Today, we read some works by Martin Espada, including his commencement address at Hampshire College (2007). He invites the graduates to what he calls “The Republic of Poetry”. I asked the students, “How do you envision this ‘Republic of Poetry’ that Espada speaks of? And what role do you see yourself playing in such a world?”
This led to a good conversation about the place where poetry and the world meet. I think Espada and his works dispel the misconception that poetry is lofty, detached from the real world – that it’s all about flowers and love – or that poetry is incomprehensible and therefore irrelevant and non-applicable to the real world and real world matters.
He says in this speech:
“I welcome you to the Republic of Poetry. The Republic of Poetry is a state of mind. It is a place where creativity meets community, where the imagination serves humanity. The Republic of Poetry is a republic of justice, because the practice of justice is the highest form of human expression. This goes beyond the tired idea of “poetic justice,” because all justice is poetic. In the words of Walter Lowenfels, ‘everyone is a poet, a creator, somewhere, somehow…It’s in the sense of helping to create a new society that we are poets in whatever we do. And it is our gesture against death. We know we are immortal because we know the society we are helping to build is our singing tomorrow.’
He then goes on to add later…
“The Republic of Poetry is a place where, as Walt Whitman says, ‘your very flesh shall be a great poem.’ It is a place where you are your own greatest creation, your own most inspired invention. It is a place where you make of your life an epic poem. You may discover that medicine is your poetry, or law is your poetry, or education is your poetry, or journalism is your poetry, or music is your poetry, or poetry is your poetry.”
How can you NOT be inspired by this? One of my students said, “I wish he’d come and speak at our graduation!” Me, too, my friend. Me too. (This reminds me of my own college commencement speaker – I believe he was the secretary of transportation or something like that – no, he did NOT inspire me to do anything other than to bolt out of the graduation and see my family.)
We ended the discussion by reading “Imagine the Angels of Bread” because it directly links to his charge to the graduates in the speech: “A century ago, when your father’s grandfather was a child, the eight-hour workday was utopian; the eradication of polio was utopian; the end of lynching and segregation in the South was utopian. The next generation writes the poetry of the impossible. You will make the impossible possible. Yet, no change for the good ever happens without being imagined first.”
If you are not inspired by this… I don’t know how to help you.