Luis Rafael Sánchez on Julia de Burgos


On February 17, 2014, Julia de Burgos would have been 100 years old. Puerto Rican writer and playwright Luis Rafael Sánchez writes a stunning tribute in remembrance of the poet with a tragic life, emphasizing her poetic genius and literary intensity, rather than the details of her personal life.

She died young, thirty-nine, on July 6, 1953. She died in New York, where the island continues. She died alone, “abandoned and lonely” on the corner of 106th Street and Fifth Avenue. She died, then, in the territorial borders of “El Barrio,” that reasonable utopia that Puerto Ricans construct when the departure towards the “foreign nation” [“extraña nación”] is inevitable. [. . .]

Her early death and on the street, the transfer of the body to a hospital in nearby Harlem, later taken to the deposit of anonymous corpses and then to a common grave, are news that sadden sadness: I extract the efficient hyperbole from her poem “Retorno” [Return].

Unfortunately, the news served the morbid attempt to explain the inexplicable: difficult life, alcoholism, cruel heartbreak. At any rate, these gave rise to spewing comments that matter a lot to literary gossip and matter nothing to literary production. Even worse, the news gives rise to the nonsense of equating intimate destitution and poetic genius. Or is that creative work does not also emerge from helplessness? [. . .] This foolish comparison is pleased to imprison Julia de Burgos in tears, in suffering, in defeat. But neither tears nor suffering can defeat the transparency and authenticity of the poetry of Julia de Burgos! Poetry that contributes an original, provocative, and rebellious expression to literature.

Such novelty, provocation and rebellion come forth as soon as one delves into her great poems. Some poems to which on returns, as one returns to old flame that one can neither forget nor leave. “Río Grande de Loíza.” “A Julia de Burgos”. “Pentacromía”. “Dame tu hora perdida”. “Ay, ay de la grifa negra”. “Poema para mi muerte”.

[. . .] At first respect the order proposed by the index, then I cultivate the beautiful disarray of reading my way and at my own risk. I stop at “Río Grande de Loíza”, “Ay, ay de la grifa negra”, and “Poema para mi muerte”. I dwell on the rhythm that blooms from these poems. I stop at the harmonious marriage of word and sentiment that unfold. “Río Grande de Loíza” and verbal accuracy are one and the same, because of the artistry that those forty-five verses orchestrate. “Ay, ay de la grifa negra” honors racial miscegenation as a key to the fraternal future of the Americas. As testimonial, “Poema para mi muerte” [Poem for my death] utters a radical request for the name with which to re-baptize her after the decomposition of her body progresses and ends: “They will call me poet.”

Amplified in the spirit of those of us who admire her insurgent womanhood, her name curled on the lips of those who are dazzled by her universe made of verse, we will call Julia de Burgos a Poet, now, later, and forever. And not because we remember her. But because we feel her. Like a complete, soft, and profound cry, the word sprung forth from her lips.

For original article (in Spanish), see

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