About this poet

Jimmy Santiago Baca was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on January 2, 1952. Abandoned by his parents at the age of two, he lived with one of his grandparents for several years before being placed in an orphanage. He wound up living on the streets, and at the age of twenty-one he was convicted on charges of drug possession and incarcerated. He served six years in prison, four of them in isolation. During this time, Baca taught himself to read and write, and he began to compose poetry. A fellow inmate convinced him to submit some of his poems to Mother Jones magazine, then edited by Denise Levertov. Levertov printed Baca's poems and began corresponding with him, eventually finding a publisher for his first book.

Immigrants in Our Own Land, Baca's first major collection, was highly praised. In 1987, his semi-autobiographical novel in verse, Martin and Meditations on the South Valley, received the American Book Award for poetry, bringing Baca international acclaim. A self-styled "poet of the people," Baca conducts writing workshops with children and adults at countless elementary, junior high and high schools, colleges, universities, reservations, barrio community centers, white ghettos, housing projects, correctional facilities and prisons from coast to coast.

Baca's poetry collections include Selected Poems / Poemas Selectos (New Directions, 2009), C-Train and Thirteen Mexicans: Dream Boy's Story (Grove Press, 2002), Healing Earthquakes (2001), Set This Book on Fire (1999), In the Way of the Sun (1997), Black Mesa Poems (1995), Poems Taken from My Yard (1986), and What's Happening (1982). His memoir, A Place to Stand (2001), chronicles his troubled youth and the five-year jail-stint that brought about his personal transformation. Baca is also the author of a memoir, A Place to Stand: The Making of a Poet (2002); a collection of stories and essays, Working in the Dark: Reflections of a Poet of the Barrio (1992); a play, Los tres hijos de Julia (1991); and a screenplay, Bound by Honor, which was released by Hollywood Pictures in 1993.

This Day

Jimmy Santiago Baca, 1952
I feel foolish,
     like those silly robins jumping on the ditch boughs
     when I run by them.
            Those robins do not have the grand style of the red tailed hawk,
            no design, no dream, just robins acting stupid.
They've never smoked cigarettes, drank whiskey, consumed drugs
as I have.
            In their mindless
            fluttering about
            filled with nonsense,
                 they tell me how they
                       love the Great Spirit,
            scold me not to be self-pitying,
            to open my life
            and make this day a bough on a tree
            leaning over infinity, where eternity flows forward
            and with day the river runs
                       carrying all that falls in it.
            Be happy Jimmy, they chirp,
            Jimmy, be silly, make this day a tree
            leaning over the river eternity
            and fuss about in its branches.

From Spring Poems Along the Rio Grande by Jimmy Santiago Baca. Copyright © 2007 by Jimmy Santiago Baca. Reproduced by permission of New Directions.

From Spring Poems Along the Rio Grande by Jimmy Santiago Baca. Copyright © 2007 by Jimmy Santiago Baca. Reproduced by permission of New Directions.

Jimmy Santiago Baca

Jimmy Santiago Baca

Jimmy Santiago Baca was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1952.

by this poet

poem
1. 

Listening to jazz now, I'm happy
     sun shining outside like it was my lifetime achievement award.
                I'm happy,
with my friend and her dog up in Durango, her emailing
     me this morning
no coon hound ailing yowls
vibrant I love yous.
        I'm happy,
        my smile a big Monarch
poem
   The lover's footprint in the sand
   the ten-year-old kid's bare feet
in the mud picking chili for rich growers,
not those seeking cultural or ethnic roots,
but those whose roots
have been exposed, hacked, dug up and burned
			and in those roots
			do animals burrow for warmth;
what is broken is blessed,
	not