Poem Analyzed: Niggerlips, by Martin Espada.
Upon simply glancing at the title of the poem, intrigue immediately draws the prospective reader into reading it – and in my case, analyzing it. Fortunately for me, I was not disappointed with my selection. This poem illuminates the hardships and mental anguish suffered by black people – more specifically, the author, his father, and great-grandfather – at the hands of whites. Martin Espada first describes being called “niggerlips” in high school by his peers, then goes on to describe how his great-grandfather was kept a secret by the family due to their shame of his “blackness.” Finally, the author describes his fathers struggle for acceptance not only from his peers, but also within himself. The descriptions of the difficulties faced by both the great-grandfather and father seem to exemplify the “tragic view of the mulatto,” in which they both experienced an innate feeling of not belonging to either white or black culture, thus facilitating a damaged psyche. .
This content of Espada’s poem is further enhanced by the way he uses language. Upon completion of my analysis, I thought of the author as a chef who sprinkles just the right amount of various ingredients (in this case, elements of craft) into his dish, with the finished product coming out just right. Espada does not saturate his poem with different aspects of language, but incorporates enough, all seemingly in the perfect places, to maximize the effectiveness of his writing. In short, he packs a lot of punch into not a lot of writing. The diction is low throughout, as he keeps his word choice direct and simple, yet very concrete. While staying concise, the poem surprisingly provides stunning imagery. This is especially apparent throughout the entire first two stanzas. With the poem being only three stanzas long – ten, seven, and twelve lines in length, respectively – Espada was very crafty with his inclusion of detail, putting in the proper amount to enhance the imagery, but not cause the poem to become overly prosy.