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W i n n i n g t h e W e s t in Jimmy S a n t i a g o B a c a ’s Bla c k Mesa Poems B e r n a r d Q u e t c h e n b a c h D i s p o s s e s s io n a n d In d i g e n i s t E n v ir o n m e n t a l i s m in B a c a ’s P o e m s Jimmy Santiago Baca came to prominence at a time when the Chicano movement poetry of the 1960s and ’70s was giving way to a more per­ sonal, polished verse exemplified by the work of writers such as Loma Dee Cervantes and Gary Soto. Baca’s first major collection, Immigrants in Our Own Land, published in 1979, introduced him as an authori­ tative voice for prisoners and for the Chicano communities of the Southwest. Baca has always taken his responsibility to these constituen­ cies seriously, though at times he has understandably resisted classifica­ tion as an ethnic spokesperson, to the point where he flatly asserts in an interview with Robert Franklin Gish, “First, I’m not a spokesman for Chicanos. Second, I’m not a Chicano writer. I’m a writer” (146). Baca’s impatience reflects the very success he has achieved as a public “poet of the barrio” and his attendant resentment at being typecast as such by Chicanos and others. In his earlier collections of poetry, however, fresh from the defining experience of prison and the literary development of the Chicano movement, Baca is ideally placed to figure his own life story as exemplary of Chicano values and concerns. Immigrants in Our Own Land established the autobiographical qual­ ity of Baca’swork, which was further developed in what Denise Levertov terms the “novels in verse” of his 1987 Martin and Meditations on the South Valley (xiii). By 1989, in Black Mesa Poems, the autobiographical narrator has settled down to family life in the Black Mesa rural commu­ nity, under the Manzano Mountains, close to the Rio Grande and the South Valley of Martin and Meditations on the South Valley. Though the subject matter, tone, and structure of the poems differ somewhat from those of his earlier works, Baca continues his practice of writing from a perspective that is both personal and persona. Not surprisingly, then, Baca merges the narrative structure and political awareness of movement writers with the more lyrical, intro- ♦ — W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e 4 2 .1 (S p r in g 2 0 0 7 ) : 5 - 2 5 . W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e S p r in g 2 0 0 7 spective character of the later poets. In an interview with Gabriel Meléndez, Baca explains his connection with movement writers such as Alurista and Rudolfo Anaya: “I think that without the poets and writers that came before me, I would have never formed the kind offoundations that I have today” (82). He suggests his link to a more personal, lyri­ cal vision by adding, “I think that my appearance in the literary world filled another developmental step toward the entire vision of who we are, and it was that emotional caring, compassionate, loving side of us” (83). Baca’s combination of political awareness and personal content is typical of what has been called post-movement Chicano poetry. Chicano movement poetry works by establishing a series of opposi­ tions through which Chicano culture is contrasted with the dominant white culture in the midst of which it exists. One of these divisions pits the Anglo idea of the conquest ofnature against the Chicano notion of a deep historical relationship with aparticular place. As Joan Penzenstadler notes, “in their own world view Chicanos live in comparative peace with nature” (159). It is not surprising, therefore, that, according to...


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