(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Immigrants in Our Own Land provides samples of Baca’s early work, which is indeed prosy. The collection includes a number of so-called prose poems, description divided into prose paragraphs. Other poems are in free-verse lines. In both kinds of poems, however, the description is somewhat flat, including too much direct statement and metaphors which are commonplace or trite.

Similarly, the point of view in the poems is limited. Centered on Baca’s prison experience, the poems dwell on the plight of the inmates—on how Baca and the other inmates are ground down—but there is remarkably little concern with how they got there in the first place. It is as if readers are to assume that all these men are victims of mistakes and injustices. Baca may have even thought so at the time; he repeatedly expresses his solidarity with the other inmates and condemns the forces that oppress them.

The point of view, however limited, does have a positive side: “This is suffering, pain, anguish, and loneliness,/ but also strength, hope, faith, love, it gives a man/ those secret properties of the Spirit, that make a man a man.” There is a determination in Baca to endure and remain “strong enough to love you,/ love myself and feel good.” Despite harassment—in “It’s Going to Be a Cold Winter,” new guards ransack Baca’s cell and subject him to a strip search—a healing process occurs, encouraged by the passing time, moments of...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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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.

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Olivares, Julián. “Two Contemporary Chicano Verse Chronicles.” The Americas Review: A Review of Hispanic Literature and Art of the USA 16, nos. 3/4 (Fall/Winter, 1988): 214-231.

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.