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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. A former tenant lawyer in the Greater Boston's Latino community,, he received a BA from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a JD from Northeastern University. His first poetry collection, The Immigrant Iceboy's Bolero (Waterfront Press), was published in 1982.

Among Espada's other books of poetry are Vivas to Those Who Have Failed: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2016); 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 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.

Espada has also published two collection of essays, including The Lover of a Subversive Is Also a Subversive (University of Michigan Press, 2010), and edited two anthologies, including Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination from Curbstone Press (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 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 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships. He is currently a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
Vivas to Those Who Have Failed: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2016)
The Trouble Ball: Poems (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)

Prose
The Lover of a Subversive Is Also a Subversive (University of Michigan Press, 2010)
Zapata’s Disciple (South End, 1998)

Niggerlips

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

A renowned Latino poet and social rights activist, Martín Espada is the author of several collections of poetry, including Vivas to Those Who Have Failed: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2016).

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
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