In the republic of poetry, there will be no one dislocated from history


the republic of poetryCan poetry ease an immigrant’s sense of dislocation? Only to the extent that it might help understand it a bit better.

Martin Espada, who is one of my favourite modern poets (see his ‘The Republic of Poetry’ below) is a Puerto Rican writer from New York.

He describes himself as “doubly dislocated: first, there is dislocation from Puerto Rico; secondly, there is Puerto Rico’s dislocation from itself.”

It’s both troubling and curiously liberating, he once said.

“If I am always at the margins, then I am by necessity the observer; if I am always on the outside, then I am by definition independent; if I am never anchored to one place, then I am free to wander; if I am never blinded by loyalty, then I am free to speak the truth as I see it.”

If that sounds ever so subtly like poetry, that’s because Mr Espada’s prose always has the right cadence, even when he’s speaking truth to power:

“Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States. It may be a truism that you can’t go home again, but it’s especially true when home is an occupied territory. A Puerto Rican writer from New York, like myself, is twice alienated. I never forget that in this country I belong to a marginalized, silenced, even despised community; yet, in Puerto Rico, as a ‘Nuyorican’ poet, I am marginalized again.”

The Republic of Poetry:

In the republic of poetry,

a train full of poets

rolls south in the rain

as plum trees rock

and horses kick the air,

and village bands

parade down the aisle

with trumpets, with bowler hats,

followed by the president

of the republic,

shaking every hand.

In the republic of poetry,

monks print verses about the night

on boxes of monastery chocolate,

kitchens  in restaurants

use odes for recipes

from eel to artichoke,

and poets eat for free.

In the republic of poetry,

poets read to the baboons

at the zoo, and all the primates,

poets and baboons alike, scream for joy.

In the republic of poetry,

poets rent a helicopter

to bombard the national palace

with poems on bookmarks,

and everyone in the courtyard

rushes to grab a poem

fluttering from the sky,

blinded by weeping.

In the republic of poetry,

the guard at the airport

will not allow you to leave the country

until you declaim a poem for her

and she says Ah! Beautiful.