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Poets and Ambassadors for Conscience
by Martín Espada

Oct 21, 2019 | Poetry


Martín Espada is a resourceful urban seer, alternately humorous, tender, and impassioned: a warrior poet who raises “dissidence” to a level of majestic art. An essayist, translator, editor, and former tenant lawyer, Espada is the author of more than a dozen collections, including The Republic of Poetry, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and most recently, Vivas to Those Who Have Failed. He is the editor of the influential anthology Poetry Like Bread (1994) and a brand-new anthology, Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump. In 2018, he was awarded one of poetry’s greatest honors, the Ruth Lilley Prize for Lifetime Achievement: “The people’s poet has become the national conscience.”


for Sam Hamill

Let the blasphemy be spoken: poetry can save us,

not the way a fisherman pulls the drowning swimmer

into his boat, not the way Jesus, between screams,

promised life everlasting to the thief crucified beside him

on the hill, but salvation nevertheless.

Somewhere a convict sobs into a book of poems

from the prison library, and I know why

his hands are careful not to break the brittle pages.


This is the eighth installment in The Spectator’s yearlong series featuring leading American poets who address issues of racism, human rights, and exile, among other social themes in their work. The project is curated by Cyrus Cassells, whose most recent book is Still Life With Children: Selected Poems of Francesc Parcerisas (Stephen F. Austin University Press). “Blasphemy” is used by permission of Martín Espada.

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