Poet who distanced himself from the 1945 Generation that preceded him and created serious and intense poetry with a sturdy and profound tone, inspired mainly by social and political themes. He was a precursor to, and source of inspiration for, the 1960s Generation, particularly the Guajana Group, which was known for its combative and revolutionary poetry that criticized social injustice, urban poverty, racism and gender inequality.
Hugo Margenat was born October 10, 1933, in San Juan. His father was the journalist and avant-garde poet, Alfredo Margenat (1907-1987), a member of the poets group Atalaya de los Dioses, and his mother was María Cristina Mediavilla. He began his schooling in the Catholic schools Santo Tomás de Aquino in San Juan and San Agustín in Puerta de Tierra. He later attended the public Padre Rufo School and Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón School in Santurce. He then attended Central High School, also in Santurce. In 1954, while finishing his schooling, he was drafted into the United States Army. He considered refusing to go, but his mother convinced him otherwise. This controversy appears in the extensive correspondence he shared with Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881-1958), winner of the Nobel Prize for literature (1956) and a professor at Central High School and the University of Puerto Rico,
While in the army, he enrolled at the Catholic University of Ponce. It was then that his first published work appeared: Lámpara apagada (1954), which he published by escaping from the Ponce military base and delivering the manuscript to his first editor and critic, Dr. Ramón Felipe Medina López. Medina was also the editor of his second publication, Intemperie (1955). At that time, like his father, he was a member of the Rosicrucians, a worldwide fraternity that, according to its own publications, was “interested in taking advantage of life’s possibilities through the healthy and sensible use of the heritage of esoteric knowledge and the abilities possessed as human beings.”
In 1956, he finished his military service and enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras. That same year, he participated in the formation of Pro-Independence Youth Action – of which he was vice president – and the Pro-Independence University Federation. Both student movements favored political sovereignty for Puerto Rico. During his short stay at the university, he lobbied for the reinstatement of the General Congress of Students. He also joined the struggle against racial discrimination, particularly as seen in the college fraternities and sororities. Unlike his father, who was a nationalist, Hugo Margenat, who had Marxist leanings, was a member of the Puerto Rican Independence Party. Once he came to know Marxist philosophy, Hugo Margenat distanced himself from the Rosicrucians.
Hugo Margenat’s work in poetry and prose is extensive, despite his premature death. He wrote more than one hundred poems and nearly 200 prose pieces, mainly essays that were published posthumously. Because he was ahead of his time, as scholar and literary critic Josefina Rivera noted, Alvarez’s poems, mostly free verse, dealt with social problems in a simple, clear language and incorporated vocabulary from indigenous and Afro-Caribbean sources, as well as popular expressions.
The most serious topics he addressed were urban poverty, the rural poor, racism, women, and colonial policies. Through his poetry, Margenat gave voice to the oppressed. He criticized society, conformity and consumerism. Specifically because of his social criticism, he was adopted as a model by the young poets of the 1960s Generation.
Hugo Margenat died of tubercular meningitis on April 7, 1957, when he was just 23 years old. The year after his death, his third book, Mundo Abierto, was published and it received an excellent review from poet Juan Ramón Jiménez, who considered it one of the most important works of Puerto Rican poetry. In 1961, Ventana hacia lo último was published. The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture later published Obras Completas (1974), a collection compiled by Manuel Torres Santiago. This volume included Primeros poemas (Vislumbres) (1950-1951), Breves palabras de las horas prietas (1952-1953), Estancia Oscura (1952-1957), Vibraciones de aire y tierra (1953-1954), Ventana hacia lo último (1953-1956), Lámpara apagada (1954), Intemperie (1955), Mundo abierto (1958) and other poems that were not included in those books: “Erosavia,” “Las horas de la tierra,” “Tres voces de la sangre,” “Llama de cielo roto,” and “Los brazos y el mundo.”
María Cristina Mediavilla, Margenat’s mother, donated her son’s library to the University of Puerto Rico. It is divided between the Puerto Rican Collection and the Juan Ramón Jiménez and Zenobia Camprubí Room.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 16, 2014.
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