Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Jimmy Santiago Baca

Jimmy Santiago Baca – for me, his poetry is a journey into a different world. His narratives about Chicano, Mestizo, and Indio people in the American Southwest seem a million miles away from my Scotland every day and yet I find them amazingly powerful and compelling.

Baca is of Chicano and Apache decent and his life story certainly reads very different from that of most other poets. His parents abandoned him, leaving him in the care of his grandparents and friends at a very early age. By ten he was send to an orphanage and soon after ran away to live on the street. At the age of twenty-one, Baca went to prison for drug possession, serving six years. It was here that he became interested in poetry and started writing his own verse. He was still in prison when his first poems were published in the magazine Mother Jones.

Today, Baca is a celebrated poet, who has received multiple awards including the American Book Award, the Pushcart Prize, and the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature. In addition to numerous collections of poems he has published memoirs, essays, stories, and a screenplay, Bound by Honor (1993), which was made into a feature-length film.

It is easy to see that his background and personal experience of growing up in poverty are still up to this day shaping his work. As the Poetry Foundation puts it: “Baca’s work is concerned with social justice and revolves around the marginalized and disenfranchised, treating themes of addiction, community, and the American Southwest barrios.” In addition to addressing these topics in his writing, Baca has however also decided to contribute to his community in a more direct way. In 2004 Baca started the non-profit organization Cedar Tree Inc., which supports writing workshops in reservations, barrio community centres, housing projects, correctional facilities, and prisons. It has also produced two documentary films about the Chicano community in recent years.

Coming up with my own response to Baca was certainly a challenge. What can a white middle-class woman living in Britain say in response to his tales? See below…


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What about

my Prussian coat

my silken frock

my golden shoes

all rationality

all longing

a good girl

with a heart

of Krupp

a liquid white-

hot core

What about

my fenland eyes

my muddy thighs

my tidal lungs

all boundlessness

all margin

a good girl

with pale hair

of flax

no quay to

twist my line on

What about

my Kenyan bed

my canyon shelves

my Scheherazade doors

all prudence

all patience now

a good girl

with her nose in

her books

a silly head

still dreaming

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