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Martín Espada

1957–

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1957, Martín Espada is the author of more than twenty books as a poet, editor, essayist, and translator. A former tenant lawyer in the Greater Boston area’s Latino community, he received a BA from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1981 and a JD from Northeastern University in 1985.

Espada published his first poetry collection, The Immigrant Iceboy’s Bolero (Waterfront Press), in 1982. Among his other books of poetry are Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (W. W. Norton, 2016); The Trouble Ball (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 Imagine the Angels of Bread (W. W. Norton, 1996), winner of an American Book Award and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Espada has also published multiple essay collections, including The Lover of a Subversive Is Also a Subversive (University of Michigan Press, 2010), and edited three anthologies, including Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination (Curbstone, 1994). In 2004, he released a CD of poetry called Now the Dead will Dance the Mambo (Leapfrog).

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.”

Espada has received numerous fellowships and awards, including a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, a Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, an Independent Publisher Book Award, an International Latino Book Award, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. In 2018, he received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, which recognizes distinguished poetic achievement. He is currently a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (W. W. Norton, 2016)
The Trouble Ball (W. W. Norton, 2011)
The Republic of Poetry (W. W. Norton, 2006)
Alabanza: New and Selected Poems: 1982-2002 (W. W. Norton, 2003)
Imagine the Angels of Bread (W. W. Norton, 1996)
A Mayan Astronomer in Hell’s Kitchen (W. W. Norton, 2000)
City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (W. W. Norton, 1993)
Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands (Curbstone, 1990)
Trumpets from the Islands of Their Eviction (Bilingual Press, 1987)
The Immigrant Iceboy's Bolero (Waterfront Press, 1982)

Prose
Zapata’s Disciple: Essays (South End, 1998; Northwestern University Press, 2016)
The Necessary Poetics of Atheism (with Lauren Schmidt and Jeremy Schraffenberger; Twelve Winters Press, 2016)
The Lover of a Subversive Is Also a Subversive (University of Michigan Press, 2010)

By This Poet

7

The Republic of Poetry

For Chile

In the republic of poetry,
a train full of poets
rolls south in the rain
as plum trees rock
and horses kick the air,
and village bands
parade down the aisle
with trumpets, with bowler hats,
followed by the president
of the republic,
shaking every hand.

In the republic of poetry,
monks print verses about the night
on boxes of monastery chocolate,
kitchens in restaurants
use odes for recipes
from eel to artichoke,
and poets eat for free.

In the republic of poetry,
poets read to the baboons
at the zoo, and all the primates,
poets and baboons alike, scream for joy.

In the republic of poetry,
poets rent a helicopter
to bombard the national palace
with poems on bookmarks,
and everyone in the courtyard
rushes to grab a poem
fluttering from the sky,
blinded by weeping.

In the republic of poetry,
the guard at the airport
will not allow you to leave the country
until you declaim a poem for her
and she says Ah! Beautiful.

How We Could Have Lived or Died This Way

Not songs of loyalty alone are these,
But songs of insurrection also,
For I am the sworn poet of every dauntless rebel the world over.
                                                                                     —Walt Whitman

I see the dark-skinned bodies falling in the street as their ancestors fell
before the whip and steel, the last blood pooling, the last breath spitting.
I see the immigrant street vendor flashing his wallet to the cops,
shot so many times there are bullet holes in the soles of his feet.
I see the deaf woodcarver and his pocketknife, crossing the street
in front of a cop who yells, then fires. I see the drug raid, the wrong
door kicked in, the minister's heart seizing up. I see the man hawking
a fistful of cigarettes, the cop’s chokehold that makes his wheezing
lungs stop wheezing forever. I am in the crowd, at the window,
kneeling beside the body left on the asphalt for hours, covered in a sheet.

I see the suicides: the conga player handcuffed for drumming on the subway,
hanged in the jail cell with his hands cuffed behind him; the suspect leaking
blood from his chest in the backseat of the squad card; the 300-pound boy
said to stampede bare-handed into the bullets drilling his forehead.

I see the coroner nodding, the words he types in his report burrowing
into the skin like more bullets. I see the government investigations stacking,
words buzzing on the page, then suffocated as bees suffocate in a jar. I see
the next Black man, fleeing as the fugitive slave once fled the slave-catcher,
shot in the back for a broken tail-light. I see the cop handcuff the corpse.

I see the rebels marching, hands upraised before the riot squads,
faces in bandannas against the tear gas, and I walk beside them unseen.
I see the poets, who will write the songs of insurrection generations unborn
will read or hear a century from now, words that make them wonder
how we could have lived or died this way, how the descendants of slaves
still fled and the descendants of slave-catchers still shot them, how we awoke
every morning without the blood of the dead sweating from every pore.

Heal the Cracks in the Bell of the World

                    For the community of Newtown, Connecticut,
                    where twenty students and six educators lost their
                    lives to a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary
                    School, December 14, 2012

 

Now the bells speak with their tongues of bronze.
Now the bells open their mouths of bronze to say:
Listen to the bells a world away. Listen to the bell in the ruins
of a city where children gathered copper shells like beach glass,
and the copper boiled in the foundry, and the bell born
in the foundry says: I was born of bullets, but now I sing
of a world where bullets melt into bells. Listen to the bell
in a city where cannons from the armies of the Great War
sank into molten metal bubbling like a vat of chocolate,
and the many mouths that once spoke the tongue of smoke
form the one mouth of a bell that says: I was born of cannons,
but now I sing of a world where cannons melt into bells.

Listen to the bells in a town with a flagpole on Main Street,
a rooster weathervane keeping watch atop the Meeting House,
the congregation gathering to sing in times of great silence.
Here the bells rock their heads of bronze as if to say:
Melt the bullets into bells, melt the bullets into bells.
Here the bells raise their heavy heads as if to say:
Melt the cannons into bells, melt the cannons into bells.
Here the bells sing of a world where weapons crumble deep
in the earth, and no one remembers where they were buried.
Now the bells pass the word at midnight in the ancient language
of bronze, from bell to bell, like ships smuggling news of liberation
from island to island, the song rippling through the clouds.

Now the bells chime like the muscle beating in every chest,
heal the cracks in the bell of every face listening to the bells.
The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the moon.
The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the world.