[(essay date fall-winter 1993) In the following essay, Rivas characterizes Espada as a poet who bridges the gap between Spanish-language and English-language poetry, and between folk culture and academia.]
Will the new breed of Puerto Rican writers, Nuyorican writers, continue to maintain their homeland ties? Martín Espada's translation into Spanish (with Camilo Perez-Bustillo) of his latest book, Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover's Hands, and their translation into English of Clemente Soto Vélez's poetry, The Blood That Keeps Singing is surely an indication that they will. Martín Espada, tenant lawyer, poet and teacher, straddles the generations, and in translating Soto Vélez into English ensures that the Nuyorican tradition, and the progenitors of that tradition, will not fade away without the notice of a new generation of English dominant readers, both Puerto Rican and otherwise. While Martín Espada is not the only young poet of his generation to be inspired by Soto Vélez, Espada is the one who has broken the territorial line between Spanish-language poetry of the island and mainland and the English-language dominated American market.
Espada's poetry encompasses elements of traditional Puerto Rican literature. In the spirit of the declamador, he is a storyteller. His concern for history and his poetry as political expression are reminiscent of what Julio Marzán calls the "Puerto Ricanist separatist tradition" as well, the spirit of which was expressed by Juan Antonio Corretjer and Soto Vélez in the decade that Espada was born. So profound is Soto Vélez's influence on Espada that he named his firstborn, Clemente. Espada is unlike the generation of Nuyoricans between Soto Vélez and himself in that his poetry is less the grito and his poetic diction more refined. Yet his debt to them as groundbreaking English-language writers of the migrant experience cannot be discounted. Espada, born in New York and now living in Massachusetts, writes about the people with whom he lives and works, yet he continues to harken back to his island heritage. Will this concern for the cultural and political life of the diaspora continue to the next generation of writers? Will they bear the burden of history or assimilate and forget? As Espada's realm expands, he straddles two literary cultures as well--the folk and the academic. While he continues to bring his poetry to the people about whom he writes, his audience widens to include mainstream America and academia. Like his contemporary, Judith Ortiz Cofer, his work is published in academic journals and college textbooks, yet his poetry continues to focus on the community from which he has sprung--the young and growing Latino community of Boston, and the homeland.
Martín Espada's words decry the poverty and racism that threaten to annihilate Latino culture. Yet however linked to the roots of confrontation Espada's poetry may be, it sings for language, culture, and blood in both the shout of rebellion and the whisper of love. Like the declamadores whose stage is the community, Espada brings his poetry to the people who inhabit his words.