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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