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The Republic of Poetry

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In his eighth collection of poems, Martin Espada celebrates the power of poetry itself. The Republic of Poetry is a place of odes and elegies, collective memory and hidden history, miraculous happenings and redemptive justice. Here poets return from the dead, visit in dreams, even rent a helicopter to drop poems on bookmarks.


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In his eighth collection of poems, Martin Espada celebrates the power of poetry itself. The Republic of Poetry is a place of odes and elegies, collective memory and hidden history, miraculous happenings and redemptive justice. Here poets return from the dead, visit in dreams, even rent a helicopter to drop poems on bookmarks.

30 review for The Republic of Poetry

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    The Republic of Poetry The Republic of Poetry by Martín Espada Hardcover 96 pages W.W. Norton, October, 2006 One cannot read the title to Martín Espada’s new book, The Republic of Poetry without recalling Plato’s banning of poets from his republic due to the subversive nature of their imaginations. However, in Espada’s republic poetry is not banned and “the guard at the airport/ will not allow you to leave the country/ until you declaim a poem for her/ and she says Ah! Beautiful.” Although in this The Republic of Poetry The Republic of Poetry by Martín Espada Hardcover 96 pages W.W. Norton, October, 2006 One cannot read the title to Martín Espada’s new book, The Republic of Poetry without recalling Plato’s banning of poets from his republic due to the subversive nature of their imaginations. However, in Espada’s republic poetry is not banned and “the guard at the airport/ will not allow you to leave the country/ until you declaim a poem for her/ and she says Ah! Beautiful.” Although in this title poem Espada reminds us how playfulness is a necessary and central matter to poetry, his paramount concerns through out this book are for democracy and social justice. The book itself is divided into three parts, and the first part entitled “The Republic of Poetry was the outgrowth of an invitation to participate in the 2004 Centenary celebration of Pablo Neruda’s birth in Chile. This first section is in part a paean to Neruda, but the poems also speak of those others who defied the Pinochet regime, in particular, the song maker Victor Jara who was executed during that time and the poet Raúl Zurita, tortured by Pinochet’s secret police but who survived, and Espada also makes mention of the unnamed poets who rented a helicopter and bombed Pinochet’s palace with poems. No wonder Espada calls this place the republic of poetry. However, as much as this was a time of courage and resistance, this was also a time of great loss, and the celebration of Neruda’s birth becomes also a time to mourn the desaparecidos. Espada describes this mourning in “Rain Without Rain” where the thousands of pilgrims come to Neruda’s house to pay homage with “faces of the disappeared on signs strung/ around their necks.” In the second section, having created his own republic, Espada now populates it with some of the poets who hold special meaning to him. In an elegy to his friend Robert Creeley, he quotes from one of Creeley’s last poems “You got a song, man, sing it.” And sing it Espada does. Read these lines out loud to yourself from “The Poet’s Coat” another elegy in this section. Listen to how the logic of narrative moves into the pure music of the last line, its alliteration and assonance: Now you are dead, your heart throbbing too fast for the doctors at the veteran’s hospital to keep the beat, their pill bottles rattling, maracas in a mambo for the doomed. In an age where free verse has devolved to open form, where poets don’t seem to know any more whether they are writing prose or verse, and all sense of line seems to have dissipated and where the diction of today’s poetry seems to have slipped comfortably into the “naturalness of conversation,” Espada’s work reminds us that poetry is memorable speech and that the common denominator of the poem, its basic building block, is still the line and that the line should be constructed with an ear to the music of the words and an eye to the images those words paint. Espada is willing to meet head on the moral injustices that limiting democracy bring and to praise those who speak out through their poetry and/or their civil disobedience. The third and final section of Espada’s book reiterates this theme of resistance found in the book’s first section and places it directly into today’s setting. In “The God of the Weather-Beaten Face” a poem about the Camilo Mejía, an army sergeant in the Iraq War turned conscientious objector, he puts Mejía’s incarceration into the larger American historical context and tradition of “union organizer, hunger striker, freedom rider,/ street corner agitator, conscientious objector.” Espada wants to remind us that moral resistance to unjust governmental pressures is a universal part of the human condition and the responsibilty of the citizen of any country. Even in poems that are not directly related to the struggle against and resistance to antidemocratic forces, we can still read into Epsada’s writing a certain concern for his republic. Take, for example, the playfulness of “Rules for Captain Ahab’s Provincetown Poetry Workshop.” Just as Plato sought to limit the subjects a poet should write about, so does Ahab, “Ye shall be free to write a poem on any subject, as long as it’s the White Whale.” I have always contended that poetry is a moral art even when it is not talking about moral things, and Espada’s book gives me the opportunity to stake my claim. We could say all acts are political, and that in some moral sense, one takes a stand even by not taking a stand. If that is so, then when a poet writes a poem of utter nonsensical pleasure, it becomes understood that it is also an exercise of freedom even when the poet’s intentions appear not to be directly aimed at some political injustice or some terrible act such as the 9/11 attack. If we look at politics not just as a jockeying for power but as behavior that in some way, even indirectly, takes a moral stance just by its mere existence, and that all poems somehow reinforce the importance of freedom through the free exercise of whatever a poem speaks about, then all poems duly advise us to “shun the frumious Bandersnatch” which may be the faulty, emotionally charged rhetoric that leads a nation to war as much as anything else we might imagine it to be. Espada’s poems, of course, are more direct than this and that is where their power lies. He infuses his passion for justice with his passion for words.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Arlitia Jones

    In this book is the deep breath we take before we start any revolution. In this book is the anthem we sing onto the shoulders of those marching beside us. In this book is the land we will one day inhabit.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Timothy

    Stone Hammered to Gravel (for poet Dennis Brutus, at eighty) The office workers did not know, plodding through 1963 and Marshall Square station in Johannesburg, that you would dart down the street between them, thinking the police would never fire into the crowd. Sargeant Kleingeld did not know, as you escaped his fumbling hands and the pistol on his hip, that he would one day be a footnote in the book of your life. The secret policeman on the corner did not know, drilling a bullet in your back, that toda Stone Hammered to Gravel (for poet Dennis Brutus, at eighty) The office workers did not know, plodding through 1963 and Marshall Square station in Johannesburg, that you would dart down the street between them, thinking the police would never fire into the crowd. Sargeant Kleingeld did not know, as you escaped his fumbling hands and the pistol on his hip, that he would one day be a footnote in the book of your life. The secret policeman on the corner did not know, drilling a bullet in your back, that today the slug would belong in glass case at the museum of apartheid. The bystanders did not know, as they watched the coloured man writhing red on the ground, that their shoes would skid in blood for years. The ambulance men did not know, when they folded the stretcher and refused you a ride to the white hospital, that they would sit eternally in hell’s emergency room, boiling with a disease that darkens their skin and leaves them screaming for soap. The guards at Robben Island did not know, when you hammered stone to gravel with Mandela, that the South Africa of their fathers would be stone hammered to gravel by the inmates who daydreamed a republic of the ballot but could not urinate without a guard’s permission. Did you know? When the bullet exploded the stars in the cosmos of your body, did you know that others would read manifestos by your light? Did you know, after the white ambulance left, before the coloured ambulance arrived, if you would live at all that you would banish the apartheid of the ambulance with Mandela and a million demonstrators dancing at every funeral? Did you know, slamming the hammer into the rock’s stoic face, that the police state is nothing but a boulder waiting for the alchemy of dust? Did you know that, forty years later, college presidents and professors of English would raise their wine to your name and wonder what poetry they could write with a bullet in the back? What do the people we call prophets know? Can they conjure the world forty years from now? Can the poets part the clouds for a vision in the sky easily as sweeping curtains across the stage? A beard is not the mark of a prophecy but the history of a man’s face No angel shoved you into the crowd you ran because the blood racing to your heart warned a prison grave would swallow you No oracle spread a banquet of vindication before you in visions; you mailed your banned poems cloaked as letters to your sister-in-law because the silence of the world was a storm flooding your ears. South Africa knows. Never tell a poet: Don’t say that Even as the guards watched you nodding in your cell even as you fingered the stitches fresh from the bullet, the words throbbed inside your skull: Sirens knuckles boots. Sirens knuckles boots. Sirens knuckles boots.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Collins

    Martin Espada is one of my favorite poets...and this book is one of his best. Ringing with tones of fable and of history, this collection is Espada at his best. While each poem is itself a graceful story with clear images and accessible language, each poem is also only a small part of the larger collection that comes together as a focused exploration of various events and persons of Latin America. Whether readers are familiar with Espada's inspirations or not, however, they'll find that the stori Martin Espada is one of my favorite poets...and this book is one of his best. Ringing with tones of fable and of history, this collection is Espada at his best. While each poem is itself a graceful story with clear images and accessible language, each poem is also only a small part of the larger collection that comes together as a focused exploration of various events and persons of Latin America. Whether readers are familiar with Espada's inspirations or not, however, they'll find that the stories and emotions set up here are well worth exploring. Espada is a master at focusing his language and poetics in such a tight and lyrical manner as to reach even the most cynical reader, whether that reader might regularly enjoy poetry or not. Simply, this is a collection for anyone with an interest in poetry, in events and persons written into literature, or simply with an interest in beautiful words and literature. Absolutely recommended for any reader. This will stand as one of my favorite poetry collections of all time.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ron

    “The Republic Of Poetry” is a beautiful and sublime collection of poetry. Social and political issues figure prominently and are interconnected with the lives and struggles of poets and everyday people of other countries that symbolize Espada’s “Republic Of Poetry”. There are heroic figures to be found such as the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and singer-songwriter Victor Jara. The poems inspired by their art and lives are written within the context of the U.S. backed coup against the Salvador Allend “The Republic Of Poetry” is a beautiful and sublime collection of poetry. Social and political issues figure prominently and are interconnected with the lives and struggles of poets and everyday people of other countries that symbolize Espada’s “Republic Of Poetry”. There are heroic figures to be found such as the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and singer-songwriter Victor Jara. The poems inspired by their art and lives are written within the context of the U.S. backed coup against the Salvador Allende government in 1973. Also, an integral part of the book is the inspiration that Espada finds in the poets Jeff Male, Robert Creely, Julia de Burgos, and Yusef Komunyakaa. Martín Espada is a poet of extraordinary talent who, even, when writing about death and destruction and the heartbreaking memories of human wreckage can do so beautifully and with deep reserves of humanity. Martín Espada is one of the greatest living American poets.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Emmkay

    Striking thoughts and imagery, wit and feeling in this poetry collection. Poems about the Chilean coup, Pablo Neruda, various Latinx and other poets - none of which I knew much about, but it was interesting to look up background details. This is powerful political poetry, a ringing voice for a courageous response to oppression, a call to disregard the gods who say "war" in favour of "the God who sweats in the street,/the God of the weather-beaten face." More of the poetry: "their pill bottles ra Striking thoughts and imagery, wit and feeling in this poetry collection. Poems about the Chilean coup, Pablo Neruda, various Latinx and other poets - none of which I knew much about, but it was interesting to look up background details. This is powerful political poetry, a ringing voice for a courageous response to oppression, a call to disregard the gods who say "war" in favour of "the God who sweats in the street,/the God of the weather-beaten face." More of the poetry: "their pill bottles rattling, maracas in a mambo for the dead," "no words to sing when the president swears/that God breathed the psalms of armies in his ear,/and flags twirl by the millions/to fascinate us like dogs at the dinner table," "Did you know, slamming the hammer into the rock's stoic face,/ that a police state is nothing but a boulder/ waiting for the alchemy of dust?"

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sundry

    Oh my gosh. How can so few words be so intensely moving? I was trying to read these poems one by one, but gave in this morning, started over from the beginning and read them in a single breathtaking session in front of the fireplace. The title poem is a writer's fantasy. When I read "The God of the Weather Beaten Face" to my husband (Vietnam vet, Wilfred Owen fan) we both teared up. "The Poet's Coat" moved me similarly. "General Pinochet at the Book Store" dropped my jaw. "Rules for Captain Ahab Oh my gosh. How can so few words be so intensely moving? I was trying to read these poems one by one, but gave in this morning, started over from the beginning and read them in a single breathtaking session in front of the fireplace. The title poem is a writer's fantasy. When I read "The God of the Weather Beaten Face" to my husband (Vietnam vet, Wilfred Owen fan) we both teared up. "The Poet's Coat" moved me similarly. "General Pinochet at the Book Store" dropped my jaw. "Rules for Captain Ahab's Provincetown Poetry Workshop" made me laugh. I could go on and on. I want to send a copy of this to every disheartened writer who fears our words don't matter. This book is living breathing proof that they do.

  8. 5 out of 5

    John Struloeff

    Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and I can understand why. Very strong, overall. I thought the title poem cycle was very well written -- engaging, vivid, smart. I brought the title poem into my advanced poetry writing class, and we talked about it for half an hour. This poem cycle, which formed Part I of the book, is set in Chile and deals with the revolution and its aftermath. Neruda plays a prominent role, not only as a character in some poems, but as a subject (of awe). My favorite poems were Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and I can understand why. Very strong, overall. I thought the title poem cycle was very well written -- engaging, vivid, smart. I brought the title poem into my advanced poetry writing class, and we talked about it for half an hour. This poem cycle, which formed Part I of the book, is set in Chile and deals with the revolution and its aftermath. Neruda plays a prominent role, not only as a character in some poems, but as a subject (of awe). My favorite poems were "The Republic of Poetry" and "The Soldiers in the Garden".

  9. 5 out of 5

    Courtney

    Martin Espada got me into Pablo Neruda, but his work stands alone and speaks for itself. Like so many Latino poets he is impassioned. He speaks with a human voice. He writes in memory of struggle. And he champions people with fight. From "Stone Hammered to Gravel" Did you know, slamming the hammer into the rock's stoic face, that a police state is nothing but a boulder waiting for the alchemy of dust?

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I liked this collection of poetry. Very different from the other collections of his. This is a celebration of poets and artists, particularly from Latin America, particularly who have suffered for the expression of their art and politics. It’s powerful and beautiful and it causes me to think about what I say in my public expressions that are as clear and direct as what those he celebrates express.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Edward Rathke

    Kind of a weak use of language, but a powerful use of imagery, which is sort of a strange combination. The collection deals a bit with Neruda and his legacy, but also with the assassination of Allende by the US, and then the fallout of Pinochet's long reign. So the poetry is socially powerful but weirdly limp when it comes to the language itself.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Hempel

    Espada's passion, his talent for seeing the poetic in the everyday, his humor, and his intense word choice are what make him among the finest living poets. He never fails to amaze and he never disappoints. A brilliant new book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    aya

    my favorite poem from this collection: Advice to Young Poets Never pretend to be a unicorn by sticking a plunger on your head. that was enough to endear me to the whole collection.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

    I can't find my copy right now, so no quotes from this. But it's fabulous. The Chile cycle is truly powerful. (Family members, don't buy it for yourselves, because you may be getting it from me for Christmas! :-) )

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kat

    Amazing, strong, beautiful poetry written with conscience and heart.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tara Betts

    I've read most of this, but I'd like to reread it. I'd also like to compare it with a translation that I've gotten that was done by Chilean poets.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Enzo

    what a tribute to both the craft of poetry and its ability to impact the world. Neruda lives on!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lawrence Lihosit

    THe title poem alone is worth the cover price!This poem is funny. Espada does not waste out time contemplating his navel but rather uses poetry as a sword to disembowel politics. This dude is great!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Southall

    Unfortunately, I'm not a voracious consumer of poetry. However, I read this book about once a year. I love the poetic interpretation of life under Chile's Augusto Pinochet.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dina Rahajaharison

    'I want to talk about poetry all night. I want more wine.'

  21. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    This is not a book of poetry to read when one feels at all psychologically fragile. A good bit of the first part talks murder and torture under Pinochet and then about how it was still affecting people thirty years after it started. Other poems talk about poets who were or are political activists and what they suffered because of that. It's all important to know and to look at and to remember, but it's also painful. And the poetry is pretty darned good, too.

  22. 5 out of 5

    William

    3.5*. Really enjoyed some of the first poems in this collection. I also see why it was picked as a Pulitzer finalist. However, for me, for the same reason, I don't like poems as much when they lean so heavily on other works. I felt lost in a quarter of these poems because I had never heard of some of the history surrounding Pinochet. I've heard back and forth whether you should or should not point people outside your poem. For now, I'm in the camp of keep the reader inside it.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Camille Tinnin

    I am not an avid poetry reader despite being married to a poet (I’m working on it!) yet this collection was accessible, while being one of those that you have to physically put down to think about. In these conversations with poets and journeys into historical events, Espada creates a clear connection between the American-backed Coup in Chile and the war in Iraq. I am excited to go and read Neruda and other poets referenced in the book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rauan

    I suppose this book's ok. But, besides the fact that it believes Poetry is Sacred, that Poetry can be Magic, (Dulce et Decorum Est!!) i have a sneaking suspicion that this book is mostly just hot air. If it were up to me I'd prohibit developing young poets from reading these sorts of books. (not really. but you probably get my drift.)

  25. 5 out of 5

    IE

    3.5 A good book as homage to a few poets and poetry. I wasn't blown away by the collection, but a nice, strong image here and there. Also, there is something about Latin American poets that I easily admire. Something sensual, which surfaces beautifully every once in a while. I'll probably read more of his poetry.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    A fairly quick read and since I have been to Chile, some of the poems resonated but overall it's lacking something all the way through! The first poem and advice to young poets were both amazing but I wanted to like it overall more and I wanted to be more excited but alas...

  27. 4 out of 5

    Em

    favorite poem in this collection: Advice to Young Poets Never pretend to be a unicorn by sticking a plunger on your head

  28. 5 out of 5

    Zaynab Shahar

    Espada's poetry in this collection is more timely than ever

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    Espada's poems are lovely and aching. This response to Plato's Republic is heart-breaking and inspiring and beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nadia Hina

    Nice poetry.

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