In 2002, I heard Jimmy Santiago Baca speak at the Virginia Festival of the Book. If you ever have a chance to hear this poet in person, you must go. His voice is being amplified by a documentary about his life, which I'm going to ask you to support at the end of this post. For now, I want to talk a little about poetry, literacy, and glitter.
Yes, we are in a glittering world, a glittering season right now, so much sparkling at us that any hard truths are trampled like flyers on a sidewalk, dropped from uncaring hands. OED says the first definition of the verb glitter is "To shine with a brilliant but broken and tremulous light"; Milton's use of glitter as a noun in 1667 reads "With what permissive glory since his fall Was left him, or false glitter."
The poetry I love the most is the poetry of honesty and appreciation. Pablo Neruda's Odes to Common Things. Marge Piercy's blessing the day, Lucillle Clifton blessing the boats. Give me an ode to socks, the dictionary, a strong woman's hips. Tell me a poem that will heat up my core, blow out the cobwebs taking over my soul, and infuse me with joy I am compelled to share.
Jimmy Santiago Baca is a poet of honesty and appreciation. His story is a more American story than ever, as the statistics show our alarming propensity for imprisoning our own citizens and our inability to provide effective, generous instruction in the foundation of democracy, literacy.
I have a clear memory of not yet knowing how to read. My doting and book loving parents had showered my sister and I with books and letters from the beginning of our existence. One evening, my sister read the Three Billy Goats Gruff aloud to us. She was highly praised. I picked up the book to also read it aloud and get my piece of the praise pie. My mother gently explained I was telling the story, but that wasn't the same as reading it. Click, click, click went my little mind...I don't remember exactly when I did learn to read, but I clearly remember understanding the difference between telling and reading, and knowing that I very much wanted to be able to read.
My childhood was one of trips to the library, books in the house. My parents can still recite every word of Green Eggs and Ham, so don't get them started if you can't stay for the whole performance. I remember my elementary school library with its endless biographies, all bound in the same blue and yellow covers, a life inside each book. I remember my junior high school library and the wonderful librarian there, Mrs. Linda Walker, who inspired me to be a librarian because in that whole school, she was my favorite person to talk to, and there she was, always, in that room full of books.
Shouldn't every child have a wealth of books in their life? Our country is so wealthy right now, it thinks it is poor. The bankers who sent so many spiralling into homelessness since the execrable financial criminality of the mid-2000s are not in prison, yet so many people who the country failed are in prisons.
Don't feel despair, I have something for you to do. What if you could hear from a poet who not only lived the experience of illiteracy and imprisonment, but survived it? What if you could share his message through a documentary. Well, you can. Here's the project:
A Place To Stand: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/aplacetostand/a-place-to-stand-final-cut
Hear from poet Jimmy Santiago Baca and filmmaker Daniel Glick. Retrieve your bank card and contribute as richly as you can, then share this link with all the other people you know who support literacy and poetry.
Then reward yourself with some poetry, maybe a trip to an independent bookstore, a library, your own bookshelf.