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General Pinochet at the Bookstore: Renowned Latino Poet Martin Espada Reads from His Works

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Martin Espada, the renowned poet and professor—who some call the Latino Poet of his generation—reads from his poem “General Pinochet at the Bookstore” from his latest collection “The Republic of Poetry.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We wrap up this segment with renowned poet and professor, Martin Espada, who many call the Latino Poet of his generation. Martin Espada teaches creative writing and poetry at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is the poet laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts. Just before the program, we spoke with him on the line from Amherst and asked him to read one of his poems to mark the death of Augusto Pinochet. He began by explaining why he wrote the poem.

MARTIN ESPADA: In July 2004, I was invited to participate in a celebration of the Pablo Neruda centenary in Chile, as part of the U.S. delegation invited to that country. About a week before we arrived, there was an incident that took place that caused quite a stir, involving General Pinochet. And the following poem came out of it. This poem was actually from a book called The Republic of Poetry. The poem itself is called “General Pinochet at the Bookstore, Santiago, Chile, July 2004.”

The general’s limo parked at the corner of San Diego street
and his bodyguards escorted him to the bookstore
called La Oportunidad, so he could browse
for rare works of history.

There were no bloody fingerprints left on the pages.
No books turned to ash at his touch.
He did not track the soil of mass graves on his shoes,
nor did his eyes glow red with a demon’s heat.

Worse: His hands were scrubbed, and his eyes were blue,
and the dementia that raged in his head like a demon,
making the general’s trial impossible, had disappeared.

Desaparecido: like thousands dead but not dead,
as the crowd reminded the general,
gathered outside the bookstore to jeer
when he scurried away with his bodyguards,
so much smaller in person.

AMY GOODMAN: Martin Espada reading his poem, “General Pinochet at the Bookstore,” from The Republic of Poetry. General Augusto Pinochet died on International Human Rights Day yesterday.

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