Poetry News

PBS NewsHour Visits Jimmy Santiago Baca at the Dawn of the New Year

By Harriet Staff
Jimmy Santiago Baca

Jimmy Santiago Baca began writing poetry while incarcerated at a New Mexico prison in his twenties. Baca wrote his first two poems for his girlfriend and grandmother. Now a prolific author and the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of New Mexico, PBS Newshour's Jennifer Hijazi introduces readers to one of his poems written specifically for the New Year. "Jimmy Santiago Baca wrote the collection, 'Winter Poems Along the Rio Grande' in 2004 after living on the banks of that river," Hijazi begins, explaining: "Every morning, he ran through snow, rain and mud in a ritual that he called a spiritual experience." From there: 

From this collection comes the poem, “It would be neat if with the New Year…,” which pays homage to life’s roads, especially the rough ones. It alludes to Baca’s own difficult past, and the desire to hang on to life’s tougher experiences.

Formerly incarcerated as a young man in his 20s, poetry was a way of remaking his life. Baca, convicted on drug charges in 1973, was illiterate until adulthood, but found refuge in books while in prison. He kept notebooks and was soon desperate to start writing poetry of his own.

He penned his first pair of poems while still in prison. One was for his grandmother: he wrote to tell her how much he loved her. Another was to his girlfriend: he asked her not to forget him.

“The initial impulse to write poetry came from those two, it came from an act of love,” he said.

Learn more at PBS Newshour.

Originally Published: January 3rd, 2018