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The Complexity of Poetry


“I’d rather die than suffer another day as one of the obedient, silent ones,” said award-winning poet and writer Jimmy Santiago Baca during his public reading in the Chapel on March 1.

Baca, born in New Mexico and a writer of Chicano descent, was serving a five-year sentence in a maximum security prison when he first learned how to read. Since then, he has composed several poetry collections and founded a non-profit organization called Cedar Tree that offers writing workshops to prisoners, at-risk youth and disadvantaged communities.

Hamilton Professor of Creative Writing Doran Larson, who also teaches prison writing and has worked closely with the poet, introduced Baca. Baca then read several poems, including those from his collections Black Mesa Poems and The Lucia Poems: Breaking Bread with the Darkness II.

In between readings, Baca spoke candidly about the urgent need for all individuals (especially minorities) to tell their stories. He said that “ is so unwritten about in this country” and “America indulges in teaching selective history,” as demonstrated by the number of events that are forgotten in social studies classes or the media.

Also recognizing the current political climate of the country, he reminded students that “hiding yourself behind privilege and entitlement doesn’t work.” He said that remaining indifferent to the world’s problematic reality will only cause a greater divide and saw poetry as a way to speak in the fight for social justice.

Baca also held a master class the following day where he focused on the complexity behind writing poetry and assisted students in refining their own poems, reiterating the social power that poetry can have.

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