Poet, novelist and journalist who was part of the literary generations of the 1920s and 1930s. De Diego y Padró was, along with Luis Palés Matos, the founder of one of the first avant-garde literary movements on the island, called “diepalismo.”
José Isaac de Diego Padró was born in Vega Baja in 1899. He attended elementary school in his home town and secondary school in San Juan. As a youth, he traveled to France and Spain. He moved to New York in 1916. In 1917, he served in the United States Army in World War I. After the war ended, he returned to Puerto Rico in 1918.
In 1921, he published La última lámpara de los dioses, a first book of poetry. He had begun writing poetry in the 1910s. His early stage of his writing is markedly modernistic, with long poems with Parnassian sensibilities. They present themes from Greek mythology and show influences from Rubén Darío and Herrera Reissig. Among the poems included in this work are “Neurastenia,” “El escarabajo” and “Cándida.” From this work on, he became interested in, and fully participated in, the avant-garde movements.
De Diego Padró frequented the literary circles in the capital that were typical of the era. He attended, among others, those that took place in La Mallorquina restaurant in San Juan, which were joined by Luis Muñoz Marín, Luis Llorens Torres and Nemesio Canales. During those same years, he also participated in gatherings at the Puerto Rican Athenaeum. It was at one of these gatherings at the Athenaeum that he met Luis Palés Matos, who shared his interest in the new European literary currents. In late 1921, they together formed Diepalismo, an avant-garde literary movement that was characterized by the creation of a synthetic poetic language, without broad descriptions, as well as the use of onomatopoeia, to achieve a more objective image of reality.
The first poem in this movement – named for a combination of the first syllables of the surnames of the two founders – was published on November 7, 1921, in the newspaper El Imparcial under the title “Orquestación diepálica” and was representative of the trends for which the two poets were responsible. In it, both a rural scene and the sounds of the animals within it are described. The next poem published in the same newspaper was “Fugas diepálicas” by De Diego Padró. The literary movement was short lived, and the poems published were subjected to criticism by many people in literature at the time. But they also awoke an interest in the avant-garde among other young poets.
In early 1924, José De Diego y Padró, along with Luis Palés Matos, Antonio Coll Vidal, Bolívar Pagán, José Enrique Gelpí and Juan José Llovet, produced the periodical Los Seis. In the pages of the avant-garde literary monthly, the poets promoted the renewal of literary currents with a particular emphasis on avant-garde movements.
The following year, De Diego Padró moved to New York, where he remained until 1929. In New York he worked as a journalist, including as director of the weekly Bolívar. When he returned to the island, he continued working in journalism as a reporter for La Correspondencia de Puerto Rico (1929-1930) and El Imparcial (1932). He also contributed to other publications, such as La Rehabilitación (1933-1934). Later, he became chief of the publicity office at the Puerto Rico Department of Health.
Not until 1952 did he publish another book of poetry, Ocho epístolas mostrencas, which won an award from the Institute of Puerto Rican Literature. His poetry now displayed greater maturity, as well as simplicity and realism. In the book, he addresses existentialist topics, such as the passage of time, freedom, and death, in an anguished tone. Among the poems in the book are “El alcatraz del parque” and “La muerte de don Marcelino.” In 1959, he published Escaparate iluminado: autobiografía poética, an anthology in which he collected his best poems, from the modernistic to the most realistic and avant-garde.
He was also a novelist. His work in that genre is urbane and addresses existential concerns in a refined manner. With the publication of the first of his novels, Sebastián Guenard in 1924, which began in the form of a series in La Correspondencia de Puerto Rico, the author breaks with the traditional “novela de la tierra” form, which was popular among other writers on the island in that era. After the novel was published, the author continued developing the text until 1940, when it was published again under the title En Babia: manuscrito de un braquicéfalo en una edición de 700 páginas. In the novel, De Diego Padró relates the experiences of an extravagant young medical student in New York. Incorporated throughout the book are narrative digressions and superimposed texts that are unrelated to the plot of the novel.
Among his other novels are El tiempo jugó conmigo (1960), in which he returns to the topic of psychology; El minotauro se devora a sí mismo (1965), an existentialist work in which he reflects on the course of humanity, Un cencerro de dos badajos (1969) and El hombrecito que veía en grande (1973).
José De Diego y Padró died in San Juan in 1974.
Rivera de Alvarez, Josefina. Literatura puertorriqueña, su proceso en el tiempo. Madrid: Ediciones Panteón, 1983. Print
Del Rosario, Rubén. Breve Enciclopedia de la Cultura Puertorriqueña. Hato Rey: Ediciones Cordillera, 1976. Print
Gran Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico. Print
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 16, 2014.
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