Martin Espada

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Date: Nov. 30, 2021
Document Type: Biography
Length: 2,653 words

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Former tenant attorney, educator, and poet Martín Espada has dedicated much of his varied career to Hispanic and other socially liberal causes. "Espada's books have consistently contributed to ... unglamorous histories of the struggle against injustice and misfortune," summarized David Charlton in a National Catholic Reporter review of Imagine the Angels of Bread: Poems, the poet's fifth published collection. Charlton praised Espada's work and declared that "Espada has proven himself a strong adversary for supporters of a status quo that thrives on keeping a class of people as victims. Most of all, the poems kindle the hope that comes from an act of resistance." His critically acclaimed collections of poetry celebrate--or, in some cases, lament--the immigrant and working-class experience. Whether it be Puerto Ricans and Chicanos adjusting to life in the United States, or Central and South American Latinos struggling against their own repressive governments to achieve social justice, Espada has put their "otherness"--their powerlessness, poverty, and enmity--into verse that consistently relies on imagery. In addition to publishing his own poetry (and some prose), Espada has edited several collections of poetry by various Chicano and Latino poets. Espada, praised Library Journal contributor Lawrence Olszewski, "has provided a good, useful vehicle for disseminating [a] broader cultural awareness" with El Coro: A Chorus of Latino and Latina Poetry, the alphabetically arranged, "successful assortment of 43" poets' work.

Espada's first published book of poetry is 1982's The Immigrant Iceboy's Bolero, which is enhanced by photographs taken by his father, Puerto Rican-born Frank Espada. More widely reviewed, however, is his second collection, 1987's Trumpets from the Island of Their Eviction. Published with facing pages of Spanish translation by Arizona's Bilingual Press, Trumpets features poems such as "Tiburon," which compares the United States' assimilation of Puerto Rico to a shark eating a fisherman; "The Policeman's Ball," which chants the tale of police brutality to a cadence; and "From an Island You Cannot Name," about an aged Puerto Rican veteran furious at his categorization as a negro by hospital authorities. There is also the title poem, which includes a segment in which a Hispanic woman is evicted by her landlord after she sends him the ten mice she caught in her apartment, sealed in individual sandwich bags.

Linda Frost, critiquing Trumpets from the Islands of Their Eviction in the Minnesota Review, explained her view of Espada's poetic intent: "Espada uses his characters as excavated archetypes, cultural heroes who give names and faces to the members of this ignored community who have been 'evicted' from their original home of Puerto Rico ... and their not-so-friendly new home in the United States." Frost went on to observe that "through both his swift kicks in our reading behinds and his detailed narratives, Espada takes us by the hand and leads us straight into the core of boredom, poverty, hostility and violence. He indeed gives a voice to the silenced, gathering together the tales of the ignored and forcing us to see the faces in the crowd." Noting that...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000124265