Poet provides an eye-opening experience for the high school


Yiming Fu

Poet Martin Espada left a lasting impression on students who heard his poetry on Oct. 12.

Yiming Fu, Opinions Editor

“I’m lazy,” poet Martin Espada jokes when asked why he writes poems instead of books or journalism articles. Elaborating, Espada describes how poems convey stories concisely and powerfully, allowing him to pack in more “oomph,” and then release the intensity into the air when read aloud.

Espada read a mixture of old and new poems aloud to multiple classes in the auditorium on Friday, Oct. 12. Espada has received many awards and is a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Through his poems, Espada takes on human rights activism, writes vividly about the world today and explores stories that are untold or ones that deserve a greater platform. Many of them weave in his Puerto Rican heritage, and bits and pieces of Spanish are scattered throughout his works.

True to his theme of making the invisible visible, he opened with “Alabanza,” a chilling 9/11 poem with a twist. “Alabanza” means “praise” in Spanish, and the poem discusses the food service and hotel workers who were killed in the attacks. The word “Alabanza” is frequently interspersed throughout this poem, and Espada’s inflection intensified with each repetition. As the poem built, “alabanza” remained a constant motif that strung the listener along. Espada chose this poem in light of today’s immigrant crisis, because many of the food service workers who died were undocumented immigrants from Latin American countries.

Espada also read aloud “Heal the Cracks in the Bell of the World,” a poem that he wrote six years ago after the Sandy Hook shootings, but is still relevant today. Espada read the poem with a deep, reverberating tone that emulated the melodic clanging of big brass bells. In this poem, Espada emphasized our ability to change what appears to be impossible to change: “Melt the bullets into bells…Melt the cannons into bells!” he rang out.

Espada closed with “Letter to my Father,” a touching poem about his beloved hometown Utuado, Puerto Rico, and the destruction it endured in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Utuado was the cradle of Espada’s family. His grandfather was the mayor and his now deceased father had lived there too. In his poem, Espada emphasizes the struggle of “los olvidados,” or “the forgotten,” after Hurricane Maria who had to wait in long lines for paltry rations and aid.

In “Letter to my Father,” Espada criticized the U.S. government’s lack of aid, comparing President Donald Trump’s heart to the roll of toilet paper Trump jokingly threw into the audience when speaking about the hurricane. Espada prays to the box of his father’s ashes, “banish him {Trump} to a roofless rainstorm in Utuado, so he unravels, one soaked sheet after another, till there is nothing left but his cardboard heart.” There were several sharp intakes of breaths, and a couple hands flew to cover mouths in simultaneous shock and admiration.

Espada’s emotional vulnerability and poignant commentary on important issues made for an eye-opening experience.