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A PLACE TO STAND by Jimmy Santiago Baca | Kirkus Reviews

Instructional Films and Lessons. Staff Picks. Please enable Javascript to use Kanopy! Show me how. The Video Project. Running Time. Daniel Glick. Jimmy Santiago Baca. Watch now. Comments 1. Related videos. Yes it was be there or be square as, clad in the slum chic of the hipster, he issued the slang anthems of…. A nonfiction narrative that takes you on a trip through the Slam Poetry phenomenon, following New York City's novice team on its journey to join over spoken word artists on 27 city teams at the National Poetry Slam in Portland, Oregon.

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Poetry in Motion Films We Like. Called the "Woodstock of Poetry" by American Film, and "Dazzling" by the Los Angeles Times, Poetry in Motion is an unprecedented anthology of twenty-four leading North American poets who sing, chant, anything but "read" their work. The result is a celebration of poetry's ancient oral tradition. This book will have a permanent place in American letters. At the age of twenty-one, however, he was illiterate and facing five to ten years in a maximum-security prison for selling drugs.

Five years later he emerged from prison with the ability to read and a passion for writing poetry. A Place to Stand is his memoir of childhood on small farms in New Mexico, his adolescence spent in orphanages and detention centers, his years as a drug dealer in San Diego and Arizona, and his extraordinary personal transformation under harrowing conditions behind bars. Deserted by his family, Baca escaped from an orphanage to face violence and bigotry. He ignored anyone who offered a way out, using his talent for fighting to stay strong on the rough-and-tumble streets.

Unemployed, Baca experimented with crime—and finally turned to drug dealing. Although these were acts of self-defense, they landed him repeatedly in solitary confinement.


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His time in isolation was intended to break his spirit, but it proved to the catalyst for an extraordinary series of memories and revelations that endowed him with an indomitable will to resist the dehumanization of prison life. Poetry became and essential element of this newfound sense of self, and the act of writing offered a powerful means of transcending his surroundings. A Place to Stand is a hell of a book, quite literally. He snapped irritably at the slightest infraction of his rules and argued continuously with Mother.

He drank every day and she sank deeper into sadness and anger. I felt safe in this peaceful refuge. A stray dog might be waiting when I entered. Happy to see me, he would roll on the cool earth, panting, his tail wagging, and lick my face. This happened on prairie ranches all over New Mexico, from the late s to the s, when my grandfather was a young man herding sheep on the range. People come and go; behind their conversations, a Motorola radio under the cupboards by the sink drones Mexican corridos or mass rosaries. Then tensions rupture in a night of rebukes.

Uncle Santiago cuffs his younger brother, Uncle Refugio, for coming home drunk again, and Grandpa scolds Father for his drunkenness. I remember wondering if those fights had something to do with what I saw one hot summer afternoon. I was six years old, in my crawl space under the shack—or La Casita, as we called it—where it was cool and quiet. I was drifting in a reverie when I was jolted back to the present by a door creaking open above me. I scooted to a dark corner and peeked up through a crack in the floorboards. A strange man entered La Casita and sat on the bed.

Mother came in behind him, and he embraced her. His shiny wingtip shoes scraped grit into my eyes. They watered painfully, but I forced myself to watch as he raised her skirt and ran his hands along her thighs. She protested, wrenching to one side and then to the other, pushing him away. I wanted to race into the shack and seize him but fear disabled me.

I scratched at the ground with my fingers and shook my head to blur what was happening. Dizzy and terrified, all I could do was brace my knees to my chest and hug myself in fear as their bodies bucked back and forth and the iron legs of the bed scratched on the wood floor. She shrieked and he groaned, and then all of a sudden they stopped, gasping for air and sighing. After he departed, she waited awhile and then left too. I lay in the dark, shaking uncontrollably.

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The ground trembled. In the distance, a train was braking into the railyard, either to load up sacks of beans or deposit milled lumber or field equipment. An hour or so later, feeling vibrations as it pulled out, I wished it could have taken all our family problems away with it. Days passed in anguish.

I never told Father and I never let on to my mother that I knew. Mother and I were napping one afternoon when I heard his car pull up outside, tires crunching gravel. She ran out to the car. He scoffed. Waiting at school, at the dance, at my house! You trapped me, you wanted it! She turned and came into the house, speaking to herself.

My mother grew up in Willard, New Mexico, with four sisters and three brothers on a forty-acre ranch with no water. Her father, Leopoldo, a Spanish Comanchero, was a renowned cabinetmaker whom I never met, because he died of alcoholism before I was born. His wife, whom I called Grandma Weaver, raised my mother and her seven siblings. They were poor cowboys and cowgirls. Being the youngest and prettiest, my mother, Cecilia, was shielded from much of the harsh work; she stayed indoors with her mother and cooked, canned fruits and vegetables, darned old clothes, and did housework.

Her older sisters planned on marrying railroad workers, diesel mechanics, or cowboys, but Cecilia had set her sights above such a mean life.


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  • Although her family was Spanish and poor, she was fair-skinned, green-eyed, and black-haired. Her family expected her to marry a well-off gringo with a big ranch, but her heart was set on Damacio Baca, a Mexican from a neighboring village, Estancia, whose parents were landless peasants. When she first saw him in his new car passing her school bus on her way to school, she knew they were going to get married.

    At fifteen, he wore store-bought clothes and was already working part time in the local grocery and feed store as stocker and cashier. Her opportunity to meet him came when he made the high school basketball team and she joined the cheerleading squad.

    Ontario A Place To Stand - 1967 -1080P Quality!

    He was the team star and she the head cheerleader. It was the perfect match. They went steady for several months; she got pregnant, and they dropped out of school to get married. Despite the early marriage, most people in Estancia were happy for them and pitched in to make their wedding a memorable one. People liked my father and urged him to work his way into politics and one day run for office. A year later my brother, Mieyo, was born, and when Father was not on the road—he was employed by the DMV to deliver license plates to rural villages—he was with politicos in Santa Fe, drinking at the Toro cantina.

    He was having trouble getting the jobs that the politicians promised him. Also, unlike his village, where everyone respected him, in the urban cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque, the whites looked down on Mexicans. She and Damacio were only sixteen when they got married, and with him gone most of the time she had her hands full. Grandma Weaver kept after Mother to divorce him, claiming Father was nothing but a drunk and a womanizer.

    A Place to Stand

    I remember him being two men. It wasn't so with my father; he spoke Spanish and used English only when he had to. He listened to Mexican music, and all his friends were Mexicans. I never saw him with an Anglo. He never said anything bad about them, but he made a point to stay away from them. I remember riding around with him and saying, "No, don't want to go in there, too many gringos.

    It smelled like urine and whiskey vomit. I held tightly to Mother's hand. The corridors were dark and gloomy, and the slightest sound echoed ominously in the hall. We stopped in front of a cell where men sat and stared at the wall in front of them. Some were crumpled on the floor where they had passed out. Then he added, clearly hurt that I was there, "I don't want him seeing me like this. Get me out of here. He stared at her.

    The Making of a Poet