Martín Espada speaks with Poetry of the City Students

A flyer for "Poetry Reading and Q&A with Martín Espada in conversation with Dr. Elisa New." Depicted are portraits of Martín Espada and Dr. Elisa New.

On November 3rd, 2021, this year’s National Book Award winning poet Martín Espada spoke with high schoolers in our dual-enrollment course Poetry in America: The City from Whitman to Hip Hop. At a virtual reading organized by Poetry in America, the National Education Equity Lab, and the Center for the Public Humanities at Arizona State University, Espada read two of his poems: “Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper” and “Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100.” Following a conversation between Espada and Professor New, the evening featured a far-reaching Q&A between the poet and the students. 

A particular highlight of the event was one student’s poignant question to Espada, on the vicissitudes of the muse: “Among all the lines in both poems, which was the hardest for you to write?” For Espada, it was the final line of “Alabanza,” which, after six months of contemplation, came to him on a Vermont-bound train. In contrast, Espada described the process of writing “Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper” as iceberg-like: years of living with the experience, followed by fifteen minutes of writing it. 

Portrait of Martín Espada in the middle of speaking.
Espada speaks to students over zoom.

Another student summed up the mood in the chat: “Thank you Martín Espada for taking the time to be here and talk to us about 2 of the most inspiring poems I’ve ever read. I am truly grateful for this amazing session, and hope to use what you said for my writing assignment.” 

Martín Espada, wearing a black collared shirt, sits facing the host, Dr. Elisa New, who is smiling and wearing a blue long-sleeved collared shirt.
Professor New discusses “Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper” with Espada. Photo Credit: Matt Freund

A month to the day after Espada spoke with our students, we filmed with him for a Season Four episode which will explore ​​”Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper.” Guest interpreters so far will include John Turturro, Jill Lepore, & more.