[(review date fall 1991) In the following excerpted review, Frost praises Espada's Trumpets from the Islands of Their Eviction for its evocative fusion of history and personal experience.]
Steven Mailloux uses the phrase, "theoretical urge," to describe the teacherly desire for an explanatory schema that would "outlaw" textual misreadings.1 In the poems which comprise Martín Espada's Trumpets from the Islands of their Eviction, there seems to be another kind of urge operating--a "mythic urge." This urge collapses historical event into personal experience, poetically reworking the result into a sequence of narratives that records the cultural background and social upheaval of the Puerto-Rican American in particular and the South American Latino at large. Espada has published one other collection of poetry. The Immigrant Iceboy's Bolero (which includes photographs taken by his father, Frank Espada), as well as numerous reviews and essays on Puerto Rican writing in general. In this his latest book, Espada uses the people of his poems as Diana L. Vélez puts it in her essay included in the collection, to "speak America's other voices" (73).2
Espada himself holds that the "traditional role of poet as community historian" has been shaped in the Nuyorican poet's case by the need to reflect, "the perspective of that community, so unlike the point of view reflected in the media, if indeed the media were to cover these events at all."3 While Vélez agrees that the goal of establishing a sense of community is not only a "healthy" one but a distinguishing characteristic of this marginalized form of writing, she gently reminds us that it remains in "the realm of the imaginary," describing one of Espada's poems as containing, "all the pleasure of a good fable or fairy tale" (80). Vélez is right here, but I think this can be better explained as one effect of Espada's "mythic urge." From the Chilean singer-martyr, Víctor Jara, to "Tony" at the corner bodega, 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 (á la Operation Bootstrap) and their not-so-friendly new home in the United States.
Espada burrows into the immediacy of social exclusion to show how and at what cost people in this position do indeed cope. In the title poem, Espada lists victim after victim of this literal and political eviction, including "Mrs. Alfaro,...