Poet: Jimmy Santiago Baca (Episode 14)

January 17, 2017


Jimmy Santiago Baca is an award-winning American poet and screenwriter of Chicano descent.

While serving a five-year sentence in a maximum security prison, he learned to read and began to turn his life around, eventually emerging as a prolific artist of the spoken and written word.

He is a winner of the prestigious International Award for his memoir, “A Place to Stand,” the story of which is now also a documentary by the same title.

I first came to write poetry as a young man in prison. First came reading (from an anthology stolen from a jail guard):

 “It was late when I returned to my cell. Under my blanket I switched on a pen flashlight and opened the thick book at random, scanning the pages. I could hear the jailer making his rounds on the other tiers. The jangle of his keys and the sharp click of his boot heels intensified my solitude. Slowly I enunciated the words… p-o-n-d, ri-pple. It scared me that I had been reduced to this to find comfort. I always had thought reading a waste of time, that nothing could be gained by it. Only by action, by moving out into the world and confronting and challenging the obstacles, could one learn anything worth knowing. Even as I tried to convince myself that I was merely curious, I became so absorbed in how the sounds created music in me and happiness, I forgot where I was. Memories began to quiver in me, glowing with a strange but familiar intimacy in which I found refuge. For a while, a deep sadness overcame me, as if I had chanced on a long-lost friend and mourned the years of separation. But soon the heartache of having missed so much of life, that had numbed me since I was a child, gave way, as if a grave illness lifted itself from me and I was cured, innocently believing in the beauty of life again. I stumblingly repeated the author’s name as I fell asleep, saying it over and over in the dark: Words-worth, Words-worth.”

 (“Lock and Key” from Working in the Dark: Reflections of a Poet of the Barrio, pg. 5-6)

Baca wrote Blood In Blood Out (also known as Bound by Honor) is a 1993 American crime-drama film directed by Taylor Hackford.

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