Luis Palés Matos was a poet and essayist of the Generación del Treinta (1930s Generation). He was considered one of the first interpreters of Afro-Antillean poetry, through which he tries to rescue the African element in the Puerto Rican culture.
Palés was born in Guayama in 1898, the son of romantic poets Vicente Palés Anés and Consuelo Matos Vicil. He is considered to be self-taught because he did not continue formal studies as he opted to start working as soon as he finished high school. He worked as teacher, lawyer’s assistant, journalist, lecturer, and government employee. He wrote articles for various newspapers such as El Pueblo, El Mundo, Puerto Rico Ilustrado, El Imparcial, and La Democracia.
He was part of the literary gatherings held at La Mallorca restaurant in Old San Juan, where various young contemprary writers met including Luis Muñoz Marín and José I. De Diego Padró. With the latter, he began the movement known as diepalismo, an avant-garde movement that proposed replacing logic with phonetics by combining sounds and onomatopoeias. With Antonio Coll Vidal, De Diego Padró, José Enrique Gelpí, Juan José Llovet, and Bolívar Pagán he founded the literary magazine titled Los Seis, in which they promoted avant-garde ideas.
His first collections of poems show marked modernist influence, such as applying an elaborate vocabulary and formal perfection. Among his first collections of poems are Azaleas (1915); El palacio en sombra (1919-1920), which he writes after the death of his first wife; and Canciones de la vida media (1925). The last two are unpublished collections of poems.
It is not until 1926 —when La Democracia newspaper published the poem titled Pueblo negro— that he wrote about the black race in his poetry. In 1937, he published Tuntún de pasa y grifería which received a prize from the Instituto de Literatura Puertorriqueña. Among the best known poems of this collection of poems are “Adombé”, “Canción festiva para ser llorada”, “Danza negra” and “Majestad negra”. These poems try to rescue black heritage in the Puerto Rican culture through the use of linguistic resources such as onomatopoeias, alliterations, and poetic measure. These present an interpretation of the black race through the white man’s perspective.
In 1951, he published his only novel Litoral: reseña de una vida inútil, which had been previously published by submissions to the newspaper of the University of Puerto Rico and El Diario de Puerto Rico. In 1957, he published Poesía: 1915-1956, in which he makes a selection of the lyrics he had written during those years. In poems such as “Puerta al tiempo en tres voces”, “El llamado”, and “Asteriscos para lo intacto”, he moves away from the topic of the black race to work with more universal ones.
In 1940, the University of Puerto Rico named him resident poet. During his last years, he lectured in many conferences on the island and in the United States.
Luis Palés Matos died in San Juan in 1959.
Rivera de Alvarez, Josefina. Literatura puertorriqueña, su proceso en el tiempo. Madrid: Ediciones Panteón, 1983.
Del Rosario, Rubén. Breve Enciclopedia de la Cultura Puertorriqueña. Hato Rey: Ediciones Cordillera, 1976.
Gran Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico
Portal del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 15, 2014.
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