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Poetry is the one vital tool that often draws virtual pictures where none exists, and takes its audiences to places that exist but cannot be seen or places that "can be seen, yet cannot be seen" (Espada). It is through the ugly happenings and occurrences that excellent poetic rhymes and stanzas emanate from. It is through agony and pain that victorious poetic moods sprout out of, and it is through unexpected circumstances do unimaginable lyrical tones find relevance and reverence. Instances of slavery, massacres, executions, imprisonments, and attacks, especially terror attacks, that poets find words to attach to these unspoken places and situations. The varied perspectives of the individuals working within these unspoken places, or behind the walls create a diversified form of heroes, not ones with supernatural powers, or excellent moral conduct, but those who can speak for the people behind the unspoken walls, for those regarded as a danger to society yet they are actually the endangered lot, and to those who are forgotten of their heroic or outstanding deeds. The ruins hold more than lost cities and kingdoms, but also lost hope, lost lives and lost chances towards freedom. Martin Espada, in his poem Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100, represents such unspoken situation, as he recounts of the September eleventh terrorist attack that left a hundred individuals of the minority group lifeless. The word Alabanza is Spanish for praise, and, therefore, praises these individuals who knew that they had to work twice as the Americans to be half of what they were.
It is all about perspective. Poetry often finds a very different angle while looking at circumstances far from what the regular world sees and interprets of a situation. An accident could be, to an ordinary individual, a narration of the instances that occurred prior to, during and after the incidence, but to a poet, it could be entirely off the actual incident, into its impact emotionally. Nazim Hikmet, a political activist in the early 20th century, took his imprisonment as a chance to reach out to individuals who are yet to taste the confinements of a prison cell, in his poem Some Advice to Those Who Will Serve Time in Prison. An amazing, or somewhat unexpected turn in his encounter, is that it did not go into details of the fellow prisoners, guards, the prison environment, meals, or bullying, but instead took a completely different angle by going into detail on the "emotional landscape" that any individual prone to facing jail time, must be aware of (Espada) . It is this unique perspective that had Espada major his ideas, not on the attack on the twin towers, the firefighters or the soldiers who came to the rescue of the victims of the attack, as many individuals would have expected, but rather maneuvers through the labor struggles and hustles that these individuals, who had abruptly met their death, had to cope up with to make ends meet. "Praise the great windows where immigrants from the kitchen /could squint and almost see their world" (Espada line 21-23). Through this quote, he presents the framework through which the world viewed the immigrant workers and the quest for self-realization and self-acceptance within the confines the society had placed them within.
"Ecuador, Mexico, Republica Dominicana, /Haiti, Yemen, Ghana, Bangladesh" (Espada lines 24-25) This is a roll call of immigrants, a flashback and a remembrance of the diversity they brought along as they entered the American soil. He does not look at the immigrants as intruders nor does he resent their search for better lives. He also takes a perspective of the impact that trade unions, agrarian agreements, and military campaigns have had on diversity and the flow of labor into the United States. The laborers are kind to each other, humble and helpful as some of "the dishwasher/ who worked that morning because another dishwasher/ could not stop coughing" (Espada line 32-34). They cover up for each other when in tight situations; an exact definition of heroism. Once the position within their environments change, the blue flames die, the music (their source of motivation) ceases, they succumb to the very case that made them feel alive.
However, Espada does not leave it as a hopeless situation but emphasizes that there is still hope, for these individuals who had fallen victim to a strike that was never aimed for them. In the lines "Praise the lighthouse in Fajardo, candle/ glimmering white to worship the dark saint of the sea" (Espada lines 9-10) symbolize hope and a linkage of the victims back home. He presents the cliche "there is light at the end of the tunnel' by introducing a candle, even after the dark hour of the attack. The hope lies within the Spanish culture, as well as the music, as he states that "music is all we have" (Espada line 56). The mentioning of Roberto clement, a professional baseball player who succumbed to an accident while on a mission to Nicaragua to rescue earthquake victims, seeks to link the death of the hundred cooks while serving the American populations as equally heroic. Music was a unifying factor for this group of individuals never considered as important, and even though it's all they had, it was all they needed. Music might have signaled their desperation, but at the same time, it was their strength.
The randomness through which the stanza "Alabanza. Praise the waitress who heard the radio in /the kitchen/and sang to herself about a man gone. Alabanza" (Espada lines 37-39) appears, is deliberately meant to emphasize on the irregularity of life. In many instances, the real heroes are often regarded as cowards just because they are poor, illiterate or in this case, do not belong. The world is an unpredictable place, where those who work hard, are the ones who live miserable lives of oppression, discrimination, and misfortunes, as in the death of the cooks. Espada however, seeks to introduce the intrusion, and surprise he intends to bring to society, where the glory will meet the victor. The breaking of the rhythm and the introduction of a new rhyme is designed to introduce the breaking of the injustice that society has for long held on to as the right way, and repair the community for good.
The 9/11 scenario takes numerous perspectives on numerous individuals. To some, the death of the 100 locals would be viewed as the termination of illegal immigrants, or merely collateral damage. However, Espada seeks to reclaim the respect and patriotism of these individuals, even though they didn't belong to America, yet died because of it. In an interview, Espada stated that if the ground where the massacre took place is holy, then this also makes those who died within the circumstance saints. He seeks to represent the unspoken individuals by going past the crisis, right to the victims, the Spanish victims. They are heroes of their own making, and despite the misfortune that landed on their doorsteps, there is still hope.
Espada Martin. Alabanza: in praise of local 100. Poetry foundation. 2018
---. I've known rivers: speaking of the unspoken places in poetry. Soutward editions. 2009.
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"Alabanza" and "Unspoken" by Martin Espada, Poetry Analysis Essay. (2022, Jul 18). Retrieved from https://speedypaper.com/essays/alabanza-and-unspoken-by-martin-espada
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