Martín Espada: stacks of books, from poetry to photography

ESPADA: I am in the middle of “Deaf Republic”, poems by Ilya Kaminsky, who was born in the former Soviet Union and now lives in Atlanta. There has been a battle this week between this book and my scoring. The book continues to win. I should have finished writing by now.

BOOKS: What other books of poetry have you read?

ESPADA: I have over 3000 pounds. They are everywhere, like zucchini. One of the things poets do is trade books, so I have hundreds and hundreds of books that I have traded over the years.

BOOKS: How do you keep all these books?

ESPADA: I’m a stacker for sure. I have a table for books in my living room. Sometimes my wife starts to look askance at my stack because she can’t even see me behind. If it goes up too much, it starts to bother me too. I start to think about the other people who pile my book up and don’t read it.

BOOKS: What’s at the top of the stack?

ESPADA: Some of the books are there because I taught them. For years I have been teaching a course called Poetry of the Political Imaginary. For this course this fall, we’re reading “Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry,” by John Murillo, who grew up in Los Angeles during the riots. He’s brilliant. This fall, I added poems from “Fugues” and “Halting Steps”, by Claribel Alegria, a Salvadoran and Nicaraguan poet. I knew her. She was very brave. His books were burnt. She has been exiled more than once. One of my favorite workshops to teach is on broken sonnets, the ones that deviate from the traditional form. To do this, you must first teach the traditional sonnets. I give the students “A Wreath for Emmett Till” by Marilyn Nelson, which is a series of powerful and beautiful sonnets about Till, who was lynched in the 1950s.

BOOKS: Which poets do you read the most?

ESPADA: A poet who is like a second father to me, Jack Agueros, Puerto Rican poet, essayist, translator, playwright and community organizer from New York. I teach his collection “Correspondance Between the Stonehaulers”, but even if I didn’t teach it, I would keep coming back to it. Another is Paul Mariani. My poem “Be There When They Swarm Me” is a response to his poem “Hornet’s Nest”.

BOOKS: What else do you read?

ESPADA: I am a big fan of the Red Sox. I bought “Pedro”, a memoir by Pedro Martinez, the greatest pitcher I have seen with my own eyes. You don’t expect much from a baseball brief, but it’s so funny, candid, and to the point. He was a particularly good companion this year when the Red Sox suffered from various pitching illnesses. I could read this book and scream on my television.

BOOKS: Who influenced you as a reader?

ESPADA: My father, absolutely. He only had a high school diploma, but he was a voracious reader. He accumulated books on history and politics and, of course, photography, since he was a great photographer. There were books everywhere, and if I saw him reading a book, it would make me want to read that book.

BOOKS: Do you have any of his books?

ESPADA: I have a lot of photography books. I have his copy of “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” by Walker Evans and James Agee. I have works from lesser known photographers who were his friends. One photographer who really influenced my dad was Dave Heath. I have his “Dialogue with Solitude”, which is considered one of the great books in photography. For me, Sebastiao Salgado is one of the greatest living contemporary documentary photographers. I have his book “Exodus”. I wanted it in Spanish so I got it from Spain. I keep it on a low table. It only remains for me to start turning the pages, and I am transported. It is also the stuff of poetry.

BOOKS: What will you read next?

ESPADA: I want to finish “Deaf Republic” but I have to finish the correction first.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the most recent author of “Rescuing Penny Jane” and can be contacted at [email protected]


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