The Revolutionary Art of Failure
Vivas to Those Who Have Failed
Publisher: Against the Current
Date Written: 01/11/2016
Year Published: 2016
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX21505
Book review of Martin Espada's Vivas to Those Who Have Failed.
Vivas to Those Who Have Failed is a book that explores through verse the public and private life of revolutionary mourning. Opening with a cycle of sonnets that chronicle the Paterson Silk strike of 1913, the book closes on a series of elegies for Espada's late father, Frank, who lived and died as an activist, artist, and photographer of New York City's Puerto Rican community.
In some ways it would seem these events, the passing of a father and a crushed strike, would have little to do with each other - separated as they are by a century as well as by ethnicity, geography, and the division between public and private. But this is precisely the power and purpose of Espada's collection: to pose the act of grief and mourning as a political question.
For all its tumultuous history, Espada picks up on the irony that perhaps the greatest central action of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) silk strike was a public funeral for a murdered bystander, an immigrant by the name of Valentino Modestino. The poem describing the murder and funeral encompass the logic of the collection: "he was the other Valentino" Espada describes him, not the famous "romantic sheik/and bullfighter" of Hollywood, but just an ordinary person, "standing on his stoop to watch detectives/hired by the company bully the strikers."