National Book Awards Announces Its 2021 Nominees: Martín Espada

In the Poetry category:


Martín Espada. Norton

The visionary latest from Espada (Vivas to Those Who Have Failed) combines a sharp political awareness with a storyteller’s knack for finding beauty and irony in the current moment. Espada writes on an immigrant experience, in which “We smuggle ourselves across a border of a demagogue’s dreams” and “In the full moon of the flashlight, every face is the face of Guillermo.” His poems challenge the idea of an invented immigrant other (“Conquerors sailing the world mistake my body for an island./ They navigate into hurricanes and blame me when the ships vanish”) and reasserts the humanity of the marginalized. In “That We Will Sing,” Espada describes a poetry class in which recovering addicts spontaneously sing a poem to the instructor: “and so their voices became human again,/ not the baying of wolves to be shot on sight by police after sundown,/ but church voices, school voices, voices before the needle flooded/ their bodies and drowned all the songs, all the poems they knew.” Drawing on history, personal experience, and keen observation, this impressive collection is unique for the way it captures the world-weary voice of a poet and political activist who doesn’t simply call for change, but offers a sense of the long, difficult struggle toward justice.

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