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About this poet

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)

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.

Reprinted from Vivas to Those Who Have Failed. Copyright © 2016 by Martín Espada. Used with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. and Frances Goldin Literary Agency.

Reprinted from Vivas to Those Who Have Failed. Copyright © 2016 by Martín Espada. Used with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. and Frances Goldin Literary Agency.

Martín Espada

Martín Espada

Martín Espada has published more than twenty books as a poet, essayist, editor and translator, including his most recently published poetry collection, Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (W. W. Norton, 2016). He is a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst.

by this poet

poem

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

poem

Cuba and Puerto Rico
are two wings of the same bird:
they receive flowers and bullets
in the same heart.

—Lola Rodríguez de Tió, 1889

Tattoo the Puerto Rican flag on my shoulder.
Stain the skin red, white and

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