Espada speaks on a variety of subjects including poetry about work, learning poetry from non-poets, the faith behind political poetry, and desegregating the poetry community. He also recounts his first poetry readings and how those experiences still impact his poetics today.
Verse Wisconsin—Interview with Martín Espada by Wendy VardamanMore of Espada's interview alongside new poetry, reviews, and a new poem by Lorine Niedecker can be found at Verse Wisconsin's Summer 2010 Issue.
Espada: The first reading I did was in 1979. Actually, it was not a reading of my work, but that of Nazim Hikmet, the great Turkish poet, at an event for Turkish solidarity, which then, as now, was needed. I got an appetite for reading and performing in public. I remember also, in the early 1980s, getting involved with the Central American solidarity movement, a natural outgrowth of the education I was getting on Latin America. I did a reading of Ernesto Cardenal’s poems as part of a Central American solidarity event. From there, it was an easy progression to reading my own work.
The first reading I did of my own was at the Club de Wash, at the same bar where I was working as the bouncer. Naturally, since I was the bouncer, I immediately got all the attention I wanted, and didn’t have any problem getting people to listen to me. I cut my teeth reading in places like that and the Cardinal Bar, places where you had to learn certain tricks to make yourself heard.
Verse Wisconsin: More of a slam setting, almost?
Espada: Yeah, although here I would add that a slam setting implies competition. I wasn’t there to be judged or rated. I was there because I had this compulsion to write poetry, to be heard and to find an audience, which all poets want, whether they admit it or not. That first reading did involve a certain amount of bellowing. The skills I learned reading in bars are still valuable, more than thirty years later.
Shout out to Lyle Daggett for pointing out the interview at his blog. Daggett's review of Martín Espada's The Republic of Poetry can also be at A Burning Patience: The insurgence of words.