Winner, National Book Awards 2021 for Poetry

ISBN 9780393541038
W. W. Norton & Company
Martín Espada

Martín Espada has published more than twenty books as a poet, editor, essayist, and translator, including Vivas to Those Who Have Failed and The Republic of Poetry, a Pulitzer Prize finalist. (Photo credit: David González) More about this author >

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Floaters takes its title from a term used by certain Border Patrol agents to describe migrants who drown trying to cross over. The title poem responds to the viral photograph of Óscar and Valeria, a Salvadoran father and daughter who drowned in the Río Grande, and allegations posted in the “I’m 10-15” Border Patrol Facebook group that the photo was faked. Espada bears eloquent witness to confrontations with anti-immigrant bigotry as a tenant lawyer years ago, and now sings the praises of Central American adolescents kicking soccer balls over a barbed wire fence in an internment camp founded on that same bigotry. He also knows that times of hate call for poems of love—even in the voice of a cantankerous Galápagos tortoise.

The collection ranges from historical epic to achingly personal lyrics about growing up, the baseball that drops from the sky and smacks Espada in the eye as he contemplates a girl’s gently racist question.

Whether celebrating the visionaries—the fallen dreamers, rebels and poets—or condemning the outrageous governmental neglect of his father’s Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane María, Espada invokes ferocious, incandescent spirits.

Judges Citation

Martín Espada’s Floaters manages to address the concerns of our times through a timeless voice that can be heard above “this cacophonous world.” These poems remind us of the power of observation, of seeing everything—what’s in front of us, what’s behind us both in memory and in heritage, and what we can only imagine—believing all are worthy of song, all are worthy of taking seriously within our song. This is a collection that is vital for our times and will be vital for those in the future, trying to make sense of today.


Martín Espada accepts the 2021 National Book Award for Poetry for FLOATERS

Martín Espada, 2021 National Book Awards Poetry Winner, reads from FLOATERS