By Brent E. Beltrán
I have the honor of knowing and being a friend of Jesús “Papoleto” Meléndez. In 2004 I met him in a hospital in Tijuana where his comrade in poetry, Pedro Pietri, was receiving experimental treatments for cancer. Though I have only seen him once since he returned back to his apartment in El Barrio in New York we have maintained our friendship through social media.
Papoleto grew up in Spanish Harlem (known as El Barrio), is an original founder of the Nuyorican Poetry Movement, published his first poem in 1969 (“Message To Urban Sightseers”) and his play, Junkies Stole the Clock, was the first Latino play produced by the New York Shakespeare Festival The Public Theater’s Nuyorican Playwright’s Unit.
Papo left New York in 1980 and moved to California finding a home in San Diego. While here he continued to write poetry, teach writing workshops and eventually published, in 1993, his poetry collection, Conciertos on Market Street. While in San Diego he formed the musical poetry group Exiled Genius with Eugene Mingus (son of the late, great jazz pianist Charles Mingus) on piano, and M’Chaka Uba on bass.
His recently published book, Hey Yo! Yo Soy! 40 Years of Nuyorican Street Poetry, A Bilingual Edition (2LeafPress), is comprised of three previously published books that consist of stories about growing up Puerto Rican in New York City’s El Barrio.
Below are three videos. The first is Papoleto reading his classic poem “Hey Yo!/Yo Soy!” at the Nuyorican Poets Café on August 30, 2012. The second is of him reading “It Was So Fly!” at the closing of the Seis Del Sur Exhibition at the Bronx Documentary Center on March 9, 2013. And the last is a short documentary on him called “No Escape from the Fire Escape” created by Vagabond.
San Diego Free Press is proud to share with our readers/viewers for National Poetry Month some work by Jesús “Papoleto” Meléndez. Enjoy.