To Speak on Behalf

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Author: Leslie Ullman
Editor: Michelle Lee
Date: 2006
From: Poetry Criticism(Vol. 74)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay; Excerpt
Length: 1,446 words

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[(essay date summer 1992) In the following excerpt, Ullman maintains that Espada writes poetry on behalf of those who are racially and ethnically "invisible" in American culture.]

Puerto Rican poet Martín Espada speaks wholly on behalf of others in his third book, which has been translated into Spanish by Camilo Pérez-Bustillo for the benefit of the very "others" who populate the collection: the immigrants and laborers who have fallen or been beaten through the cracks of history. Despite considerable success as a poet (this volume won the Paterson Poetry Prize), Espada seems to live by an equal commitment to fighting nonviolently for change. He has worked as a radio journalist in Nicaragua, a welfare rights paralegal, a mental patient advocate, and currently is a tenant lawyer and supervisor of Su Clínica, a legal services program administered by Suffolk University Law School. His translator, Camilo Pérez-Bustillo, is a civil rights lawyer in addition to being a well-published translator and essayist.

Like Clifton, Espada writes poems that reclaim a place for people who have become invisible because of race and, in his case, because of the tide of events in Latin America over the last fifty years. Many poems in this collection simply tell the stories of people to whom they are dedicated, such as Espada's great-great-grandfather, Buenaventura Roig, who once built a bridge and was mayor of his town, who "shouted subversion / against occupation armies and sugarcane-patrones," whose funeral was a "great eclipse" attended by thousands of peasants, and whose bones now "have drifted / with the tide of steep grass, / sunken in the chaos of weeds / bent and suffering / like canecutters in the sun" ("La Tumba de Buenaventura Roig" 20).

Or Federico, an immigrant fruitpicker killed by an extra dose of pesticide released by a drunken cropduster pilot as he "stood apart / in his own green row, / and, knowing the pilot / would not understand in Spanish / that he was the son of a whore, / instead jerked his arm / and thrust an obscene finger," and whose death is avenged by the mysterious smashing of the landowner's tomatoes each night: "......

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420074604