhosis. 

Eventually, Piñero moved to Brooklyn, where he and three other friends committed robberies, until they were caught at a jewelry store. Piñero was sent to Rikers Island prison in 1964.  In 1972, he was incarcerated in Sing Sing prison for second-degree armed robbery. His first literary work was Black Woman with a Blonde Wig On. Marvin Felix Camillo, the director of The Family, an acting troupe made up of ex-cons, submitted the poem to a contest, which it won.

While serving time in prison, Piñero wrote the play Short Eyes as part of the inmates’ playwriting workshop. Reviewer Mel Gussow came to see it, and due to his review in the New York Times, the director of the Theater at Riverside Church invited Piñero to present the play there.

“The theatre is the only thing that belongs to the people.” Miguel Piñero.

When Piñero left Sing Sing on parole in 1973, he was able to present Short Eyes with The Family. The title comes from “short heist”, the prison slang term for child molestation. Puerto Ricans could not pronounce the ‘h’ so it became “short eyes.” The play is a drama based on his experiences in prison and portrays how a house of detention populated primarily by black and Latino inmates is affected by the incarceration there of a white pedophile. Pedophiles are considered the lowest form of prison life. After all, the prisoners have siblings and children for whom they have concerns.

In 1974, Short Eyes was presented at Riverside Church in Manhattan. Theater impresario Joseph Papp (played in the movie by Mandy Patinkin) saw the play and was impressed. Papp moved the production to Broadway.

The play was nominated for six Tony Awards. It won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and an Obie Award for the “best play of the year”. The play catapulted Piñero to literary fame. Short Eyes was published in book form by the editorial house Hill & Wang. It was the first play written by a Puerto Rican to be put on Broadway. This initial success was followed by: Sideshow(1974), The Guntower (1976), The Sun Always Shines for the Cool (1976),Eulogy for a Small-Time Thief (1977), and Playland Blues (1980).

The following excerpt from the movie serves as an intro to it and to Piñero’s work if you are not familiar with him.  Also recommended is Outlaw, The Collected Works of Miguel Piñero

This post is complied from the following sources: Wikipedia, Poetry Foundation, Outlaw:The Complete Works of Miguel Piñero, and the movie Piñero.


Jamie Dedes:

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“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

2019 LitFest to Honor screenplay: “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”

Fred Rogers and François Clemmons reprising their famous foot bath in 1993. The scene was a message of inclusion during an era of racial segregation. Photo courtesy of Dr. François S. Clemmons under CC BY-SA 4.0 license

“When I was very young, most of my childhood heroes wore capes, flew through the air, or picked up buildings with one arm. They were spectacular and got a lot of attention. But as I grew, my heroes changed, so that now I can honestly say that anyone who does anything to help a child is a hero to me.” The World According to Mister Rogers



PEN America‘s announced that on November 1st it will recognize A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a film about Fred Rogers, his television show, and the effect Mr. Rogers had on the life of a reporter, at PEN’s 2019 LitFest Gala. The film is considered one of this year’s most acclaimed works.

Screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster will receive the Award for Screenplay Excellence. Fitzeman-Blue and Harpster are Peabody Award-winning and Emmy-nominated writers and producers.



The Rev. Fred Rogers / This photo is under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Fred Rogers (1928 – 2003): An American television personality, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer, and Presbyterian minister was known as the creator, composer, producer, head writer, manager and host of the preschool television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1968–2001). The program was marked by its slow pace and Fred Roger’s signature calm manner.

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood ran for almost nine-hundred episodes, until 2001. The program emphasized children’s developing psyche, feelings, sense of moral and ethical reasoning, civility, tolerance, sharing, and self-worth. Difficult topics such as the death of a family pet, sibling rivalry, the addition of a newborn into families, moving and enrolling in a new school, and divorce were also addressed.

Rogers died on February 27, 2003 of stomach cancer. His work in children’s television is still widely praised. Fred Rogers received over forty honorary degrees and several awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002 and a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in 1997. He was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999. Rogers influenced many writers and producers of children’s television shows, and served as a source of comfort during tragic events, even after his death.

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” Spoken in 1994, quoted in his obituary in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (Courtesy of MentalFloss)



A poster for the 2019 film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. / published under Fair Use

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2019, and is scheduled to be theatrically released in the United States on November 22, 2019, by Sony Pictures Releasing, just in time for our Thanksgiving and the beginning of the holiday season.  What could be better timing? What the world needs now is more of Mr. Rogers and more people like Mr. Rogers. I’m delighted though I won’t get to see it until it comes to Amazon or Netflix.

THE PREMISE: A cynical, award-winning journalist, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), begrudgingly accepts an assignment to write an Esquire profile of the beloved television icon Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). Vogel’s perspective on life is transformed after his encounter with Rogers.

If you are viewing this post from an email subscription, it is likely you’ll have to link through to the site to view this movie trailer:

A sweater worn by Rogers, on display in the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History courtesy of Rudi RietFlickr under CC BY-SA 2.0

“Whenever a great tragedy strikes—war, famine, mass shootings, or even an outbreak of populist rage—millions of people turn to Fred’s messages about life. Then the web is filled with his words and images. With fascinating frequency, his written messages and video clips surge across the internet, reaching hundreds of thousands of people who, confronted with a tough issue or ominous development, open themselves to Rogers’ messages of quiet contemplation, of simplicity, of active listening and the practice of human kindness.” Rogers biographer Maxwell King

*****

This post is courtesy of Pen America, Wikipedia, and Mental Floss. For more info on the the LitFest Gala 2019 to be held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, November 1st, link HERE.

 PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day jamiededes.com, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights.  Email thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

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Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications Poets Advocate for Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, How 100,000 Poets Are Fostering Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

Dreaming of the Sheik, a poem

I’m the Sheik of Araby,

Your love belongs to me.

At night when you’re asleep

Into your tent I’ll creep.

The Sheik of Araby, lyrics by Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler, music by Ted Snyder, written in 1921 in response to the popularity of Rudolph Valentino and the movie The Sheik.



Valentino by James Abbe

This – probably silly little poem – was inspired by the tales my mother told me of how the women swooned over the actor Rudolph Valentino, even the women from the Arabic-speaking world who seemed not to have realized their beloved “Sheik” was Italian (Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguella).  She also told me how the streets were lined with adoring fans as Valentino’s funeral cottage passed through the city. Valentino died at 31 years of peritonitis. I included a clip from the movie at the end of this post. You can watch the whole abysmal thing on YouTube if you have an unhealthy inclination to do so. 


Doe eyes stare at the waiting world

Long lashed, bright with longing, feeding

An inner vision, a secret, hers alone

·

Music played the strings of that heart

Magical whispers of marriage, she’d

Assume love as young people do

·

Predictable fantasies, the house with a white

Porch and rocker, a picket fence, a back yard

Rich dark earth, flower bedecked, fruit

·

Of the womb, of course, expected and roses

On birthdays, lilies at Easter, garlands in May

Christmas trees and mistletoe and other such

·

She watered beets on the fire escape,

Helped her mother with siblings, dreamed

Dreams gifted by movies and magazines

·

There, tying her boots, ready for school

Smooth the hand-me-down dress, then

Down the steps and on through the streets

·

Dreaming of ocean mists, oak trees

Well-groomed houses, polished rides

In horseless-carriages, easy transit

·

She grew old enough, hopeful enough

To dance in the jaundiced night, a ghetto-bound

Diana waiting for her Sheik, and he

·

Looking for his Sheba, he took her

Hand for one bright minute, then gone

To be followed by another, and each

·

Sheik stayed to steal her heart, rode off

With another piece of her, a souvenir of

Yearning and promise, love and gullibility

·

“The movies and the magazines”, she says, “they lied …”

Then whispered softly: “When Valentino died, women

lined the streets for his funeral cortége and cried  … “

·

Rudolf Valentino as the Sheik and Agnes Ayers as Lady Diana.

“Women are not in love with me but with the picture of me on the screen. I am merely the canvas on which women paint their dreams.” Rudolph Valentino – 1923

“Pangur Bán” ~ The Gift of a 9th Century Irish Poem Revisited in “The White Cat and the Monk” & “The Secret of the Kells”

The White Cat and the Monk was a 2016 Christmas gift to me from my son and daughter-in-law. It’s a charmingly illustrated retelling of an old Irish poem, Pangur Bán, a lovely gift and a lovely addition to my bookshelves.

I wasn’t familiar with the poem, so the gift inspired – as such gifts are want to do – a few hours of pleasurable reading and research, an effort lightly akin to the endeavors of the anonymous but renown author of the poem. Pangur Bán was written by a 9th Century monk somewhere inside or in the vicinity of Reichenau Abby, which is on Reichenau Island in Lake Constance in the south of Germany.


The page of the Reichenau Primer on which Pangur Bán is written. It is now housed in St. Paul’s Abbey – a Benedictine Abby – in the Lavanttal, a market town in Carinthia, Austria. (public domain photograph)

The poet monk tells of a white cat who shares his work and living space. While the monk single-mindedly finds pleasure in scholarly pursuits, the white cat finds pleasure in single-mindedly chasing mice.

There are many translations of Pangur Bán, notably by W. H. Auden and Seamus Heaney. The most famous translation – which turned out to be my favorite – is by Robin Flowler (1881-1946), an English poet and scholar, a Celticist, Anglo-Saxonist and translator of Gaelic.

The Scholar and His Cat, Pangur Bán

I and Pangur Bán my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.

‘Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

-translated from the Gaelic by Robin Flowler


THE SECRET OF THE KELLS

Featuring Pangur Bán, both cat and poem


In 2009 the Flatiron Film Company released an animated film, The Secret of Kells, which is inspired by a mix of history, Celtic mythology, magic and fantasy. One of the characters is a white cat, Pangur Bán,  and during the credits Pangur Bán is read in modern Irish.

If you are viewing this by email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to the site to view this video, the Pangur Bán Song from the film.

The Secret of the Kells is a relief from horrifying news and the overflow of often vapid and violent movie offerings. The pace of the film is relaxed. Unlike a lot of movies, it doesn’t yell at you. It does engage with story and beautiful animation reminiscent of traditional Irish art.

Though the story is a fiction, it is grounded in history: an Ireland besieged by Viking raids and a mythical mystical take on the production and preservation of The Book of Kells, an early illustrated (illuminated) New Testament. The Book of Kells is housed now at Trinity College Library in Dublin. The film incorporates the Irish poetic genre – aisling – developed in Irish poetry of the 17th and 18th centuries and in which Ireland appears in a poet’s dream as a woman – maiden, mother or crone – and bemoans the state of Ireland.


The White Cat and the Monk was written by JoEllen Bogart and illustrated by Sydney Smith. It was short-listed for the Governor General’s Literary Awards, Young People’s Literature (Illustrated Books). It was named New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book and listed on Brain Pickings’ Best Children’s Books of 2016.

The Secret of the Kells was nominated for an Oscar and won several other film awards including the Audience Award of the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. It has an overall approval rating of 91% on Rotten Tomatoes where the consensus is “Beautifully drawn and refreshingly calm. The Secret of the Kells harkens back to animation’s gold age …”

 


Aisling

Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes: An Aisling, 1883 – Public Domain