"At sixteen, I worked after school hours..."

Martín Espada

Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper

Born in Brooklyn in 1957, Martín Espada was once called by Sandra Cisneros "the Pablo Neruda of North American authors." A poet, editor, essayist, and translator, he has published more than 16 collections and has earned a reputation as a writer of passionate social and political conviction, as well as intense lyricism. When asked about his reasons for writing, he responded, "Compulsion. It feels urgent. There are ghosts that tell me to write…I'm talking about the interplay of imagination and memory and ancestors, both literal and figurative." Espada's poetry is informed by those ancestors and by his own past self. In "Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper," he reminds us of the countless nameless, faceless workers whose efforts go unacknowledged and uncelebrated. Edward Hirsch has written of Espada, "He stands up for what Whitman calls 'the rights of them the others are down upon' and writes a fiery, impure, earth-tinged, human-centered poetry." Espada's awards include the Paterson Poetry Prize, the Robert Creeley Award, and the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award. Formerly a tenant lawyer, Espada is a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he teaches creative writing and the work of Pablo Neruda.

To read this and other poems and translations by Martín Espada, as well as biographical information about the poet, please visit the Poetry Foundation Web site.