“A thief, a junkie I’ve been / committed every known sin,” Miguel Pinero sings in “A Lower East Side Poem.” Part observer, part participant in the turbulent goings-on in his Nuyorican barrio, Miguel Piñero blasted onto the literary scene and made waves in the artistic current with his dramatic interpretations of the world around him through experimental poetry, prose, and plays.
Portrayed by actor Benjamin Bratt in the 2001 feature film “Piñero,” the poet’s works are as rough and gritty as the New York City underworld he wrote about and loved. “So here I am, look at me / I stand proud as you can see / pleased to be from the Lower East / a street fighting man / a problem of this land / I am the Philosopher of the Criminal Mind / a dweller of prison time / a cancer of Rockefeller’s ghettocide / this concrete tomb is my home.” His depictions of pimp bars, drug addiction, petty crime, prison culture and outlaw life all drawn from first-hand experience astound the faint-hearted, as Piñero poetizes an outlaw vernacular meant to shock proper, bourgeois culture.
This long-awaited collection includes previously published and never-before-published poems; ten plays, including “Short Eyes,” which was later made into a film and won the 1973-1974 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best American Play, “The Sun Always Shines for the Cool,” and “Eulogy for a Small Time Thief.”
A co-founder of the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe, Piñero died at the age of 41, leaving behind a compelling legacy of poetry and plays that reveal the harsh, impoverished lives of his urban Puerto Rican community.