Guajana was a group of writers who were mostly dedicated to poetry. The group was part of the literary tradition of the 1960s, which was characterized by its more critical attitude toward Puerto Rican history, culture and society. The poets, who were young at the time, took the sugar cane flower as a symbol and created a magazine that set a tone of rebellion and enthusiasm for revolutionary commitment from its beginnings. Today, fifty years after they began writing, the group has continued its work of creating, promoting and distributing the magazine Guajana. It primarily publishes poetry, but also includes essays and narrative texts.
The Guajana poetry group represents a literary generation that was forged in a time of change and challenges to the social, economic and political order, both on the island as well as in the rest of the world. Beginning in the middle of the 1940s, Puerto Rico began to experience a socio-economic transformation. As a result, agriculture fell to a secondary level in the economy in the interests of forging an industrialized society. This process, which came hand in hand with a program of transculturation or Americanization, culminated with the creation of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in 1952. For many, instead of representing true development for the island, the new political system consolidated the colonial system. In that context, the members of Guajana took a stance in defense of independence for Puerto Rico.
As a result of the changes in Puerto Rican society in terms of economic development, new forms of coexistence and social class dynamics took hold. The economic prosperity that was experienced also led to a significant increase in the population, especially in the San Juan metropolitan area, where many of the displaced agricultural workers went. The poets in the group identified with the complaints of this segment of society and rejected the dominant social classes.
In Puerto Rico, the literary youth of the 1960s rebelled against the status quo. They criticized the adoption of bourgeois ways and yearned for a new socio-political regime for the island. Their political ideas and their search for a better society brought these youths together, most of whom came from the Department of Hispanic Studies at the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus. Among them were Vicente Rodríguez Nietzsche, Andrés Castro Ríos, José Manuel Torres Santiago, Marcos Rodríguez Freese, Wenceslao Serra Deliz, Edgardo López Ferrer, and others. In 1962, they formed what would become known as the Guajana group, writing poetry that broke with the literary trends of the previous generation and promoted poetry based on social awareness.
That same year, the group’s official publication, Guajana Magazine, came out. It published mainly poetry. The publication’s editorials clearly expressed their artistic and political positions. They criticized elitism and the adoption of bourgeois ways in Puerto Rican society in general and the university in particular. They also passed judgment on the literature being produced on the island at that time, criticizing it for its conventionalism and its narrow reach.
Like other poetry movements in Latin America, Guajana proposed a new combative and revolutionary poetry with a social conscience. To those in the group, art should be useful, aimed at and accessible to the public. To achieve this, they used colloquial, daily language, while keeping in mind the literary and aesthetic nature of their works.
The members of the Guajana group, like other contemporary poets, preferred free verse. Their enthusiasm for popular culture led them to use popular structures such as the décima and the couplet. When they tried the classic Spanish forms — decasyllabic and Alexandrine sonnets, short sonnets, linked tercets, quatrains, and others — they brought their aesthetic and political mission to those forms through their themes and language.
The Guajana poets mainly explored criticism of the social, cultural, economic and political situation in Puerto Rico. They primarily denounced imperialism by the United States, racial prejudice, oppression of workers and women, and inequality. The tone of most of the poems is strong, tense and aggressive, reflecting the poets’ ideological stances. However, the Guajana poetry also evoked the human experience with great sensitivity and lyricism.
Among the influences that should be mentioned are the Puerto Ricans Juan Antonio Corretjer, Francisco Matos Paoli and Hugo Margenat. The young poets also admired politicized poets from Latin America and Spain, such as Pablo Neruda, César Vallejo and Miguel Hernández.
A considerable number of young poets who identified with the same purposes as the rest of the group became known through the magazine’s pages, including Angela María Dávila, Ramón Felipe Medina, Juan Sáez Burgos, Edwin Reyes and Antonio “El Topo” Cabán Vale. The vast poetic and expressive range of the Guajana group of poets is another of their characteristics.
Guajana is a literary project that lives on today. Its editorial activity has always been known for its dynamism. It has also made the magazine the longest lasting publication in Puerto Rican literature.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 15, 2014.
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