Birth, Commemoration, and Voices that move us forward: Martín Espada and Lauren Schmidt at Bowery Poetry

By LA Markuson

Martín Espada’s most recent book. The cover image is a photo of Edelmiro Huertas, a union organizer in San Francisco, photographed by Frank Espada

I’m very much looking forward to the next installation of our Fantasy Reading Series on Sunday August 7th, where Martín Espada and Lauren Schmidt will be reading for us. A professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Martín has published more than fifteen books. He is a poet, editor, essayist and translator as well, born in Brooklyn in 1957. His father, Frank Espada, was born in Puerto Rico in 1930.

Bowery Poetry is so lucky and honored to be hosting such a huge figure in contemporary political poetry, and our community will be lucky to have a chance to hear from him in such an intimate and beautiful space. Featured on Democracy Now, The Washington Post, NBC Latino, PBS, pen.org, and the Poetry Foundation, his powerful work in so many fields over these decades has earned him comparisons to Pablo Neruda and the affectionate nicknames of “the people’s poet” and “the Latino poet of his generation.” His acclaimed poem, “Alabanza: in Praise of Local 100,” written in the aftermath of 9/11, will bring tears to your eyes when you hear it.

Martín’s most recent book, Vivas to Those Who Have Failed, which he’ll be sharing with us this Sunday, is a collection of poems about endurance in the face of loss. The heart of the collection is a series of ten poems about the death of the Martín’s father, Frank Espada, one of Walt Whitman’s “numberless unknown heroes.” Frank was also a man of many vocations. (see his work here) Among them, he was a documentary photographer, community organizer, civil rights activist. Frank created the Puerto Rican Diaspora Documentary Project and his photographs are still in the collections of the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress. That photo on the cover of Vivas to Those Who Have Failed was taken by Martín’s father — what a stunning image.

More than ever in my lifetime, I want to find the ways that poetic perspectives intersect with the rest of the world and shine light onto the dark places. Through slam, haiku, manifestos, odes, poetic commentary, video poetry, and new formats evolving all around us, poetry is proving to be the yoga of contemporary American society for me. Poetry is the sometimes vulnerable and uncomfortable but exhilarating and absolutely necessary practice of bending and stretching ourselves into better human beings. Into world citizens who are more equipped to excel in the face of daunting challenges presented to us. That’s what we’ll be getting this Sunday night, and every time we show up at Bowery to dig deeper and share more.

Lauren Schmidt, who will be accompanying Martín to read as well, also knows what it’s like to commemorate a father in poetry and use her voice brilliantly. Her haunting poem “my father asks me to kill him,” was published on rattle.com — her voice is disarming in a way totally unique but perfectly complementary to Martín’s. Lauren will be reading from Filthy Labors, her book forthcoming from Northwestern in 2017. She will also be reading from previous books, such as Psalms of the Dining Room, which will be available at the reading. Martín actually wrote the foreword to Psalms — collaboration and support is at the heart of every great poetic partnership. Martín said of her work in that foreword,

“The poetry of Lauren Schmidt does what poetry should do: make the invisible visible, indelibly, unforgettably. If ever a collection of poems embodied Whitman’s dictum to speak for “the rights of them the others are down upon,” this is it.”

I can’t wait to hear from two such admired and mutually admiring voices.

In an event of lovely timing, we’ll be celebrating Martín’s birthday with him and serving cake to go along with the poetry — a perfect light pairing with their resounding words. Call it a spoonful of sugar with the medicine our spirits all need, especially now.

Join us at 6pm Sunday for what will be an unforgettable and incomparable evening — something we all need to go back into the world better than before.

Much love.