Martin Espada dances when he reads--his tall, full body twists elegantly, and he lets his right hand create waves of grace in the air as his words hustle to keep up with the body's desire to leap, to take to the air. He will bend a knee awkwardly, the plant his foot back down tenderly, as if afraid to crush something under foot. He says that being on stage is when he is most comfortable. He is transformed it a dancer, I tell you.
I think of Martin Espada at Calabash on a windy afternoon in the foreground of a photo-perfect Jamaican sunset, wearing a large white shirt and a rougish cap on his head, wiping away strands of his sweat-sokaed hair from his face, his lips pouting and stretching the words out: "Alabanza!"--he is a beautiful poet to watch and just as beautiful to read. He writes the difficult poem--goes where the difficult poems resides and he spends time with the difficult issues of life, and then arrives at poems: the deaths during 9/11, an elegy for a good friend, the politics of Puerto Rico, the lament and celebration of those revolutionaries who walked the streets of New York and put their lives on the line.
I am so glad that Martin Espada's The Republic of Poetry was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry because more people will read him and if they are lucky they will get to see him do his wonderful dance/reading of his difficult (yes, I said it) poems.
A wonderful poet, Natasah Trethewey, won, but I will say more on that at another time.

Originally Published: April 17th, 2007

Born in Ghana in 1962, Kwame Dawes spent most of his childhood in Jamaica. As a poet, he is profoundly influenced by the rhythms and textures of the country, citing in a recent interview his “spiritual, intellectual, and emotional engagement with reggae music.” His book Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius (2007)...

  1. April 20, 2007
     Tara Betts

    Martin is such a challenging poet in all the best ways and a strong spirit. I feel affirmed to DO something in the world when I read him, but I still want to do a close reading of his craft, especially in his approach to political content. Thanks for celebrating his twist, his sway and his poems, Kwame.