The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Jimmy Santiago Baca begins “Green Chile” with a distinctly personal statement that establishes his intimate experience with one of the staples of southwestern American cuisine, then expands his meditation on the significance of the chile pepper in the life of the residents of that region throughout the poem. In a conversational address to the reader, Baca declares his preference for “red chile over [his] eggs” in the introductory section of the poem, the first of three parts which convey the poet’s lifelong involvement with an agricultural item that has a cultural resonance considerably beyond its delectable properties.

Indicating the central aspect of chile in his life, Baca describes how “Red chile ristras decorate [his] door,/ dry on [his] roof, and hang from eaves,” before widening the focus to show how forms of the plant are evident throughout the community, lending “historical grandeur” and a “festive welcome” to the market commons. Deepening the description, Baca personifies the plant, claiming that he can “hear them talking in the wind” and likening the sound of their talk to the “rasping/ tongues of old men,” evoking the spirit of village elders whose words recall ancient customs and ways.

The poem shifts perspective in the second section as Baca reverses the outward motion of the first part by developing a warmly detailed portrait of his grandmother, who, in contrast to the poet’s taste,...

(The entire section is 492 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In accordance with the dynamic physical nature of the plant at the center of the poem, Baca uses sensory images of a particularly engaging nature to convey the prominent qualities of the pepper. Sound, sight, touch, and taste are brought into play, as Baca hears “rasping tongues,” sees a “swan-neck stem, tapering to a flowery/ collar,” notes his grandmother taking the pepper “sensuously in her hand,/ rubbing its firm glossed sides,” and says, “my mouth burns/ and I hiss and drink a tall glass of cold water.” These are the components of what appears as a living entity, and Baca turns the chile in his grandmother’s hands into a metaphorical version of a romantic visitor. “Ah, voluptuous, masculine,” he calls “him,” with “an air of authority and youth.”

This leads toward an extended image of his grandmother in the act of preparing the meal, which is also designed to be read as an erotic exchange between parties with an open and honest mixture of desire and arousal. The culmination of the relationship is a comparison of the chile to “a tiger in mid-leap,” with “Its bearing magnificent and taut,” which Baca’s grandmother cuts open with a thrust of her blade and “lust/ on her hot mouth.”

The personification of the plant is designed to give it a place of prominence beyond an inanimate object, to suggest that it is a sentient being containing the spirit of the culture that Baca is celebrating. In casting...

(The entire section is 409 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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Fuss, Adam. “Jimmy Santiago Baca.” BOMB 84 (Summer, 2003): 58-63.

Harris, Marie, and Kathleen Aguero, eds. A Gift of Tongues: Critical Challenges in Contemporary American Poetry. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987.

Keene, John.“’Poetry Is What We Speak to Each Other’: An Interview with Jimmy Santiago Baca.” Callaloo: A Journal of African-American and African Arts and Letters 17 (Winter, 1994): 33-51.

Levertov, Denise. Introduction to Martín: &, Meditations on the South Valley. New York: New Directions, 1987.

Lynch, Tom. “Toward a Symbiosis of Ecology and Justice: Water and Land Conflicts in Frank Waters, John Nichols, and Jimmy Santiago Baca.” Western American Literature 37 (Winter, 2003): 405-428.

Meléndez, Gabriel. “Carrying the Magic of His People’s Heart: An Interview with Jimmy Santiago Baca.” The Americas Review 19 (Winter, 1991): 64-86.

Moore, George. “Beyond Cultural Dialogues: Identities in the Interstices of Culture in Jimmy Santiago Baca’s Martín and Meditations on the South Valley.” Western American Literature 33 (Summer, 1998): 153-177.

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Shirley, Carl R., and Paula W. Shirley. Understanding Chicano Literature. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988.

Stahura, Barbara. “The Progressive Interview: Jimmy Santiago Baca.” Progressive 67 (January, 2003): 26-30.