Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100 in Whitmanian Lens

October 4, 2019

Harvard University

In his poem Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100 poet Martin Espada dedicates the verses to the people who lost their lives during the attack on World Trade Center, specifically to the 43 workers who worked at the windows at the premises[1]. As I went through the course materials from Unit 1 through 2 it is observed that Walt Whitman’s poetry has this American theme in it where everything is based on an American perspective and how his poems are different from his fellow poets of that time from around the world. The difference being while many poets have been using different formats to express their feelings via poetry Whitman used free verses without considering regular patterns of rhyme. By analyzing Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100, we can see that the poem is uniquely American; which praises, promotes equality, love for all things and emphasis on physical body similar to Whitman’s, which many people might not see. This is important because this Americanness of Martin Espada’s style of expressions in his work makes it eligible to called as Whitmanian.

“Alabanza. Praise the cook with a shaven head

and a tattoo on his shoulder that said Oye,”

Similar to Whitman; Espada starts with praising and putting emphasis on body. The way he mentioned the detail of the subject’s head being shaven and shoulder having a tattoo is how Whitman would emphasize on physical appearance of a person in his poems. Espada’s poem is a free verse just like most of Whitman’s work. Espada went from praising the cook to describing their physical appearance.

“a blue-eyed Puerto Rican with people from Fajardo,

the harbor of pirates centuries ago.

Praise the lighthouse in Fajardo, candle

glimmering white to worship the dark saint of the sea.”

“could squint and almost see their world, hear the chant of nations:

Ecuador, México, Republica Dominicana, Haiti, Yemen, Ghana, Bangladesh. Alabanza.”

In these quotes, Espada also emphasizes on physical appearances as well as showing liberalism towards other cultures and nationalities in this verse. The praises are intense just as Whitman’s. From the modules Whitman is known to be democratic and inclusive of all cultures. This also show how Espada is not fearful of using a first-person viewpoint in his work. From the start of this poem to the end of it and the topic of the poem shows that Espada has this individuality which is a Whitmanian style of poetry.

Going back to my original argument which looks at the bigger picture which is both of Espada and Whitman’s work are uniquely American. The pre-911 United States was a lot different than the United States we see nowadays. Whitman’s approach to his unique sense of poetry shows how the American perspective used to be. Espada showed his tolerance, individuality in throughout the Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100 poem.

I personally do not think Espada should be compared and put into a category because, one of the Whitman’s primary characteristics was the individualism in his work and it is subjective. But from the side by side comparison with the style and the characteristics between Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100 and Whitman’s work, we can easily say that the poem is quite Whitmanian.

[1] Excerpt from Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100BY Martín Espada.


Espada, Martin. Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100.

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