Martín Espada Promotes Activism and Empowerment in his Poetry

A poet from the Boston area, Martin Espada incorporates many of his childhood experiences amd subsequent political passions into his poetry.

With emotional and evocative words strung together to create the poem “Alabanza: Praise of Local 100,” Martín Espada recognized the unrecognized workers of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. With phrases such as “Praise the bus boy’s music, the chime-chime of his dishes,” Espada commemorated their deaths.

“[I wrote this poem] for the 43 hotel employees and restaurant employees…working at the Windows on the World restaurant who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center,” said Espada.

Espada’s poetry reading was held this past Friday in Kemper Auditorium. Espada, a Boston based poet, writes poetry that revolves around current global issues. His poetry is directed toward younger audiences, who he believes will be the generation to change the world.

“I’m speaking to the generation that is going to fix this mess, if this gets fixed. You know, we hear all the time that dictatorships die, so do democracies. We hear all the time that empires die, this empire can die too. If we keep, as a people, deteriorating politically, the way we have, if we allow this wave to wash over us, then we will drown,” said Espada.

Espada draws inspiration from both the world around him and his own life. A common theme seen in his poetry is how he tells the story of those who can no longer share their own, such as in his poem, “Letter to My Father.” Espada wrote the poem two years ago in October to share his father’s story following his 2014 death.

“[In ‘Letter to My Father,’] I refer to the songs that are never silent. I’m still talking to my father, even though he died five years ago,” said Espada.

Audience member Gayatri Rajan ’22 felt strong emotion conveyed in “Letter to My Father” when reading it in class, but according to her, hearing Espada recite the poem himself was an entirely different experience.

“My favorite poem was probably ‘Letter to My Father.’ We analyzed [it] in class but I got a different [perspective] on it when he read it. It was different than how I read it in my head. It was really interesting to see how he conceptualized his poems because he was the one who wrote it,” said Rajan.

With his poetry, Espada raises the issue of what will happen if certain stories remain unspoken. According to Espada, he ultimately wanted the audience to digest his poems and be inspired to stand up for what they believe in.

“What I’ve been trying to get across tonight is that, in the narrowest sense, we have to take action and we have to become activists. In the broadest sense, we have to remember what it’s like to be fully human. We have to remember what it’s like to embrace other human beings whether they are like us whether they are different than us,” said Espada.