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“The guerilla tongue”: The politics of resistance in Puerto Rican poetry

Natasha Azank, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines how the work of four Puerto Rican poets – Julia de Burgos, Clemente Soto Vélez, Martín Espada, and Naomi Ayala – demonstrates a poetics of resistance. While resistance takes a variety of forms in their poetic discourse, this project asserts that these poets have and continue to play an integral role in the cultural decolonization of Puerto Rico, which has been generally unacknowledged in both the critical scholarship on their work and the narrative of Puerto Rico’s anti-colonial struggle. Chapter One discuses the theoretical concepts used in defining a poetics of resistance, including Barbara Harlow’s definition of resistance literature, Edward Said’s concepts of cultural decolonization, and Jahan Ramazani’s theory of transnational poetics. Chapter Two provides an overview of Puerto Rico’s unique political status and highlights several pivotal events in the nation’s history, such as El Grito de Lares, the Ponce Massacre, and the Vieques Protest to demonstrate the continuity of the Puerto Rican people’s resistance to oppression and attempted subversion of their colonial status. Chapter Three examines Julia de Burgos’ understudied poems of resistance and argues that she employs a rhetoric of resistance through the use of repetition, personification, and war imagery in order to raise the consciousness of her fellow Puerto Ricans and to provoke her audience into action. By analyzing Clemente Soto Vélez’s use of personification, anaphora, and most importantly, juxtaposition, Chapter Four demonstrates that his poetry functions as a dialectical process and contends that the innovative form he develops throughout his poetic career reinforces his radical perspective for an egalitarian society. Chapter Five illustrates how Martín Espada utilizes rich metaphor, sensory details, and musical imagery to foreground issues of social class, racism, and economic exploitation across geographic, national, and cultural borders. Chapter six traces Naomi Ayala’s feminist discourse of resistance that denounces social injustice while simultaneously expressing a female identity that seeks liberation through her understanding of history, her reverence for memory, and her relationship with the earth. Ultimately, this dissertation argues that Burgos, Soto Vélez, Espada, and Ayala not only advocate for but also enact resistance and social justice through their art.

Subject Area

Latin American literature|Caribbean literature|American literature|Hispanic American studies

Recommended Citation

Azank, Natasha, "“The guerilla tongue”: The politics of resistance in Puerto Rican poetry" (2012). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3498327.