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About this poet

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1957, Martín Espada is the author of more than fifteen books as a poet, editor, essayist and translator, including The Trouble Ball: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2011), which was the recipient of the Milt Kessler Award, a Massachusetts Book Award, and an International Latino Book Award; The Republic of Poetry (W. W. Norton, 2006), which received the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; and Alabanza: New and Selected Poems: 1982-2002 (W. W. Norton, 2003), which was named an American Library Association Notable Book of the year. His earlier collections include Imagine the Angels of Bread (W. W. Norton, 1996), winner of an American Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; A Mayan Astronomer in Hell’s Kitchen (W. W. Norton, 2000); City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (W. W. Norton, 1993); and Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands (Curbstone, 1990).

Espada has also published two collection of essays: The Lover of a Subversive Is Also a Subversive (University of Michigan Press, 2010) and Zapata’s Disciple (South End, 1998); edited two anthologies, Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination from Curbstone Press (Curbstone, 1994) and El Coro: A Chorus of Latino and Latina Poetry (1997); and released a CD of poetry called Now the Dead will Dance the Mambo (Leapfrog, 2004).

About Espada's work, the poet Gary Soto has said, "Martín Espada has chosen the larger task: to go outside the self-absorbed terrain of most contemporary poets into a landscape where others—bus drivers, revolutionaries, the executed of El Salvador—sit, walk, or lie dead 'without heads.' There's no rest here. We're jostled awake by the starkness of these moments, but occasionally roll from Espada's political humor."

He has received numerous awards, including the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Robert Creeley Award, the PEN/Revson Fellowship, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, the Antonia Pantoja Award, an Independent Publisher Book Award, a Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, and two NEA Fellowships.

A graduate of Northeastern University Law School and a former tenant lawyer in the Greater Boston's Latino community, Espada is currently a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Niggerlips

Martín Espada, 1957
Niggerlips was the high school name
for me.
So called by Douglas
the car mechanic, with green tattoos
on each forearm,
and the choir of round pink faces
that grinned deliciously 
from the back row of classrooms,
droned over by teachers
checking attendance too slowly.

Douglas would brag
about cruising his car 
near sidewalks of black children
to point an unloaded gun,
to scare niggers
like crows off a tree,
he'd say.

My great-grandfather Luis
was un negrito too,
a shoemaker in the coffee hills
of Puerto Rico, 1900.
The family called him a secret
and kept no photograph.
My father remembers
the childhood white powder
that failed to bleach
his stubborn copper skin,
and the family says
he is still a fly in milk.

So Niggerlips has the mouth 
of his great-grandfather,
the song he must have sung 
as he pounded the leather and nails,
the heat that courses through copper,
the stubbornness of a fly in milk,
and all you have, Douglas,
is that unloaded gun.

From Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover's Hands by Martín Espada, published by permission of Curbstone Press. Copyright © 1990 by Martín Espada. Reprinted with permission of Curbstone Press. Distributed by Consortium. All rights reserved.

From Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover's Hands by Martín Espada, published by permission of Curbstone Press. Copyright © 1990 by Martín Espada. Reprinted with permission of Curbstone Press. Distributed by Consortium. All rights reserved.

Martín Espada

Martín Espada

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1957, Martín Espada is the author of several collections of poetry

by this poet

poem
for my father, Frank Espada


In 1941, my father saw his first big league ballgame at Ebbets Field
in Brooklyn: the Dodgers and the Cardinals. My father took his father's hand.
When the umpires lumbered on the field, the band in the stands
with a bass drum and trombone struck up a chorus of Three Blind
poem

for the 43 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 100, working at the Windows on the World restaurant, who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center

Alabanza. Praise the cook with the shaven head
and a tattoo on his shoulder that said Oye