Martín Espada

Martín Espada

Past Event: Friday, October 23, 2009

At Benaroya Hall — Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall

Poetry Icon

Poetry

Martín Espada, deemed “the Latino poet of his generation” and “the Pablo Neruda of North American authors,” was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1957. The son of a political activist and community leader, Espada was from his earliest days steeped in a blend of Puerto Rican and urban American cultures, the distinctive wellspring of his poetic voice.

Espada held a variety of jobs (including gas station attendant, bouncer, and primate lab assistant) before earning his J.D. from Northeastern University in Boston. He then worked as a tenant lawyer, representing poor and underprivileged members of the Latin American community—a role that shaped him as an advocate for justice, “speaking on behalf of those without an opportunity to be heard.”

A disciple of Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda, Espada unites an outspoken style with a steadfast allegiance to his background and people, creating a powerful, passionate brand of verse. His most recent collection of poems, Crucifixion in the Plaza de Armas (2008), was hailed as “a superb poetic testimony to the unfortunate endurance of the colonizing mentality and the inevitable resistance it engenders.” A judicious chronicler of the world around him, “[Espada’s] work captures the depth of human experience as shaped by the political inevitabilities of both America and Latin America.”

In 2004 Espada traveled to Chile to participate in the Pablo Neruda Centenary commemoration, an experience he later called “a revelation.” Having “never imagined that a nation could celebrate a poet, or poetry in general, with such fervor,” the inspiration he drew from his travels became a driving force for his renowned collection, The Republic of Poetry(2006), which garnered him the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Espada has composed ten books of poetry, including Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands(1990); Imagine the Angels of Bread (1996), winner of an American Book Award; A Mayan Astronomer in Hell’s Kitchen (2000); and Alabanza: New and Selected Poems (2003). He has also published a collection of essays, Zapata’s Disciple (1998); edited two anthologies, Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination (2000) and El Coro: A Chorus of Latino and Latina Poetry (1997); and released an audiobook of poetry called Now the Dead will Dance the Mambo (2004). He has received the Charity Randall Citation, the National Hispanic Cultural Center Literary Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, among numerous other honors and distinctions.

Espada is a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


The Spider and the Angel

Day camp in the summer of 1968:
The counselors steered us to the roof
of a school building in Brooklyn,
slapped down soggy mattresses
and told us to wrestle.

A boy from Puerto Rico,
crazy as a spider in the bathroom sink,
heard my crippled Spanish
and decided I was not the Puerto Rican
that I claimed to be. With his thumbs
he tried to pop my eyeballs from their sockets.
The counselors smoked and nodded.

The next day they matched me with Angel.
I swung my elbow back into his mouth
and he bled like a martyr.
If he could have flown home to the island
by leaping from that rooftop,
he would have spread his arms and jumped.

The spider-boy realized then
that I was Puerto Rican after all.
He stayed close to me that summer,
promising to jab his thumbs into the eyes
of anyone who disrespected me.

I never did aim my finger at the enemy
who should be blinded next.
I was satisfied. We were Puerto Ricans,
wrestling for the approval of our keepers,
inches from rolling off the roof.

Advice to Young Poets

Never pretend
to be a unicorn
by sticking a plunger on your head.


Selected Work
Crucifixion in the Plaza de Armas (2008)
The Republic of Poetry (2006), recipient of the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
Imagine the Angels of Bread (1996), winner of an American Book Award

Links
Bill Moyers interviews Espada for PBS on the subject of young, nonnative American writers

Event Details

Benaroya Hall — Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall

200 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101

View directions.

Transportation & Parking

This event will be held in the Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall. The Recital Hall is located on the upper level of Benaroya Hall, up the stairs to the left side of the Box Office. Benaroya Hall is located at 200 University Street, directly across Second Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum. The public entrance to Benaroya Hall is along Third Avenue.


By Car

  • From Southbound I-5
    Take the Union Street exit (#165B). Continue onto Union Street and proceed approximately five blocks to Second Avenue. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5
    Exit left onto Seneca Street (exit #165). Proceed two blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Seneca Street exit and move into the left lane. Turn left onto First Avenue and proceed one block. Take the next right (at the Hammering Man sculpture) onto University Street. Continue up the hill two blocks to Third Avenue. Turn left onto Third Avenue. Continue to the next block and turn left onto Union Street. Make the next left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Southbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Denny Way/Downtown exit. Keep right and cross over Denny Way onto Wall Street. Proceed approximately five blocks and turn left onto Second Avenue. Continue south on Second Avenue approximately eight blocks. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.

By Bus
Benaroya Hall is served by numerous bus routes. Digital reader boards along Third Avenue display real-time bus arrival information. For details and trip planning tools, call Metro Rider Information at 206.553.3000 (voice) or 206.684.1739 (TDD), or visit Metro online. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, served by bus and light rail, has a stop just below the Hall (University Street Station).

Parking
The 430-car underground garage at Benaroya Hall provides direct access from the enclosed parking area into the Hall via elevators leading to The Boeing Company Gallery. Enter the garage on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street. Maximum vehicle height is 6’8″. Blink charging stations are available for electric vehicles. The event rate is $16.

Parking is also available at:

  • The Cobb Building (enter on University Street between Third and Fourth Avenues).
  • The Russell Investments Center (enter on Union Street between First and Second Avenues).
  • There are many other garages within a one-block radius of Benaroya Hall, along with numerous on-street parking options.

Accessibility

All of our venues have accessible seating and listening devices available. Click here for more information about accessibility and ADA services at Benaroya Hall.

Please contact us at sal@lectures.org or 206.621.2230 x10 for more details and to let us know you’re coming so we can better accommodate your needs.