In The Lucia Poems, Jimmy Santiago Baca recounts sitting down with professor andRestless Books publisher Ilan Stavans at the 2010 International Book Fair in Miami:
It’d been a long time
and it felt good to be sitting with an old friend.
The years had put their teeth marks in us;
around our eyes were small bites,
where we had winced from the pain and squinted
in our years of toil and struggle.
We went from virtual anonymity as visionaries
to world-renowned poets, writers, critics—
middle-aged now and soothed by the pastel colors of this city,
the beige, pale rose, and light lime colonial architecture.
Recently, the old friends spoke again—this time on the eve of Restless’s publication of Baca’s new essay, "The Face," and his Breaking Bread with the Darkness poetry collections. As much here as in his verse and prose, the award-winning poet’s voice crackles with life and a sense of simile.
IS: What would you do if you saw someone who had your face?
JSB: Probably run like hell or dash up to him and kiss him!
Do you remember the faces of some of the inmates you met in jail?
Sad, gruesome, frightened, lifeless, despairing, cruel, thumbed by a drunken god mourning his ineptitude, an unskilled attempt at defining sorrow in the flesh. So He made a mistake, and humans who enter the portals of despair exist with the mark of a god who could not claim his creative inheritance. Call it a song of mourning, these faces. They define the war field strewn with corpses. They tell off bells and cities sacked and wrecked and cracked, and make each note a sublime opera of the human condition.
Is it true that only someone who has been in jail for murder can really understand what a character like Hamlet goes through?
It depends greatly on the person's ability to empathize; it's all a question of quality of character and life experience.
If you had a magic wand and could change three things around you, what would they be?
Not too sure I'd change anything. When you tinker with Fate, it bites you back. One must dive into the stream and learn how to swim with the current.
How do you explain the anti-Mexicanism alive in the US today?
Anti-Mexicanism is another form of ignorance that cloaks fear and threatens lifestyles of greed. When they see me, they see a time when they have to throw away the syringe and drug of gluttony; they can no longer have it all. My presence makes them see the face behind their face—the sneer behind the smile, the blind rage behind the mask of caring benevolence.
What does it mean for you when someone speaks a foreign language?
Freedom and a healthy heart and mind. Seeing life through two lenses.
What's the difference between writing poetry and writing prose?
The first is picking cherries directly from a tree in the forest you encounter on a walk. The other is buying a cherry pie at a Village Inn Pancake House.
Is digital literature different from print literature?
Yep, the first lacks intimacy, sex with a rubber; the second is a love affair, a mad, ribald encounter with a lusty provocateur who makes your soul bellow and groan with ecstasy, even as it hurts.
Should books be free? Or should they be paid like TV, radio, or Facebook, through advertisement?
Absolutely fucking not. How else would a poet pay his bills and eke out his meager existence?
What if your children Lucia and Esai could live a single day inside you and you could live that single day inside them?
If that were possible it would be lovely, as my children are so lovely. I would then know what heaven is truly like. On the other hand, they would know what it is to be an idiot—alas, one who dances to the delights of dawn each morning.