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A Mayan Astronomer in Hell's Kitchen: Poems Paperback – June 17, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0393321685 ISBN-10: 0393321681

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 88 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (June 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393321681
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393321685
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,122,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Espada, a frequent contributor to National Public Radio's various news programs, can keep his magic-inflected tone light even when engaging social disparity: "As I was about/ to put a quarter/ in the parking meter,/ a man walking by/ stopped, whirled,/ fired three karate kicks/ decapitating the meter,/ and stretched out/ his hand/ for the quarter." A former tenant lawyer, Espada makes a convincing Robin Hood both in the poem cursing a "Jim Crow Mexican Restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts Where My Cousin Esteban Was Forbidden to Wait Tables Because He Wears Dreadlocks" and in "The Governor of Puerto Rico Reveals at His Inaugural That He Is the Reincarnation of Ponce de Leon." While these poems make a scene defying their overly deterministic titles, it's the quiet and quick ones that make his sixth collection solid, like the title poem, about a man on a fire escape who stops to smoke a cigarette, or "The Mexican Cabdriver's Poem for His Wife, Who Has Left Him", in which the speaker, having challenged the poets in his cab to write the poem at hand, supplies the somehow heartbreaking information that his wife isn't like the moon but "is like the bridge/ when there is so much traffic/ I have time/ to watch the boats/ on the river." The book ends with a suite of unsatisfying poems about the executions of American political prisoners, but the overall effect of this book is one of poetic uplift in the face of everyday oppression. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

American-born Puerto Rican poet Espada, son of a political activist and at one time a practicing lawyer, has spent his life involved in social justice work on behalf of the Hispanic community. His poems speak eloquently of issues that cut to the core of human existence--death, tumors, heart disease, poverty--and to individuals who suffer inhumane treatment (and worse) owing to political oppression (e.g., Sister Dianna Ortiz, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg). From the enigmatic title poem (from a third-floor window, a man watches the restaurant below him burn, seemingly unaware or immune to the danger he's in) through pieces about the death of his grandmother, Puerto Rico, his wife's family, Carmen Miranda, and more, Espada employs a variety of styles--sometimes long-lined, sometimes brief as haiku. In a richly descriptive, highly political poem for death row prisoner/poet Mumia Abu-Jamal (commissioned by NPR's "All Things Considered," which later refused to air it), he writes, "The executioner's needle would flush the poison/ down into Mumia's writing hand/ so the fingers curl like a burned spider." A glossary translates terms that may be unfamiliar to the reader. Highly recommended.
-Judy Clarence, California State Univ. Lib., Hayward
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Holly Hunt on June 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Martin Espada's tumultous language rushes forward in this unforgettable sixth collection of firey work: white heat surrounded by the cooler, blue streaks of history. Rather than hold a mirror up to the broken time-barrier of his people's seemingly eternal struggle, he captures it by the hair of its head and drags it onto the page where it still lives, thrashing. Emotive and layered with textural surreal images, his words continue to carry the torch through the subterranean tunnels of fresh consciousness, where the shadows first cast by Neruda still dance. He is a worthy carrier of that kind of genuine magic. His is a poetry of sharp blades that cuts through the toughest-rooted dream territory, as we see in "The Shiny Aluminum of God:" "The scar carves her husband's forehead/ where the doctors scooped the tumor out,/ where cancer cells scramble like a fistful of ants." No other present-day Mayan, or present-day prophet, for that matter, writes with such warp and texture. Warning: the poet talks texture at the table: the communion table of collective consciousness. Because he seems to hear more and see more than other spiritual chroniclers, his readers can be with "the preacher who first heard the savior's voice/ bleeding through the plaster of the jailhouse." He is one who has a gift to let the blood speak-- to let the truth seep through. The title is appropriate; he may well chart the stars of the past and future, and his poems are our hotline to his vision in Hell's Kitchen. Espada never shies away from the drama of his subject matter. Each poem is loaded with the special energy that only he can impart. The message is usually violent, requiring a sizeable talent which has yet to let us down.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By David Howlett on September 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A MAYAN ASTRONOMER IN HELL'S KITCHEN by Martín Espada
A Mayan Astronomer in Hell's Kitchen is the title of Martín Espada's new book. The title reflects the cultural and linguistic mix in which Espada lives, shuttling from his Puerto Rican heritage to Old Guard Connecticut.
The book begins in Puerto Rico with the poet's relatives. These include a dying grandmother and a cousin whose stock of miracle cookware fails to heat the family dinner. About his father in Brooklyn, the poet writes:
Sometimes I dream
my father is a guitar,
with a hole in his chest
where the music throbs
between my fingers
("My Father as a Guitar")
Espada also writes about a magically real politician ("The Governor of Puerto Rico Reveals at His Inaugural That He Is The Reincarnation of Ponce de Leon") and the mixture of foreign birds in a luxury hotel in San Juan:
The White cockatoo from Australia
twirls tricks with a hostess
. . .
the scarlet macaw of Brazil
yammers a joke about pina coladas
. . .
the peacock of India
skitters around the koi pond
. . .
the frostbitten turkey from North Carolina
thaws in the kitchen
("Ornithology at the Caribe Hilton")
These poems range from the deadly serious to the comic. "The Carpenter Swam to Spain" is about the Spanish Civil War and "The River Will Not Testify" is about a Colonial massacre of Indians. Espada also speaks about the Rosenbergs and Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Martin Espada writes with beautiful imagery about a host of subjects in this book: Indian massacres, the torture of political prisoners in banana republics, Thanksgiving dinner for a Puerto Rican family, cancer, ghosts, bookstores going out of business. A small number of the poems are openly political, but most are vivid reflections on the life of the poet and the people who belong to that life. Espada's strength as a poet is his imagery, hard-hitting and peculiar to the topic at hand. He handles emotion as well, but this is secondary to his images. My favorite poem in the book was the title poem, "A Mayan Astronomer in Hell's Kitchen," in which a man on the fire escape above a burning deli pauses in his escape to enjoy a cigarette. There is something about the man's poise, his sense of presence, which is a still point in this busy work. Next favorite was the author's reflection on the meaning of his own name: "Espada" means "sword" in Spanish.

I gave the collection three stars because while the book is rich with imagery, much of it is rather mundane imagery and not particularly startling or new. Reading this collection I frequently said to myself, "huh," but not "oh!" I'd recommend this collection if you're in the mood for modern poetry but don't know who to turn to, or if you have some spare time on your hands and decide to give a modern poet a try.
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