Thursday, August 31, 2006

Poetry and Politics: Martín Espada

Kingdom Books is honored to host Martín Espada on Sunday October 8, reading from his new collection, THE REPUBLIC OF POETRY. I thought I'd be ready to talk about it last week, but I'm still mulling it over.

The collection is both tight and intense. Its three sections take vastly different directions: The first, "The Republic of Poetry," addresses both Neruda and Chile, including Pinochet. The second, "The Poet's Coat," is elegiac. The third, "The Weather-Beaten Face," includes several anti-war poems and others that seem at first reading to be deeply personal.

All of the poems fit within the swathe that Espada's previous collections have swept: poetry as political artistry, poetry as resistance, poetry voicing the terrible wrongs of the world and demanding their redress. The fact that the "disappeared" cannot be returned to bodily life is only one more reason that their life as spirit, vigor, and beloved friends and family must find restoration.

Because THE REPUBLIC OF POETRY is so particularly tightly composed, I'm going to wait a bit longer before tackling a full review of it. Meanwhile I've read other work of Espada's -- TRUMPETS FROM THE ISLAND OF THEIR EVICTION, A MAYAN ASTRONOMER IN HELL'S KITCHEN, and the stirring foreword to POETRY LIKE BREAD. The name Espada means sword or machete to this poet; expect more metaphors of the blade to follow.

It is not necessary to be Puerto Rican or Nuyorican to forge a poetry of resistance; African Americans and every woman can speak to the same.

But to speak to the Latino resistance, from New York (or even Amherst, Mass.), to Puerto Rico, to Cuba, to Chile, to Nicaragua, even to Spain -- for this, Espada is powerfully called.

One last note: The reading we're sponsoring will be held at 3 p.m. at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, to have enough space for many listeners, but we'll host a small lunch here at Kingdom Books ahead of time. When I asked Martín Espada whether there were any particular guests he might like invited to the lunch, he listed Galway Kinnell, Grace Paley, Julia Alvarez -- then said, "I'd like to meet (Congressman) Bernie Sanders."

So we've invited Vermont's independent voice calling out for restoration in the halls of Washington, DC. I hope the Congressman will accept. I look forward to witnessing this connection and its fruits.

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