Floaters, by Martín Espada, offers masterfully crafted narratives from one of the essential voices in American poetry, exuberant odes and defiant elegies, songs of protest and songs of love.
Floaters takes its title from the term used by certain U.S. Border Patrol agents to describe migrants who drown trying to cross over the Río Grande. The title poem addresses the viral photograph of Óscar and Valeria, the Salvadoran father and daughter who drowned in the Río Grande in 2019, and charges posted in a Border Patrol Facebook group that the photo was faked.
Espada bears eloquent witness to confrontations with anti-immigrant bigotry as a tenant lawyer years ago and sings the praises of Central American adolescents kicking soccer balls over a barbed wire fence in an internment camp founded on that same bigotry.
Espada knows that times of hate call for poems of love. In “Aubade With Concussion,” the poet’s wife slips on ice, smacks her head, wakes up and drives herself to school, where a student awaits—sleepless since her boyfriend’s murder. There are also “love songs” in the voices of a cantankerous kraken and a Galápagos tortoise. The collection ranges from such flights of the imagination to achingly personal lyrics of adolescence, the baseball that drops from the sky and hits Espada in the eye as he contemplates a girl’s gently racist question.
Espada’s elegies for the people and places that nurtured him combine tenderness and ferocity in in equal measure. “Morir Soñando” (To Die Dreaming) is a tribute to the brilliant activist Luis Garden Acosta and his community center in Brooklyn. “Letter to My Father” grieves the devastation of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane María—particularly in the mountain town of Utuado, where the poet’s once-invincible father was born: “I promised myself I would stop talking to you, white box of grey grit. / You were deaf even before you died. Hear my promise now: I will take you / to the mountains, where houses lost like ships at sea rise blue and yellow / from the mud. I will open my hands. I will scatter your ashes in Utuado.”
Espada is a poet who “stirs in us an undeniable social consciousness,” says Richard Blanco. Whether celebrating the visionaries—the fallen dreamers, rebels and poets—or condemning the outrageous governmental neglect of his father’s Puerto Rico in the wake of the hurricane, Espada invokes fierce, incandescent spirits.
Praise for FLOATERS:
A racist encounter with a cab driver in a rush-hour ride over the Mystic Tobin Bridge; incarcerated adolescent migrants held captive in a camp; a Mexican immigrant pissed on and beaten after a Sox game; family history; a punch to the jaw; an ancient turtle. Martín Espada’s new poetry collection, “Floaters” (Norton), is a work of grace-laden defiance. A former tenant lawyer in greater Boston, now an English professor at UMass Amherst, Espada lands jabs of bright, hard wisdom. “A century gone, the mills gone, the union gone, the books gone, the poet / faded as poets fade, like fountain pen, bedridden in a tenement room, / paralysis of the legs bewildering the doctor with his black bag, the bottle / of wine always by the bed, yet the iron in the bars of the cage still prays.” The Boston area is alive in the collection, as is the verve and force of this poet’s long career.
The Boston Globe, New England Literary News, Nina MacLaughlin
“Vintage Espada—essential, topical, political, irrepressible; in his poems mercy acquires muscle and close attention confers value—reminding us that protest and praise rise from the same source. Such eloquence in comradeship, elegy and homage to those who lit the path, and, oh, a fresh bounty of love poems, written ‘not in lust but in astonishment.’”
“Along with his trademark blend of gravitas, humor, and raucous imagination, we get an Espada more vulnerable, a voice more intimate, than any we’ve heard from him before. Martín Espada has long established himself as one of our most prolific and important poets, his body of work a canon unto itself. Floaters is another cannon in that canon.”
“In his dynamic new book, Martín Espada is a fierce activist in verse, decrying, with accuracy and urgency, the depravity of inhumane detention and acute bigotry. One of America's most indelible voices, as always, Espada's poetry is lionhearted.”
“If Martín Espada’s name weren’t on the book, I would still recognize the poems as his, the stories that so exactly capture the shaping moments of his life and the lives of others, resonant, particular and yet universal, rendered into a lovely, unique lyricism—with a hard-won maturity. The title poem does what Espada is called to do, naming the dead, saving the memory of their lives. This book disturbs in the best way, and still it sings.”
Floaters Press Release
"I Now Pronounce You Dead," The New York Times Magazine
Interview with LitHub
Review in Publishers Weekly
Review in Penniless Press (UK)
Chicago Review of Books: 12 Must-Read Books of January
Review in North American Review
Interview with Salon