Jimmy Santiago Baca - Photo by Gloria Graham

Poet Jimmy Santiago Baca to read in Taos

By Bill Knief

Posted in

Jimmy Santiago Baca is a highly respected poet and man of letters who rose to national prominence from prison and the barrios of Albuquerque.

The UNM-Taos CAMP program (the College Assistance Migrant Program) under the direction of Juan Montes has arrange a free public reading and Youth Slam in Bataan Hall, Friday (Aug. 29), 4-6 p.m., and the Town of Taos has issued a proclamation designating Aug. 29 as Jimmy Santiago Baca Day.

The first time I heard Baca read was decades ago in the old La Doña Luz Restaurant & Bar off Kit Carson Road, thanks to the Taos Poetry Circus and the savvy poetic duo, Anne MacNaughton and Peter Rabbit, who were the ringmasters for the Circus during its amazing 21-year run. At that time, I not only hadn’t read him, I hadn’t even heard of him.

It didn’t take long, though, before he became the challenger in the World Heavyweight Championship Poetry Bout in Taos, and then two-time World Heavyweight Champion Poet. He has won the Pushcart Prize, the American Book Award, the International Hispanic Heritage Award, the International Award and other prestigious recognitions.

That night in the back room of La Doña, Baca stood up, sipping a cocktail, and announced he was going to read from his semi-autobiographical epic poem “Martin” for the first time before a live audience. It started like this:

Pinos Wells —

an abandoned pueblo now.

The presence of those who lived

in these crumbling adobes

lingers in the air

like a picture


leaves its former presence on the wall.

I was struck by the powerful yet everyday imagery delivered in a direct, straightforward manner. Listening to Baca read his poetry was like having an intensely personal conversation with a passionate and thoughtful friend. The ghosts of people long gone compared to the outlines left behind by a picture no longer hanging on the wall is a metaphor that leaves no room for artifice.

Baca is no lightweight. Recounting his own abandonment by his parents, Martin recalls,

When mother and father

abandoned me, and the ancient hillgods of my emotions

in caves of my senses

screamed …

I came forth into the dark world of freedom.

Perhaps it is this unflinching honesty, combined with the hard experiences of his life, that have caused Baca to direct his writings and teachings toward those who seek to overcome hardships. According to his website, in 2005 Baca created Cedar Tree Inc., a nonprofit foundation that works to give people of all walks of life the opportunity to become educated and improve their lives.

It’s not by accident that CAMP, which also serves students who are determined to overcome hardships, has made it possible for Taoseños to experience an evening with this remarkable man.

In addition to the reading, Baca will be joining the CAMP class during the day and conducting a professional development session with UNM-Taos English faculty. Baca has generously donated his honoraria for this event to Cedar Tree, Inc.

About The Bill Knief