This post is part of my Notable Latin American Poets series. Click here to read more. There are affiliate links to independent booksellers throughout.
I’d planned to include Puerto Rico in my 39 Contemporary Caribbean Poets To Read Right Now post but as I googled my way around the Puerto Rican poetry world, it quickly became clear that I’d need to do a separate post to cover the depth and breadth of poetic talent coming off the island right now.
If you’ve dabbled in Puerto Rican poetry before now, you’ve likely come across Julia de Burgos and other Nuyorican poets like Pedro Pietri and Jesús Papoleto Meléndez. Maybe you’ve even heard of Marigloria Palma! (I hadn’t.)
However – and despite its continued status as a US colony – Puerto Rican literature is still undertranslated (where applicable) and underappreciated in the US, according to my interview with Puerto Rican poet and translator Carina del Valle Schorske. She noted that this feels like a “particularly egregious and telling oversight…part of a broader and more deliberate campaign of erasure.”
In the spirit of elevating some of the most notable boricua poets working at the moment then, here are 26 Puerto Rican poets you might want to read right now.
Obligatory pre-post note: Lists are problematic and this is not exhaustive. To read more Puerto Rican poetry, I would encourage you to check out Puerto Rico en mi corazón (Anomalous Press, 2019), edited by Raquel Salas Rivera, Erica Mena, Carina del Valle Schorske, and Ricardo Maldonado. I’m indebted to this collection for guiding my reading and research for this post. Also, Isla Escrita (an anthology of contemporary Puerto Rican, Dominican and Cuban poetry) is a great resource.
Contemporary Puerto Rican Poets
Perhaps the contemporary Puerto Rican poet – seriously, everyone name-dropped her when I asked for recommendations – Mara Pastor is the author of six poetry anthologies and several bilingual chapbooks. Her poems, which so often dialogue with obscure facts, the natural world, and the body, have been described as taking an “anarchic and pure joy in words”.
Start with ‘Left’
Then read As Though the Wound Had Heard (Cardboard House Press, 2017; translated by María José Giménez)
Raquel Salas Rivera
Award-winning bilingual poet Raquel Salas Rivera was the 2018-19 Poet Laureate of Philadelphia and has said before that there’s no poetry without Puerto Rico. Aptly, his poetry exists in constant dialogue with Puerto Rico, be it the language, the people, the colonial present, or all the above. At the time of writing, he has five published poetry anthologies, with a sixth on the way.
Start with ‘preguntas frecuentes’
Then read While They Sleep (Birds, 2019)
Poet, translator, and founder of La Impresora – an indie poetry press in Puerto Rico – Nicole Delgado is a prolific Puerto Rican poet with over 20 books to her name. Her poetry, influenced in part by the work of her poetic contemporaries, blends prose and verse, concerning itself with colony, climate, and community.
Start with ‘The Oracle’s Thirst’
Then read Periodo especial (Aguadulce/La Impresora, 2019)
Lara Mimosa Montes
Nuyorican poet Lara Mimosa Montes’ work displays a beguiling hybridity, one that makes it hard to pin down but a joy to read. Line breaks are often absent, while strikethroughs, italicisation and choice use of Spanish words in English-language verse add layers of interpretation.
Start with ‘PERFORMANCE STUDIES’
Then read Thresholes (Coffee House Press, 2020)
Ana Portnoy Brimmer
Born in NYC to Mexican parents and raised in Puerto Rico, Ana Portnoy Brimmer is a poet, performer and organiser. Her poetry is luscious and political, built for the spoken word format she favours, inextricable from the Puerto Rican landscape, and often in dialogue with colonization, identity, and feminism. She’s also a year younger than me. No, I’m not upset about it.
Start with ‘Strawberries’
Then read To Love An Island (YesYes Books, 2021) [forthcoming]
San Diego-based Puerto Rican Paola Capó-García is a poet and translator whose work has been described as “lithe and pleasurable”, touching on the erotic, the slapstick, and perverse in a way best described as experimental. Also, how cool would it be to have her as your English teacher? (No, really, she’s an English teacher!)
Start with ‘Yellow’
Then read Clap For Me That’s Not Me (Rescue Press, 2018)
A self-described ‘lectora voraz del Caribe rural antillano’, Cindy Jiménez-Vera is a poet, translator, and small press founder from San Sebastián del Pepino. Her poems – almost conversational in tone – are regularly rooted in that Puerto Rican rurality, engaging with nature and climate, while also incorporating European mythology.
Start with ‘Family’
Then read No lugar (Aguadulce, 2017)
A prolific Puerto Rican poet, with dozens of poetry anthologies (and prose titles) to her name, Lourdes Vázquez describes poetry as “a way of reinterpreting things we wish to distance ourselves from.”
Start with ‘Melio Danzón’
Then read Bestiary (Bilingual Review Press, 2004)
Paloma Sierra’s poems are deeply influenced by her musical and theatrical background, most often taking the form of ‘choreopoems’ (like the one linked below). Her work is wide-ranging in form and witty in tone, while her poetry is “influenced by Puerto Rico’s Trova and Bomba traditions” and designed to be performed.
Start with ‘BuT yOuR eNgLiSh Is So GoOd!’
Queer, Afrocaribbean Puerto Rican mother: that’s how poet, performer, and educator Yara Liceaga-Rojas describes herself. Her poetry is suited to audio and confessional in nature – in fact, she’s spoken of “poetry’s ability to expose what’s hidden in reality.” Liceaga-Rojas is also the co-founder of Poetry Is Busy.
Then read el mundo no es otra cosa (La Secta de los Perros, 2014)
One of the most disruptive and revolutionary voices in Puerto Rican literature, Giannina Braschi’s Spanish, Spanglish, and English writing is hybrid, political, and postmodern. Her poetry, in particular, reckons with form, bringing aboard elements of theatre, diary, and prose to create intermeshed, intertextual epics influenced by Stein and Eliot.
Start with ‘Tongue Machine’
Then read Empire of Dreams (Amazon Crossing, 2011)
Jennifer Maritza McCauley
Jennifer Maritza McCauley’s poems – sometimes verse, sometimes narrative, sometimes prose – are powerful and potent. She blends slang, English, and Spanish to form cohesive poetic voice(s) in experimental forms that often address Blackness, womanhood, and history.
Start with ‘Rebel-ed Language’
Then read Scar On/ Scar Off (Stalking Horse Press, 2017)
Irizelma Robles Álvarez
She refers to herself as mother and poet or poet and mother, and her poetry shows just as much concern for the feminine and familial, as well as Mexican culture. In fact, she has poems about peyote, pulque, and la Merced.
Start with ‘Horchata’ (the second one down)
Then read Alumbre (Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 2018)
More Contemporary Puerto Rican Poets
Vanessa Droz (Vega Baja): ‘Candado’ (the very last one)
Yolanda Rivera Castillo (Añasco): ‘Deity of Catastrophes’
Naomi Ayala (¿?): ‘The Tattoo’ (the third one down)
Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro (Guaynabo): ‘Tamarind’
Shey Rivera (¿?): Los buitres (2016)
Ana María Fuster (San Juan): ‘no te salves’ (the second one down)
Alexandra Pagán Vélez (Ponce): ‘Adulta’
Valentina Marealta (Manatí): ‘sinquereres // unwantings’
Adriana Garriga-López (San Juan): ‘Pervert Circles’
Angelía Mar Rivera Barreto (Coamo): ‘Quedarse es un acto de bravura’
Marta Jazmín García-Nieves (¿?): ‘La mañana despierta’ (the bottom one)
Margarita Pintado Burgos (¿?): ‘Estoy como una flor’