Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday Night Poetry - Baca Style

“Language to me is what sunrise is to the birds…what water is to a man that just crossed the desert" - Jimmy Santiago Baca

Jimmy Santiago Baca's work speaks to me in ways that few authors can. For whatever reason it reaches and touches me with an unexplainable force and power as it dives directly to my depths - intellectually, artistically, and emotionally. A while ago Jimmy was our featured author at a campus literary arts event. The night before his reading and book signing there were a "by invitation only" select few of us who dined with Jimmy at a fellow professor's home. Our appetites were sated with the tenderest, most delicious Carne Asada I've ever eaten (and I've eaten more Carne Asada in my life than I can even begin to remember), guacamole nestled atop lettuce leafs in the mortar and accompanied by the pestle with which it was created, both appearing (the mortar and pestle, not the guacamole) to have been carved by ancient Mayan gods and tortillas, warm and freshly made on the premises by our host's abuela. Our thirsts were quenched with cervezas so cold it's as if each one was plucked from the icy streams of Oregon or Alaska, rivulets of ice "sweats" artistically dancing down each bottle as it was lifted from its temporary beer tub housing. We communed as English Professors, poets and writers do when given the chance and Jimmy honored us with a reading of never before heard sections from the galley of his new book which will be on bookshelves in the latter part of this year. The next night, after Jimmy's reading and book signing (which was SRO, even spilling out of the venue's doors), a select few of us took Jimmy to a nearby establishment for more communing, food (not anywhere near as good as the night before but satisfying nonetheless), music and, of course, "adult beverages" (the choice of this night was margaritas and tequila shots...are you getting the idea that English Professors, on occasion, indulge in "adult beverages"...hmm...). The night ended sooner to sunrise than not and I made my way home reflecting on conversations with him I will never forget. He is such an inspirational human being and his life story is beyond compelling. By the by, as a side note, Jimmy's performance on campus was filmed and one of my students is friends with the young man who did the filming (actually the young man who did the filming works for my student). Devon (my student) gave me a rough cut, an unedited copy (with the promise that he would give me the edited version next semester when he takes another one of my classes) of the performance at the end of the semester - it's fabulous.

Anyway, the whole reason I even started this blog is because I was reading some of his work earlier tonight and my mind wandered back to the aforementioned events, compelling me to go to YouTube and open the link to a performance he did on Def Poetry Jam in 2003. The clip below is "Untitled" but actually the poem he reads is entitled "Julia". I hope when you watch the clip you'll be able to tune in to the passion and power of his work.

Now that you've heard Jimmy tell you a little bit about Julia (he wrote a entire book about her that was published last year - it's titled Rita and Julia and it intensely transcends) , here's another link for you:
This link gives you the audio from a reading of his at the Chicago Field Museum.
I'll share brief comments on each selection but you really need to listen to all of the pieces, preferably as one continuous streaming listen. Seriously, listen to the whole thing and listen with more than your mind - listen with your heart.
What's really cool about the audio selections is the backstory Jimmy gives the audience before he reads each piece.
"Introduction" - Good to hear - gives some of Baca's backstory.
"Transvestite Poem #1 & Transvestite Poem #2" - Artist/photographer James Drake asked Jimmy to collaborate with him on a project wherein Drake took photos of transvestites in Mexico. He asked Jimmy to write a series of poems to accompany said photographs and that collaboration has been exhibited in numerous galleries and art venues. They have since done other projects together. I know that some of you reading this blog may have issues with the subject matter. However, if you'll look to the core of every human being having that basic need for love, for connection, for belonging, for identity I think you'll be able to get the message he's sending.
"What Kind of Poem is Appropriate" - A must listen. Very very powerful. I just hope that when I die someone is able to speak as lovingingly about me as he does about his friend who has just been murdered.
"Grandma" - I never knew any of my grandparents but the poem is still applicable to us all.
"I Called It Love" - Reflective and effective. Looking back, something we all should do and a message about not apologizing for who one is - very cool. Talks to one's inner sense of self.
"Set This Book on Fire" - This will grab you by your guts and not let go - very powerful.
"Little Girl" - Talks about a painting but primarily about his work with young students and how he feels about making sure "the light" doesn't go out in this particular child (and, on a grander scale, all of us). Compelling.
"Parting Words" - Another must listen. Very poignant. I don't want to give you too much detail because I want you to listen to his story and how it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to make sure we let the light live in all of us and how it's imperative that we don't put another person's light out - how we asbsolutely have to do whatever is necessary to keep the light burning.

One last link clip - this was a reading that Baca did in San Diego for the Museum of Contemporary Arts and UCSD's "Artists on the Cutting Edge" series. I'm too tired to provide commentary on this blog - perhaps I'll come back another day and update this entry. Anyway, it's well worth your time to watch and listen. You'll hear truth as he speaks from his soul to yours. I've seen Baca perform in person many times and, without fail, he's moved me to tears on every occasion.

OK, it's late, tomorrow is the Belmont Stakes and I still need to handicap the race. I hope you'll enjoy the Baca work I've provided. Don't just focus on his poetry that I've included in this entry - he's written some prose that will shake you to your core and I can turn you on to that work as well. He's someone you'll not forget, and his voice should (no, needs to) be shared and experienced.