Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What portrait of convict life is painted by Jimmy Santiago Baca’s prison poems?

Does Baca’s poetry glamorize crime and violence?

Discuss how Baca’s use of Chicano Spanish adds flavor to his poetry.

Denise Levertov has said that Baca’s works have a mythic quality. Explain in what ways they present a mythic view of Chicano life and the American Southwest.

Discuss the theme of parenthood or need for family in Baca’s poetry.

How is Baca’s poetry a commentary on the concept of machismo?

In Martín: &, Meditations on the South Valley, is Martín a fully developed character like those found in fiction?

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Jimmy Santiago Baca (BAH-kah) has drawn extensively on the difficult circumstances of his early years and on his involvement with the social and political concerns of his cultural community in his poetry. The autobiographical orientation of his writing often results in the placing of prose commentary amid poetry. Similarly, in his memoir Working in the Dark: Reflections of a Poet of the Barrio (1992), essays and reflective accounts of his experiences are blended with passages of poetic intensity. A Place to Stand: The Making of a Poet (2001) is a recollective re-creation of his youth, adolescence, and years in prison. He also coedited The Heat: Steelworkers Lives and Legends (2001; with Stacy James) and wrote, as well as coproduced, the film Bound by Honor (1993; released on video as Blood in, Blood Out). The letters that Baca and Denise Levertov exchanged between 1976 and 1987 were issued by the Stanford University Library Department of Special Collections in 1998.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Jimmy Santiago Baca has been recognized for his efforts with a National Endowment for the Arts Literary Fellowship (1986), the Pushcart Prize (1988), the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation (1988), and the International Hispanic Heritage Award (1990). He has also served as the Wallace Stevens Professor at Yale (1989) and held the Regents Berkeley Chair at the University of California (1990), and he was the winner of the International Poetry competition at Taos, New Mexico, in 1996 and 1997. In 2001, he received a Discover Award through Barnes and Noble, as well as an International Hispanic Heritage Award for his memoir A Place to Stand. In 2003, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of New Mexico. In 2006, Baca won the Cornelius P. Turner Award for his contributions to education, justice, public service, and social welfare.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Coppola, Vincent. “The Moon in Jimmy Baca.” Esquire, June, 1993, 48-56. A revealing profile that links the poet’s life with his work.

Gish, Robert Franklin. Beyond Bounds: Cross-Cultural Essays on Anglo, American Indian, and Chicano Literature. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996. Contains an informative essay on Baca’s use of the myth of the legendary city of Aztlán and his consideration of the sociology of the border.

Levertov, Denise. Introduction to Martín; &, Meditations on the South Valley, by Jimmy Santiago Baca. New York: New Directions, 1987. An extremely incisive discussion by the poet who was instrumental in helping Baca publish his work.

Rector, Liam. “The Documentary of What Is.” Hudson Review 41 (Summer, 1989): 393-400. One of the best literary analyses of Baca’s poetic methods.

Schubnell, Mathias. “The Inner Landscape of the Self in Jimmy Santiago Baca’s Martín; &, Meditations on the South Valley.” Southwestern American Literature 21 (1995): 167-173. Focuses on the personal and autobiographical elements.