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‘It’s the poet’s duty to show the way’: Rigoberto González Praises Martín Espada’s Tribute to His Father and Labor History, Vivas to Those Who Have Failed

By Harriet Staff

martin-espada

Poet Rigoberto González draws NBC News audiences’s attention to a new collection by Martín Espada, Vivas to Those Who Have Failed, which pays tribute to his father, a labor rights activist and photographer, and focuses on the shared struggle of the worker. Espada, born in Brooklyn, grew up in a Puerto Rican family committed to social justice issues. In Vivas to Those Who Have Failed, González writes: “Protest and bearing witness not only demand change, they become measures of a society’s willingness and ability to resist or achieve it.” More, from the beginning:

A poet with a remarkable vision, Martín Espada’s beautiful new volume of poetry, Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (W.W. Norton), takes its title from a line in one of Walt Whitman’s most beloved poems “Song of Myself.” It’s an appropriate nod to the great American writer since, like Whitman, Espada’s work commemorates the stories and struggles of the working class.

Espada has strong ties to New Jersey, and the title poem pays homage to one of the most important events in immigrant labor history, the Paterson Silk Strike of 1913. Though the strike did not achieve a key demand — an eight-hour workday — it is credited with amplifying that fight.

As Espada puts it, those who fail to “become the river” keep the momentum going that carries others to the completion of a goal. That’s a sentiment he brings forward in the poem “How Could We Have Lived or Died This Way,” in which he addresses the current wave of black citizens killed by white authorities. Protest and bearing witness not only demand change, they become measures of a society’s willingness and ability to resist or achieve it:

I see the poets, who will write the songs of insurrection generations unborn

will read or hear a century from now, words that make them wonder

how we could have lived or died this way, how the descendants of slaves

still fled, and the descendants of slave-catchers still shot them, how we awoke

every morning without the blood of the dead sweating from every pore.

Although Espada’s courageous verse also casts light on the Sandy Hook shootings, ISIS, and the atrocities committed against the indigenous Acoma Pueblo community, his voice comes through the clearest in the series of moving elegies to close friends and to his Puerto Rican father.

Read more at NBC News.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, March 8th, 2016 by Harriet Staff.