Martín Espada has worked as a bouncer, a primate caretaker, a door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman, a gas station attendant and a tenant lawyer. As a poet, he acts as an advocate for the Latino community in the United States, particularly the immigrant working class, from farm workers sprayed with pesticides in the field to the kitchen staff who died in a restaurant at the top of the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001.
The Meaning of the Shovel brings together, for the first time, all of Espada’s poems about work, including several previously unpublished poems. It is a book about the emotional and often invisible landscape of labour, about ‘hard-handed men,’ ‘the rude Mechanicals: the tailor, the weaver, the tinker, the bellows-mender.’ The title poem, based on the poet’s experience of digging latrines in Nicaragua, embraces a vision of revolutionary change.
Martín Espada has published more than fifteen books as a poet, editor, critic and translator, including The Trouble Ball, Imagine the Angels of Bread, The Republic of Poetry (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize) and Alabanza: New and Selected Poems. He has published two previous books with Smokestack, Crucifixion in the Plaza de Armas and His Hands Were Gentle: Selected Lyrics of Victor Jara. He has received numerous awards and fellowships, among them the Shelley Memorial Award, an American Book Award, the PEN/Revson Fellowship and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. Espada is a professor in the Department of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.