Freddie Saladin – Features Editor
Award-winning poet Martín Espada performed a reading of his work in Hart Chapel on Thursday night, Sept. 21 to start the 2017-2018 Mry L. Seifert Cultural Series. This year’s theme for the series is “Work and the American Dream.” Students, faculty and others who were interested filled the seats of this public event.
Once the poetry reading began, Espada dedicated his first poem to Puerto Rico and everyone there who is struggling due to the recent disasters in the area.
Speaking about Puerto Rico, Espada said, “It is a devastated island, it was a devastated island before the hurricanes ever struck.”
Espada is a well-known Puerto Rican poet who was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1957. Once a tenant lawyer, Espada is now an English professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has published nearly 20 books and earned several awards such as the Shelley Memorial Award, the National Hispanic Cultural Center Literary Award and many others.
In 2006, he released a book called “The Republic of Poetry,” which turned out to be a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His most recent book, “Vivas to Those Who Have Failed,” is a collection of poems that was released in 2016.
The themes of his poems often relate to social justice and his experiences of growing up as a Latino. In his most recent book, “Vivas to Those Who Have Failed,” Espada wrote about his father, Frank Espada, who was a photographer documenting the labor migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States.
Speaking of his father’s career as a photographer, Espada mentioned that a famous photographer named Cornell Capa spoke to his father and said, “No one wants to look at pictures of Puerto Ricans, Frank.” Espada responded to the quote saying, “My father used that as motivation… Frank Espada’s pictures of Puerto Ricans are now included in the Library of Congress, in the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian Museum of American History and the National Portrait Gallery, not bad at all.”
Espada ended the reading with a bang after reading his highly praised poem “Alabanza,” which means “praise” in Spanish. “Alabanza” is a “9/11 poem with a twist.” According to Espada, the focus of the poem was on “the food service workers who were killed that day at the towers.” Espada continued saying, “Most of them immigrant and many of them undocumented, invisible in life, even more invisible in death, which is why I wrote the poem to make the invisible visible, which I consider to be an important mission of a poet.”
After the reading ended, he spoke with some of the people who came to see his performance and signed books for them.
The Seifert Cultural series will be continuing with more events on the way. Roger May, a photographer, writer and director, will perform a lecture of his work in Carlson Library on Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. Some of his work will also be displayed in the University Art Gallery which is also located in Carlson Library.