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ESPADA, MARTÍN (1957- ) Martín Espada is recognized for his contributions to political poetry in both English and Spanish. An important part of what has been called the Latino Renaissance, Espadas poetry is a unique intermingling of advocacy, narrative, writings from the margin, and formal innovation, which is clearly influenced by questions of Latino-American identity and the history of colonialism in the Americas. Espada has argued that political convictions and poetry must relate: "The question is not whether poetry and politics can mix. That question is a luxury for those who can afford it. The question is how best to combine poetry and politics" (100). Drawing on Pan-American traditions, Espada has been influenced by the works of Pablo Neruda, Ernesto Cardenal, Eduardo Galeano, and Walt Whitman and their respective traditions of narrative poetry of protest.
Espada was born in 1957 to a Puerto Rican father and Jewish mother in Brooklyn. Trained as a lawyer, Espada published his first collection of poetry, The Immigrant Iceboy's Bolero, in 1982. His collections of poetry include Rebellion Is the Circle of a Lover's Hands (1990), which won the Paterson Poetry Prize and a PEN/Revson Foundation Fellowship (1993), and Imagine the Angels of Bread (1996), which won the American Book Award (1997). He has edited several anthologies of poetry, including El Coro: A Chorus of Latino and Latina Poetry (1997), which won a Gustavus Myers Center outstanding Book Award, and he has published a prose collection, Zapata's Disciple (1998), which won an Independent Publisher Book Award (1999). He has also received the PEN/voelker Award for poetry, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1986), and a Massachusetts Artists Foundation Fellowship (1984). Throughout 1994 Espada read several of his poems as part of National Public Radio's All Things Considered program. He has taught at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Espada's poetry is marked by an attention to the continuing effects of history on the individual—as migrant, laborer, dispossessed, and disenfranchised— and by an ironic reimagining of fate. In "Imagine the Angels of Bread" (1996), for instance, reversals of fortune abound: "squatters evict landlords," "refugees deport judges," peasants "uproot the deed to the earth that sprouts the vine." "The New Bathroom Policy at English High School" (1990) depicts a principal who bans Spanish in the bathrooms in order to relieve his constipation. Lyrical and bold simultaneously, Espada's poetry in its most populist forms confronts the realities of history's speechless and marginalized masses. His more speculative poetry contemplates metaphysical questions about his family and his past.
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