An unedited interview with Jimmy Santiago Baca (JSB) by Rudy Miera (RM). Feburary 14, 1993
RM: In my opinion I consider your poetry medicine, poetry of healing. How if affects yourself after you right. Would you care to comment on that?
JSB: I'll comment on that indirectly. There's this thing, there's this very debiliting reality that happens in the institutions in America and it has something to do with all this hub-bub about political right thinking and European thought and all this other stuff, and that is that, specifically with Chicano literature and Chicano works, poetry, and theater, and movies and so forth, and that is, that somehow if you order the books of the Chicano poets and Chicana poets and writers you're gonna be tainted with something that's inferior. You're not getting the best education. You're not getting the best of what's to offer in the way of thought, and feeling, and philosophy, and point of view, and so forth. And, a lot of that has to do with two things, and you can see a reflection of it in the Black culture, Black culture with Alex Haley and people before him with Marian Barach and other people is that they were able, a long time ago, to start to deal with the pain of being slaves and having their women raped by the white male, right? But, there's a tendency in our own Chicano culture where our kids are going to school now in high schools and universities feel that the only books that are written by Chicanos and Chicanas that they think they're not getting the best. So we might as well go with the great white model. And the reason that they have the tendency to do that, unconsciously, is because most of the poets that are working, writer's that are working from the Chicano culture, are working with things that are happening with them and their own experiences, and their vision for the future, and their history, and their past. And all of that entails information as one thing, but when the information that you're getting inside your body has become extremely painful. The thing about Chicano literature that's so difficult is that it's something that's just for the mind. It's just not for the brain. You can read a book by Whitman, Walt Whitman, Izra Pound, TS Eliot, anybody like that . . . you can get that kind of poetry and feel okay about it but when you begin to get a book and you read the book and it affects you personally, your own archetypal sense of what your emotions are, and where you live, and your place in the world. And those books deal profoundly with the pain that your ancestors have gone through and what you're going through. Then the question arises, whether or not you're able to deal with that pain, whether or not you want to face that pain, or whether or not you want to try to heal yourself. And consequently, as a poet whatever I deal with in my work ultimately has some pain to it because I am of a colonized people. White males did rape all my Indian grandmothers, all my Indian mothers, all my Mexican mothers, all my Mexican sisters. They did rape them and for me to be able to literally dive into that and feel that is very very painful. But on the other side of that, I have to come out of that with an extraordinary sense of healing, and I do heal myself. And there's a lot of Chicanos in school today that pretend and don't even want to get close to our books because of the pain. There's a lot of professionals that won't even order the books because it shows their past in a very dim dim light. They're not important anymore. They're not the role models. They're not the ones that we're pursuing to be like. Because we're dealing with something entirely different. Something that we're discovering as we write about it. So consequently what happens is that the pivot, or the gravitational point of the power structure in a classroom like in a literature classroom turns from the professor to the student, and not only then becomes really really uncomfortable, it becomes extremely painful. In essence you have people that are experiencing deep emotional traumas and healing those things. Now does that belong in the classroom? I don't know. I would have it in my classrooms, yes. I think if we added a little more humanity in the classroom and less regurgitation for grades I think we'd be a lot healthier.
RM: In a way it seems you're talking about a type of literature that has no precedent, no model. It's like mestizo literature, right? In your latest book, in Working In the Dark, por ejemplo, you've got essays that turn into poetry, and then short stories, there's journal entries, do you think that's a characteristic of Mestizo literature?
JSB: I think each of us has to choose our own way of dancing. It's very well understood how we model what we print off of the European type. A book should be like this and a thought should be like this. Almost to the very last editor, ultimately all of us have to come up to this person and everything that we do has to be riddled with observations. They must stick to the criteria of the European. Now in the Indio culture and the Mejicano culture it's okay if poetry moves you to a point where you stand up and you cry out loud. It's okay to weep, it's okay to grab your child and feel deep deep compassion and embrace your child. And I find that I do that, and I find that I allow myself to do that, and I find that I've allowed myself to dance the dance that I want to dance. And so, I may have an essay, and then I may go onto poetry, I may go ahead and do this. And what my problem is that life in it's truest sense follows the spontaneous organic cry of life. And when we try to structure that it becomes very dangerous because we have to ask ourselves, "who are we structuring it for, what's it doing to us as a person?" I do believe in craft and I do believe in structure and all of that. But I also believe that when you're seventeen years old, and you're in high school, and you happen to be a Chicano, and for the last five hundred years they have written that you're worthless and you're no good, I think that then and there you must put craft and structure aside, and give the ultimate cry of beauty for that individual - that, "I am beautiful, and I can dance, and this is who I am, and listen to me." That transcends and supersedes any of the craft bullshit that goes along with, "my goodness, what a wonderful writer he is, I suppose." I would much rather have the acceptance of a young Chicana going to UNM that weeps over the book at night and says, "this is the book I'll keep on my bedstand." As opposed to some professor in New Hampshire saying, "goodness me, what wonderful sentence structure," you know? Chale, man.
RM: So you say form follows function. It's the ideal of the corazon, where it's coming from originally, right? You use whatever shape is needed to express that original feeling.
JSB: I'm not saying that spontaneity, if it's a deep enough emotion that comes from a deep enough place in the heart has it's own inherent structure. It's the kind of structure that a mountain has, that we don't see but a painter sees. It's the kind of structure that a beautiful whale has when it surfaces for air, we don't see the structure, we don't see the craft in that. It's organic, it's universal, it's cosmos, right? But that's what I do in Working In the Dark. I try to figure that cosmic craft that swells in the bones when you hear a beautiful song or when you see an incredible tree. There's something deep there that has nothing to do with the way a New York editor thinks about it, you know? And has everything to do with the last fifty billion years of the earth's existence. That's craft.
RM: You're known for giving some extremely strong and inspiring readings. In one sense do you think that some of your writing is a script for performance? In other words, what's the relationship between the written word and the spoken word?
JSB: I think that topic lays good ground work for controversy because I fall on both sides of the fence and I can hear someone saying, "my goodness, you're one of those comprising fools," right? But I have a right to say that as opposed to many other people because I come from a dual culture, I have a dual personality, yo soy European and American, right? I come from the Vigen de Guadalupe, and from Tezcatlipoca, and from all of these great gods and goddesses, that have to do with duality. I am a dual person. So on the one hand, I have heard people whisper their poetry and demand that not one single pieho in the hair move, right? Nothing, that you do not even breath, you must seize breathing while I read. On the other hand, I've been in certain areas in the South where Blacks scream and music breaks the sound of the silence, and in the lower East Side, and in California where people begin to hold hands, and chant and become part of the poem, and all the barriers are broken. See, you have two sides of that. You have the English tea room where you must sit quietly and sip your tea and then you have this extraordinary visionist dance around the fire, with the full moon groaning and the earth opening up and men and women groaning with it, in the poem. So where you fall in that is entirely up to your cultural orientation. If you come from that school in Europe where you can't even breath while the poem is being read, that's okay it has it's merits. But, if you come from a group of people who have been oppressed and colonized and who have this deep deep deep need to communicate their deepest feelings. And when Lorca reads and someone yells out and says, "yeah! ¡Simone, odale que si!" you can't criticize that person who has been institutionally shut up in a dungeon for five hundred years. What do you expect somebody's who's coming out of the darkness to say when he hears a great great song? You can compare it to the metaphor of a culture that's been in the dungeon, in the darkness, that's never been allowed to speak. And when that culture comes out into the broad daylight and they see a great great horse running across the fields, the children are going to say, "oh, mira, mira caballito, mira,," as opposed to a gentleman with his tweed coat on, who's smoking his pipe and he simply gives a small muffled chortle. We have two different ways of accepting that, but I tell you what, if we in turn can get five Englishmen and stick them in the dungeon for thirty days. I guarantee you when they come out if we play Bach that they're going to cry and say something more than just breathe.
RM: Gritando instead of commentating, right?
JSB: Yeah, you have to take all of that into perspective. Not just come up with these ridiculous essays that these companies in New York, I mean very specifically these hooty tooty companies that say, "we're the greatest in the world," you know, these poets who pose and come out and say, "you're not supposed to do this and you're not supposed to do that." Well that may be fine for people who have not been oppressed for five hundred years. When you have people coming out of the darkness you have to give them because they've earned the right to cry out their emotions.
RM: How do you feel about the influence of place? I mean, Nuevo Mejico, even though we're part of Atzlan, we're even different than California, Arizona, or Colorado and so on. What is the influence of place in your work?
JSB: The influence of place on me is when I used to go as a little boy, I was in the orphanage, and I would go into the church and I was never one to understand what was going on. I didn't know why they crucified Jesus. I didn't know why the priest was raising the chalise. I didn't know nothing. But I did know that in the (illegible) matter if I let all personality, and all ego and everything just kind of float away like old seaweed moss and just let my body indulge in the sensual stimulation, in the religious ritual that I was doing . . .
RM: Smelling of the incense.
JSB: So I'd smell the incense and I saw the sunlight coming through the stain glass and behind it I saw the shadows of pigeons. They were bickering over whatever this other pigeon had eaten. And behind me all these ratty little kids with mocos coming out were singing latin verses. They were all garbled. And there was incense, and everybody was there, and you could hear the little hush of rosary beads, and the murmuring of old viejas in the back, right? All of that together became, to me, grander than the finest Gregorian chant. It became something sublime and spiritual that shuddered the soul.
RM: A natural symphony?
JSB: Yeah, a natural symphony of the soul. So that when I was able to go outside, I experienced the same thing. I'd smell the cedar, I saw the dew on the roses, I saw the warm softness of the gravel, and the deep deep greeness of the grass. And I allowed myself to fall in love with the land and I allowed the land to infuse my being with meaning. And when the land, in it's physical composition, when the chemistry of the grass and weeds would constrict that night with the cold, or when the sun came out and they opened themselves up and they let all these residues out, the smell. And you could really feel the soft leavening of the earth, like masa, like harina, begin to open up and begin to feel the fingers of the air working the leaves. And it was occurring in me at the same time. So I was in love with the earth. The earth was in love with me. And I was not there like some dam car salesman saying, "now look it's a great fuckin' day, now this motor has a V-7, got new tires, and it'll get you 32 miles to the gallon." I didn't care about any of that. I didn't understand where cars came from. I didn't even know where this man's suit came from, how this man ever got to the point of selling cars. All I did know was that this incredible tree was throwing out all these grasshoppers and if I could catch one grasshopper . . . I was participating in the ritual of what we Chicanos call, es mi paiz. I knew the trees, I knew the dust, I knew the pebbles, I knew the bush, it was mi paiz. And when I went to a certain point where the smells were alien where I no longer knew the scent of stones, I knew I was in someone else's paiz. Not because of fences but because everything became alien to me. And I call it my land because I'm intimately a part of the trees, and the smells, and the touches, and the sights of this land.
RM: Martin was a poem that was born and labored at the old house in Sedillo, que no? Now you've moved here, is there any difference writing in the shadows of Black Mesa as opposed to the old Sedillo house?
JSB: No it's just different . . . I mean, it's all just different. You have to understand that one place doesn't necessarily mean that it constricts itself to only one theme. One place is, as Blake would say, in a pebble the universe exists. So, in my southwest, I have all the cosmos. It's simply, this place demands I profoundly go on this journey to see the things a thousand different ways. That's what a place is. That's why you fall in love with a place, you begin to appreciate it's just not one thing. That in the wind I've heard the most deepest songs of mourning and grief. And in the wind I've also heard the highest highest epiphanies of joy and connection. There's a million songs in the wind in my pais. You know, I try to just tune into one and another time I tune into another one. So I have everything here.
RM: Would you care to talk about authors from Nuevo Mejico, like maybe Robert Gish? Are there any particular favorites? And why?
JSB: Well, when you ask a question like authors you immediately bring in red light, red light, danger, danger, alliances, alliances, right? Oh oh if I work for the university I'd better not talk bad about this guy because he's going to invite me here, right? Oh oh, oh oh I'd better not talk bad about him because so and so belongs to the Chicano culture, right? Oh oh, oh oh he's going to invite me to a reading, that's a thousand bucks I'll get. Oh oh, oh oh maybe he'll publish my book here, right? You talk about everything else that has ultimately brought true literature in danger. If I was to speak about great poems that have moved me and great literature that has moved me, I would have to say that a number of people that are greatly respected are nothing but a bunch of chumps. The only reason they're respected is because they have such an incredibly defined network, within organizations that care nothing about true poetry. They care nothing about true literature. Those networks are so strong that they've been suffused with everything else, all the other interests, except the interest of what a good poem is.
RM: So politics have entered literature?
JSB: The politics of literature have made true poetry an endangered species. You know what I'm saying? So if you ask me, who are the people that I truly respect for just the poetry, just the work that they've done and not what they're going to do for me, not that I may insult them, or that they're going to blacklist from going to do a reading at, say UNM, right? Oh my god, I can't say this because I may not become a teacher. Oh my god, I mean, and I'm not even going to say that's uncouth for you to even talk about. That shows your uncivilized barbarity, right, for you to even bring up that topic. Well, that's the great silent haunted specter that we all writers face in our interviews - you can't say certain things - because if you do you may not get invited to come read here, you know? Now on the other side of that coin is this, anybody who tries to be a writer, anybody who truly wants to be a writer or a poet, and never makes it, is always haunted by the writers who do, by the writers who write great, because great writing is not something that you can ignore. You read it and you either grit your teeth with envy and avenge yourself by becoming more powerful in your English department or you thank God that the person has been able to endure the gift, and has disciplined himself, or herself, so they were able to be there when the poem came, right? You become very generous with your spirit, not a mean spiteful spirit, right? So, I don't envy those who try to destroy poets and good poetry because they have to sleep with their own demons. Like in Beethoven, the one who always wanted to be Beethoven in that movie. You know that movie?
RM: Oh, Amadeaus? The other composer, Salieri, Antonio Salieri.
JSB: Yea, Salieri. Salieri is a perfect perfect role model for 99% of the people who profess to teach and know what poetry is. They have such extraordinary envy and they do such mean spirited things to people, you know? I see this from where my position is on a farm where I have to feed my dogs and I have to worry about paying bills, and I have lovely lovely children and an extraordinary woman, Beatrice right? And wonderful friends, I have great Chicano friends, wonderful Chicano friends, and great White friends and Black friends and everybody, we're all this big huge wonderful family, that just is wonderful, right? And then you fall into these other political worlds where peoples interests is not that for poetry but all these little spiteful things, you know? And it just makes me sad, more that anything else it makes me sad. People actually know nothing about me. To this date, I've heard that I make four million dollars a year. I've heard that I'm a bank robber. I've heard that I've got seven thousand mistresses . . . I don't know . . . everywhere I go people have heard stuff. That so and so publishing company turned me down, that I turned them down. All these incredible rumors abound, right? And wait till the movie comes out, even more are going to abound, right? And then this other book comes out, even more are going to abound. The reason I think they abound is because I have so little to do with trying to pose myself as one of the pedigree poodles in that world. You know? I'm simply a man. Trying to learn how to be a better man as I live day to day, trying to speak the truth, trying to be respectful, trying to do the things that I think would make my life better.
RM: What about young writers, like we were talking about earlier, that the Ink Slinger had published some of the young students over at Alameda Junior High in Santa Fe?
JSB: Well, one of the things that I'm doing now, I'm doing with you actually, is going back into my community and working with students in high school. I think that one of the obligations if you're going to stand up in front of anybody and say, "I'm a poet and I'm a writer," I think that writing is half of it, discipline is all of that, trying to write the best that you possibly can, giving everything you have to that. The other side is that you have to give back to your community. I honestly believe that. I don't say that from a political perspective, I say that from a humane perspective. That as a human being, you have to go back to the high schools, to the community centers, and groups of kids and work with them to allow them to find their voice. Allow them to understand who you are and take away the myth that you're special, right? I never thought that either. I thought that it was enough to go onstage and mouth things off. I thought it was enough to send energies that we have to take care of the children. I thought it was enough to write about these special issues. And it's not enough. I think you have to go out, hands on, and work with children, help them write, help them find the voice that you were blessed with, that you work hard to do. I think you have to try to work with them and that's why a magazine like this honors me by allowing me an interview. Because in its pages they have children's poetry. They deal with issues that I think are the heart of poetry and that's life.
RM: Would you care to talk about the novel at all? How long have you been working on it?
JSB: I've been working on it in my head for a long time. It's taken me down a different route and it's teaching me so many things. The thing about novels as opposed to poetry is that novels familiarize you with the most intimate secrets of human beings. You realize ultimately that the most difficult thing to do is to realize that we all have the same secrets and they're subtly charged in different ways, but to get at this deep secret that's held in the heart of a seven year old boy and the dichotomies that occur. You know what it is? Poetry is a flower, it's a rose, say a white rose. And fiction is a white rose that somehow became black. You know? It shows you the human distortion and it's that distortion that makes our fragile beauty so wonderful.
RM: Do you feel that having the larger space, the bigger canvas, of a novel has been a source of self discovery?
JSB: Oh yea, it's amazing. It's a sense of self discovery in the sense that I always thought that a white rose was a white rose because I was a poet. I've thrown myself into poetry. I've always been in this pure world of such extraordinary beauty. You can find a poem and work on it., You work it and you distill it. You distill it to it's most pure form. I mean purity in the sense of all of that we do as human beings and being able to accept those things. Like Eugene O'Neil with the woman on the boat and the man begging to say something that he's afraid to say, and she says, please tell me. And the man says, could I smell your panties? And the woman takes them off, gives them to him and she says to the man, "ultimately anything that is human is never filthy," right? That's what you do as a poet. You try to get into that world where it's the most extreme beauty that humans have. Fiction, on the other hand, is you think that a rose is white or red. You think that a red rose is a red rose and you go looking for it. You go through all these different journeys and ultimately you come to the garden and you find that all these red roses got pink petals and all the blue roses got green petals and you're like wow this is all of humanness, it doesn't have Gods touch. This is humanity left to it's own resources and then you realize the beauty that we've created with that. It's like, my God, we actually got a black rose and put white petals on it, isn't that amazing? That's what fiction tells you. You have to accept that and you realize in accepting it that it's so simple. You know? It's so simple to see that your grandfather, when he gets up in the morning, is mortal. And when you're around somebody as great as Van Gogh, that he actually farted when he got up. I mean, that's the human condition, that's the black rose with the white petal, it's not perfect. It's not supposed to be this way but it is. And great fiction is what allows us to accept our condition in the most profound humanity . . .1 like that.
RM: Do you think you'll do more novels after this, or will you go back to poetry, or work in both? You've had to stop writing poetry while you're doing the novel, right?
JSB: Somewhat, yea. I think you have to give yourself totally to one thing. You know? You have to sacrifice and surrender to it and if you don't you're a fool for not. You know? It's like saying you can drink wine and tequila at the same time.
RM: Not a good ideal.
JSB: Not a good ideal, right? So why don't you stick with one if you're going to drink one and not drink too much. The other side of that coin, is when I'm working on my novel, I work from about nine to one. And I know that I would be a romantic hero if I worked from nine o'clock, around the clock, for five days straight, come out with my hair frizzed like Einstein. But I'm not into jumping off bridges. I'm not into having nervous breakdowns. I'm not into any of that stuff. So, I really try to discipline myself and take care of myself because if the novel says to me - number one, you're foolish enough to want to attempt it - number two, come and sit down and work. I have to be sensible enough to take care of myself so I can bring the best of who I am to it, you know? And carve it out. So I go running, I play with my children, I take them to school, we mess around, I pick them up. I try to let life enter me and ultimately and hopefully it will go out from me onto the page, you know? There's something that happens here, I don't know what, but there's this circle, there's this reciprocal, reciprocity that occurs, that allows all of what we're doing to be organically mulched. So that something comes out of it, you know? Something that's real.
RM: So essentially, you've spread this out over a long period of time, maybe a longer period of time than anything, except maybe the screenplay, you worked on the movie for a long time, right?
JSB: I worked on the movie four years. The novel I'm working on now, I've had it in my head for a long time, and I just attempted it, and I've taken stabs at it. But, now I'm really well into it. I'm over half way there. So I'm there, you know?
RM: How about the movie? Do you want to talk about it at all?
JSB: The movie I worked on four years, I'm the executive producer, I act and I wrote it and that's the first of many movies I hope to make. I don't know, maybe not, but I'm still going to write them. But the movie itself deals with the questions of my Chicano people and our place in the world. But I don't really think about the world and what others are going to think about. I've got real real profound questions that I have to answer for myself, in this movie. And it's amazing because it's a totally different genre, it's a totally different means, and expectations, and demands that it puts on you. So again, you have to metamorphosis, you have to go from lizard to butterfly, from butterfly to bird. You have to be totally different. Everything is different that's demanded of you. All the requirements are different. You work with machines, you work with people, it's very collaborative, you know? You work with musicians, with actors, people who have their own brains and souls, you know, their own needs. So it's a whole different, whole different world.
RM: Collaborative in a way?
JSB: It's only collaborative. If you're not going to be collaborative then get out of town. I don't believe in this, "well, I'm the writer guy and if you're not going to listen to my vision, hell with you." It doesn't work. That's the romantic thing, fine, it's not going to work that way. It's ultimately the great bridge where you have to meet other people and work with them. Whites, Blacks, I don't care if you're Green, you've got to work with people, you know? All of you. It's the sensible thing. What the movie does then is break down the barriers and show you like Jungian principle says that we're all ultimately of communal myths . . . the same . . . we're all humans. But, getting back to the ideal of movies. I worked on it for four years, it was very difficult. But, I've posed questions for myself personally. What does this mean to me? What does this mean for a Chicano kid to grow up and what happens in that particular man's soul, in that woman's soul. It was a very personal journey, and now it's going to go out to the world, and now you're going to see how personal it was. Some people may be insulted by it. Others may be changed by it. I certainly have gone through some deep questioning in my own life. I question myself a lot.
RM: I remember reading somewhere, "in the struggle between us and society, and other people, we create rhetoric but in the struggle between us and God we create poetry".
JSB: I think the ideal of struggle . . . ahh . . . I've always struggled but it's not been struggling with the artistic errors or with polemical politics. I don't know anything about capitalism. I don't know anything about Marxism. All I know is that there are twenty babies at St. Joseph's hospital that were put up for adoption, and nineteen of them happened to be brown, and the only one that was white was taken out within thirty minutes to be adopted. That's all I know. Why don't people like us? Why don't people take us? Why are we falling apart as a culture? What's happening to our families? I can't put isms on hunger. I can't put isms on taking a sixteen year old kid and throwing him in prison for fifty years. There's no philosophy, that for me, is able to encapsulate that grief, that horror, you know, that injustice. I can't. I have to approach it . . . innocence becomes the monster. I have to approach things innocently. Innocence becomes the monster because it's the thing that doesn't believe. Innocence is the thing that doesn't accept. Innocence is the thing that believes all people should be treated equally. Innocence is not an ism. Innocence is this horrible horror lurking beneath the bridge and when people try to cross it it reaches up and shows the worse thing about yourself, you know? So that's how I approach things that I do in my life, with a sense of innocence and if anything drives my heart it's innocence.
RM: And do you feel it's been basically untouched . . . even through the years?
JSB: Oh I've been abused by the system. I mean, I've gone through the horrors of it all. I've been shot, thrown piss at, cursed, and mocked, drug through the streets, and beaten. Anything you can imagine that would insult the spirit, I've endured. I've endured mentally. I've endured it. I've got the scars. I've got the tears. I've got the grief. And out of all of it I still don't accept that I'm a victim of it because I've never gone into anything as a victim of anything. I've welcomed the challenge for these brutal police to beat me. Try it you fucking punks, and they did, but it's been innocence. You know what it is? It's the innocence, I love the way you said the challenge between God and you is personalized, it's innocence when you see a little horse being born, and I have horses, and you see a colt being born. You look at it and you see it's legs and it's fur all matted with the vaginal juice of it's mother. It's just amazingly overwhelmed by the life it was thrown into and then you see the tiny pink hook that is so delicate, it's like a woman's tongue, when she's panting, with her greatest lover under the full moon, you see the hoof quivering. And when it touches the ground to get up you realize then and there that the only impulse and the only right to do anything in life is out of that innocence to get up and run. That's it, there's no other reason for doing anything, you might as well die, just die. Who the hell has justified being able to go to a factory and work for fifty years putting labels on soup cans? Let's just call it murder because it's murder, it's spiritual murder, and we should all start again by watching a mother give birth to the colt and watching the colt rise. That's orgasm. That's coming. That's love. That's sex. That's everything we're horrified by, there it is. And when that little guy, that little woman, gets up, that horse, we see them actually get on their feet trembling, their only impulse is to jump with joy, to leap with ecstasy. That's all they can do because it's an extraordinary sense of love and life and everything that means who we are, it's explained in that act, right? And then after that, after we get to see that, we're totally lobotomized emotionally because then they take that young little colt and they make dog food out of it, right? That's how we are as human beings, whenever there's beauty, whatever we do, we ultimately have to destroy it and kill it and we even do that to ourselves. We had to do it to ourselves first in order to do it to others. In the same sense that if I'm abused sexually as a kid I'm more than likely going to abuse someone else, right? Which is true, right? Which I haven't been but, it's that same syndrome, you have to do it to yourself. First of all you have to experience that you've never been loved as a child then when you grow up you, as an adult, never love anybody else. You have to break the cycle. You can't allow yourself to be fucked around by people anymore, meaning systems, institutions. You can't allow yourself to go to UNM and have them say since you're a Chicano we're not going to give you any books because that may trigger pain in you, you certainly don't want to deal with pain because if you deal with pain it could humanize you and if they humanize you, you might be horrified with what we're trying to do with you and we never want that to happen, right? So drink a lot of Coors man and don't read your Chicano poets.
RM: Are there any personal rituals that you go through before you sit down to write poetry, or work on the novel? Do you go out and have to connect, with say, that innocence?
JSB: I do a lot of exploration. But more and more, I'm shocked to say this, because I never thought . . . I thought I was really cool. I thought I could deal with life, I thought I was heavy duty, but I realize I ain't nothing but bird droppings on a railing, right? But what I do now, what's my corner pole, as the Indians would say about the teepee pole in the center, what's my center pole, the thing that allows me to keep everything else together is praying. Praying to my santos and praying and getting strength from my brothers and sisters. People who lead good lives. I get a lot of strength from them and without that I can't write, I can't live, I can't do nothing. So, what rituals do I have? I think the center of all the rituals that I have is l pray. And from prayer comes my poetry and my fiction and my movies and my life.
RM: Do you feel that's been one of the components, one of the cornerstones, that has kept the Chicano culture in tact, in spite of all the attacks, and things like that . . . our spiritual side of our being.
JSB: Yea, I think we're very spiritual people. I mean, if you look at the language that we speak, in a family, in a home, three quarters of the language that we speak is spiritually imbued. You can trace it's roots back to some spiritual prayer in the past. You know? Even if it's been secularized, the language. You can trace a lot of what we do, the way our homes are cleaned, the way we cook our food, the way we dress, a lot of that is spiritually oriented. We dress in a very modest fashion because we think it's not good to dress flashy. A lot of times we hold our tongues because we want to let the other people speak and we don't want to speak because we've been taught that silence is something close to God. A lot of the brotherly conversation between Chicano brothers has to do with the relationship towards God, and the earth, and each other. All of that is somewhat religious. It has nothing to do with connections to money or powerful ties. In other words, if you put two guys together and they talk about stock on the New York stock exchange, they're going to be connected by that. Their wives are going to go out together, their families are going to go on vacations because they're business partners. But a lot of Chicano people don't have businesses. So what connects us to each other is our faith in God, our faith in each other.
RM: So, what do you think the role of the Chicano culture will be in the future. Say by the millennium, by the year two thousand, our role, not only in Atzlan, but in the US, in North America, on the American continent?
JSB: Well, we have to come to numerous numerous crossroads. Number one - we must educate ourselves and we must get off this romantic ideal that people are going to do it for us. People won't do anything for us, you know, anything. I mean, power is the most addictive drug in the universe, it always will be, it always has been. If you give me power over you, if you make me master over you, I'm never going to relinquish that because it's more addicting than anything ever in the world. So I'm not going to relinquish power over you if you give it to me. So, we as the Chicano culture have given power to rule our lives to other people. We must stop that. We must educate ourselves and the only way we can love ourselves is to educate ourselves as to truly who we are as a distinct entity, and a distinct culture and how beautiful we really are. And the only way to do that is through education. If you don't educate yourself, you're nothing, you're zip, you're a bad tortilla man, and nobody wants to eat it, right? You must educate yourself because once you do, and I don't mean going to the universities and blah blah blah, I mean maintaining the integrity of your cultural heritage by saying who you are publicly in front of anybody in the world and creating the kind of business or art or life that reflects the beauty of who you are as a person. Not by the criteria of those who live outside of us but by the criteria that we create in our own culture. Okay? That's education. If you don't have the books that I want, that are going to reflect me in a beautiful way, screw you. I'm going to go buy my books, bring them to class and say, "you can read that, but I'm going to read this, and I'll read that later but I'm going to read about me and my culture here, first, then I'll read your book," you know? That's what I want, because I'm not going to be able to read anybody and appreciate anything unless I can appreciate myself. It starts from you, man, so don't expect people to help you, they're not going to help you, man. The worst thing in the world that anybody would ever do is give you books about yourself.
RM: What about that ideal about whose standards and stuff like that? Like, por ejemplo, the way the literary establishment takes a look at Chicano writing. Do they have any criteria to even be able to judge it or value it?
JSB: They have very little, very little, so many of them are terrified.
RM: Do you think they're threatened because they don't understand?
JSB: Well of course. Say that I worked with . . . say that I worked with making these dainty little black shoes all my life as a cobbler. All of a sudden I'm giving this lecture, right, about shoes, all these Bostonian shoes, with the buttons and everything, you know? All that stuff, right? I'm giving a talk, right, and all of a sudden this guy walks in with a pair of moccasins, right, and I'm supposed to know what tribe they come from, what the designs in the beads mean, this whole thing about that, right? I'm going to be so terrified that I don't know it that I'm going to tell the people who are listening to me, "that's nothing, that's uncivilized, those are not shoes, he's a troublemaker," you know? You know what I'm saying? Let me see the other side of this thing. Here's something, when somebody who has the credentials, "I've got a Ph.D., I've got this, I've got that", speak, it's okay to disagree with them and say, "well, we don't agree with your ideals on this but we do agree that in planning our city you can have nice homes here. We don't agree with this, we don't really want an aquifer throwing water out of our . . . out of here", right, and that's okay leave it at that. And then you have a Chicano stand up and say something about how he would like his barrio to be organized, right? They will not disagree with us on the merits of our own thinking, they must morally shade us, with words like radical, or "he's from the outside", "he's an outsider", you must insinuate that his ideals are not good. It's something in his character that is bad. So, if I was to stand up in front of somebody else and say . . . let's talk about literature. The other person's ideals, they may disagree with, but with me it becomes a moral corruption. "Oh, he doesn't like our literature because he's morally corrupt . . . he wants to overthrow us . . . he wants to kill us . . . he wants to burn our houses . . . that's why!" But, why don't they say it about Neil Bush in Denver? Or anybody else in that culture, right? Why can't they just take me on the merits of my thinking and agree or disagree with that? Why do I have to then become a threat to them with my moccasins? Just because I bring you beads and all these designs doesn't mean I want to overthrow Bostonians, you know what I'm saying? No! Let me try to explain to you, you don't have to be afraid, I'm not going to try to take your tenure chair, you know? You know what I'm saying? Just because your ignorant doesn't mean I'm here to try to burn your house, you know, in fact I'll even bring you books. You know what I'm saying? Suddenly, I'm morally tainted because I disagreed with you. I mean, I'm not as good as you, I go around nibbling my toenails and murdering or sucking the blood out of cows at night or something, right? Just because of my ideals. They can't accept that my ideals might be as important as theirs. But that not only holds true with European culture, that holds true with Mexican culture because Mejicanos have abandoned us too. We have to admit that we are a singular, distinct, isolated culture who Mexico said five hundred years ago, "leave, go, we don't need you anymore, you're no longer part of us". And, the American culture said, "you're not Americans, you're Mexicans." So, we truly are a very distinct people in New Mexico. And when we set out to speak, maybe the forthrightness of our ideals, and maybe the uncompromising nature of them, really really does make people frightened. But that's no reason to taint us as morally corrupt beings, who are dead set on disintegrating society. No, it's just that we've been left to our own resources so long and we believe in them so much that there's always other things that come into play. But don't do that to us anymore. Don't say that my children are . . . there's something wrong with them because they don't agree you . . . because, that's just not true.
RM: You spoke about your closeness to la tierra. How about the elements of say, this has been a rough year, when you think about it, in terms of fire because in September the morada up in Abiqui was burnt and then a month after that they burnt the healing place, you know Ojo Caliente. Then there was the fire that burnt the old train depot and stuff like that. What is your connection to fire, to snow, to ice?
JSB: Well it's twofold. I mean, our great curanderos have always used fire as an enlightening aspect of our rituals as Chicano people, you know? Fire has helped us. Snow has helped us, we depend so much in the villages on the snow because it brings the water, enriches the fields, and we plant our alfalfa. On the other hand, we have a long long heritage of people burning us out of our villages, of the snow killing our sheep. We have our own trail of tears where entire villages have been run out by United States Cavalry and by people who make laws in Santa Fe. Where women have had to wrap things in their bundles and children and men have had to leave villages that they lived on since before memory. So our heritage has always been twofold in that sense. The elements of the earth have been friends and the elements have also been used by others to bring us some horrible destruction.
RM: How about the connection with running water, you know the spring runoff? Do you feel you're more productive, more prolific, during certain parts of the year? Does that change your sentimento, maybe the tone of your writing, things like that?
JSB: The change of seasons has always marked in me the reaffirmation that I'm not a static human being that should only know one thing. That it's okay for me to be, what the people would say, schizophrenic, they say that. But I've been able to accept the million parts of my personality. And be a child one day at eight o'clock in the morning and at ten o'clock that day be an old viejo, you know? And the seasons of changing, all the various changes that occur in foliage and the climate, have reaffirmed that I too can be that prolific in my own being, and so they reaffirm me as a human being that I have access and I have the right to be as many things as I can or to reaffirm those basic drives in me as a human being that show happiness in a hundred forms, sadness in a hundred forms. I've been very very sad and have wanted to strike out violently. Very very sad and I've dropped to my knees. Very very sad and I've had a woman hold me in her arms. There's a million ways I can express an emotion in me and the various turns of the season from drought stricken crustiness of the llano to the huge waters that pour down from northern New Mexico to the Rio Abajo have shown in me that I can be that too. And if I can be that and I'm writing poetry then why not put that into my poetry too. So, I really do bounce around quite a bit.
RM: How about, say, interaction with Native American culture. Do you know John Trudell's poetry? What do you think of his stuff?
JSB: I respect his work. I respect a lot of gringo stuff. I don't think we can put the color barrier down these days as the defining line of differences. I think that people like Trudell and anglo men like George Evans speak from the same sacred fire, you know? And I would like to be the kind of man who can come to that fire and sing my song too. So, I respect his work as much as I do George Evans, who's a gringo from San Francisco who did his War and Eye Blade and I think they're great great singers, both of them.
RM: What do you still hunger for?
JSB: Not much. I mean, I've pretty much got it all. I've got about eighty cents to my name right now. Right now, as I speak to you, I've got eighty cents, that's all I've got in life . . . and I'm pretty happy. I don't know how to say it, I don't hunger for anything. Because I'm right there on the edge, struggling day to day to pay the bills, to define the angelic energies that swirl around in my bones and give them a name. And it's so beautiful when I can give a name to a certain energy that is part of my raza's heritage, spiritual heritage, that they killed many years ago. The people who came here, the oppressors who came here killed our names, they killed our names and we forgot the names. And as a poet my journey is to go back and try to retrieve those names. Give those energies a name that they had and then they assume the status of gods and goddesses that heal us if we give them a name. So I go into this vast miasma, this cosmic debris, of energy and my people's heritage and what we do as a people that has no name and I try to find a name for it. Like we all knew that we were together as one people but we didn't have a name until we found Chicano. And that was such a cool thing the day you tell your doctor that you're Chicano and she says she's a Chicana and it's so cool because we understand what that energy is. That energy means that we're like each other that we feel that brown softness in the mornings in the winter under the blankets. That we know our breathing comes out of the same earth, of the food that we eat, do you know what I'm saying? It's that kind of crazy thing. So what my chore is, and I'm there, I'm penniless but I'm happy, is to find, to give names to the energies. It's like finding a new star in the galaxy. You get to name the star. I mean, can you imagine if we had to see the moon every night and couldn't know, didn't know, it was the moon, la luna? Wouldn't we go crazy looking at it and not figuring out what to call it? Because when you begin to call and name something then you begin to realize what it is, what it's for, how to have a relationship with it. The meaning of your life comes out to that and so that's what I try to do.
RM: Your name, Santiago, right? When we think of the santo, Santiago is a symbol of a warrior, he's in battle, sees a vision, and is guided by that. What effect do you think our names have on us?
JSB: I think that we're such a religious people. I think that our names are archetypal in the sense that the way Indians . . . see, this is what's so funny that we don't share, right? The Indians give a name, let's just say Running Cloud, to a little boy, or a little girl, because one day the woman had the little girl and the girl was two years old and she didn't have her name yet, her sacred name, and suddenly this cloud was moving so fast across their particular campsite that the little girl came out during the thunderstorm and followed it everywhere. They called her running cloud, right, and it brought a lot of rain that day and fed the corn and it was great. Well, in our culture we know our saints the way the Indios knew Running Cloud. The way they knew that cloud we know our saints. We know that Santiago has all these permeation's to his life. It's almost a vision, we know Santiago, St. Santiago, is a vision and when we see a little child come out of his mother's womb we give a name to that child that correlates with something of the energies that saying Santiago emanated in his life. The curanderos in our culture tell us that Santiago is an indigenous saint as much as it is a Catholic saint. So we know that Santiago had the great gift to make iron or -------. He was one with the horse's spirit. We know that he was a curandero. Saint Santiago roamed in the spirit of the horse.
RM: He was never off the horse.
JSB: Yea, we know that he was one, that he's part horse and so when I grew up as a little boy and I could walk up to a horse and touch it's nose and it wouldn't kick or rear, they called me Santiago, you know? "-arle, here he comes" or when I rode a horse, right? We had that same beautiful indigenous aspect to our names. Names . . . you've got to carry them all your life and so you'd better make sure it's a good name. You know what I mean, it's like carrying a cross or it's like carrying the sun, it's that kind of thing. So, we do have our deep deep ramifications for our names, that are very indigenous, more so than just "let's name him John Doe." Names in a lot of cultures mean nothing. They name their kids and simply don't give a dam. They name them after soap operas which is really amazing, you know? Can you believe that?
RM: In our own culture many times, and we still do it to a certain extent, either the first name or the middle name was after the Saint's day on the day that they were born.
JSB: Yea, but names to us . . . we have the same kind of identification with our names, the spiritual identification that Indians have with their names, you know? Because we do have our curanderos who come bless us and we do have our sacred ceremonies and our names. If you look into our saints, you find out that they're really indigenous saints, who come from the mythologies of the Aztecas, the Mayans, the Olmecs.
RM: In fact, a lot of the original Santiagos were actually . . . well first of all, the were painting on hides and there were some that were probably natives.
JSB: Oh yea! We really do have the biculturalism in our names. But see again . . . how many people have been able to become writers and poets from my culture that have been able to go and research that and bring it back to life? Giving names to those energies again? Very few of us because Chicanos proverbially are so poor and so on and so forth, they don't have the luxury of becoming writers, you know? But we will have it in the future. We are developing writers now, they will have the time to research that and the world will know that our names do have signification beyond soap operas, that our names have the deep meaning of Blue Feather and Grey rock and all those things, you know?
RM: How about the role of dreams in your life and in your writing?
JSB: Well they're very important to me, very very important. I don't know how else to say that except . . . I don't know how else to say that except that dreams have a great deal to do with me and my life.
RM: Have dreams even entered, say the writing of the novel?
JSB: All my dreams.
RM: Do some of those things resolve problems?
JSB: All my dreams enter into my life, you know? I had one last night. I had one last night where the dream dealt with fear. Fear on my part. Fear and innocence. Fear and innocence. I had a very meaningful dream, last night, that enters into my life today, you know? It's a very significant dream. How afraid I am in my dreams indicates to me how strong I must be in this reality.
RM: Do you interpret them yourself, or do curanderas assist you in that, or familia?
JSB: Different things help me you know. I had a part of my dream last night that a woman was on her period and that the drops of blood from her vagina became necklaces, red necklaces, and a policeman came to arrest me because I had run around gathering the necklaces, you know, the white sheets, I had gone around gathering them and they came to arrest me for that and I thought I was going to be put in prison again.
RM: Ahh, the anti-life police.
JSB: Isn't that incredible? What a dream huh? I had gone around gathering the red necklaces, as meaningful to me as a human being, and the police came and I was terrified that I'm going to prison for this, you know? And maybe that's why I went, I don't know.
RM: How about the place of music? I know, I used to read the poetry of Raul Salinas and it's obvious the rhythms in his writings were related to music that he listened to or created or wrote to or whatever . . .
JSB: I think music is very important to me. I think that can be answered in one statement. And simply, that is, that all music, all poetry, all language, everything is sound. That's all, it's sound. It's how you put that sound together then that delivers the message.
RM: How about the vibrations going through your own body when your reciting a poem? Do you feel like you're rehealing yourself each time, maybe, every site and performance?
JSB: Yea, I have to heal myself because if I didn't heal what had happened to me in the past . . . I don't speak about Robert Bly or none of those people because they're healing. They're trying to heal the upper middle class white male, who's proverbially had his nets in life, you know? And quite clearly running society, I don't even want . . . I don't even care about Robert Bly's book on healing, that stuff there . . . and they're such thieves because they steal from the Indians and the Chicanos and they steal from all the cultures to try to heal themselves and to find who they are.
RM: It's a different medicine anyways.
JSB: Yea, it's a different medicine and I guess it's good medicine if they're going to become more judicial in the way they live. But, it has nothing to do with the kind of Jungian that I try to do in my work. And that's just trying to heal myself from being almost murdered and killed, and having my saints burned, and my churches burned, and my house destroyed, and my books burned, and it left me with nothing. I mean, I'm trying to heal that in me. I don't know how to do it. I know that reading Big John ain't gonna do it. You know . . . I mean I've gotta . . . it's not gonna do it for me because what he does is truly for the executive and for the computer chip people who've finally realized gold is boring and they're tired of making money so they've gotta try to heal themselves and stimulate their machismo because they've become effeminate. Empty vessels that mean nothing, absolutely nothing anymore. My life means something. What I do means something but I really have to heal myself because there's so much that has been done to me.
RM: How about the role of myth? To a certain extent you would embody and embrace some of our indigenous and mestizo myths and you also must create your own myths.
JSB: Mythology for me is . . . I think every individual in this world, every Chicano, Black, White, whatever every Asian, everybody has their own distinctive myth. And it's according to how much we fulfill that myth that we're happy or sad, you know? I don't regret having gone through what I've gone through, you know, but, my myth is that it finds me here today, on a very cloudy rainy day, washing clothes and working on my novel and that's a pretty good myth to have because it's kept me in the abdomen of human struggle. That's my myth, to be with people whose hands reach out or with people who when I reach my hands out they're there. Just to be always very connected to people, very close to them, in proximity, and not to find myself in a castle somewhere overlooking humanity as a king. I really wanna be with those people who are living and not those who have ceased to live.
RM: How about your definition on happiness? Do you think that it's the extent to which we live our own myth?
JSB: I really do. Happiness, to me, means the extent to which we accept the multi layered forms of life, you know, and the extent to which we give ourselves to those. It has a lot to do with how much we give. I mean, it's one thing for the richest person to . . . okay . . . there's a woman here, who's a very very rich woman, and I asked her to give some money for a writing kids program and she said to me that she already gave, and she was really righteous. She said that, "I give my Christmas basket to my church, to a poor family every year, for Christmas." So she really gives a basket with fruit in it, to her church, to give to a poor family every year.
RM: So, she really doesn't even connect, even with that.
JSB: No, and she says, "that's what I give," and she was righteous about it, and I was like, "wow, what?" You know, and that was that, so she's not very happy, you know? She's so terribly worried about her money and her status, and she really believes that all emotions can be . . . all emotions can be substantially dealt with through money.
RM: What a mistake.
JSB: I'd say, yea.
RM: How about advice for young writers?
JSB: Please believe in yourself and do not be afraid to work. Just work work work. Writing is nothing but work, just work, work, work, you know, and that's my advice.
RM: How much is inspiration and how much is . . .
JSB: Half. Well let me tell you this, how many times does the most beautiful woman in the world come up to you, and you fall in love with her, and she falls in love with you, and everything works out well? Maybe once or twice in your life? Right? Maybe once or twice you see someone who's so overpoweringly beautiful, that you fall in love with that person, and that person actually does respond to you with great respect and understanding, only like once or twice in life. Well, that's what inspiration is to a writer, once or twice in your life, you're gonna be inspired where everything's gonna work out perfect, right? Your work is gonna fall in love with you, you're gonna fall in love with your work and some divine goddess, or god's gonna come down, is gonna give it all to you on the page, you're gonna have it. But listen, the rest of it buddy, get your kneepads, your elbow pads, get the grease out because you're gonna be working hard. All the way! I mean, it's all work work work. But if it's a love of labor, it doesn't make any difference, does it? If it's a love of labor and it's what you're supposed to be doing, in your own particular myth, then it becomes a great ceremony of living.
RM: How about personal connections to any other poets?
JSB: I have connections with a lot of poets whose names I don't even know but whose work I read I just fall in love with, you know? I fall in love with a lot of poets and I read a lot of poets. And there's some poets that teach at universities that are great, there's some that are gypsy poets who aren't worth a shit. To me it's whatever I'm lucky enough to find because there's so many poets that are great that I don't even know exist or haven't read. So it's just what I can find when I go to the bookstore that I can read, that's great. So, I read a lot of poets and I try to especially find the deep veins of poetry that run in my culture. Umm . . . that are held mostly in our oral culture, that are carried from woman to child to child to man to man to woman, you know?
RM: Do you think we'll ever reach a place again, where at one time we actually had poets in Nuevo Mejico, that everything that they recited was improvised, or mas o menos, I mean they had some stock lines that they would come back to, in fact they used to have poetry duels, you know? Do you think with the renaissance, and by the way what do you think about that? Do you think we're still in Chicano renaissance? You know, they talk about the European Renaissance, that's lasted 150 years, it wasn't this twenty period thing. I know they used to talk about the renaissance in Chicano culture in the 60's and then it was supposedly dead by the end of the 70's, or whatever, I mean that's a fraction of what they talk about in terms of renaissance with the European and stuff like that. How long do you think it'll go on and what do you think?
JSB: Well, you've got a lot of Chicanos, I mean Hispanics, in academia today that are a lot of wimps, they really are, they're wimps. I mean they may be able to beat me up and twenty other people like me but when it comes to celebrating their true culture they sell out so fast it's unbelievable, because the more you can sell out the more upward mobile you're going to be.
RM: Is that what you describe, "losing the voice"?
JSB: You lose the voice and that's the greatest crime against your soul. You know, if you can stand up in front of people and speak of the beauty and the nightmares that you've lived growing up in this world, as a distinct individual, and you can deal with the pain, it makes you that much more beautiful. It's good to share that with other people It's the ultimate meaning of communication. But, if you're going to stand up and ignore where you come from, ignore who your people are, and speak only about the bottom line of what your company made this year, in the first quarter, you have no voice anymore. You've traded it in for a new car. You know, it's a horrible thing to have happen. And so I truly . . . I guess what I . . . I go work with children so that possibly they may salvage their voices from the huge systematized garage of temptations that asks them to lose their voices. They'll give you anything in the world to lose your voice. They'll give you distinction, they'll give you good positions at the university, they'll give you anything you want, but lose your voice, you must lose it, because if you keep it, and you hold it, and you nourish it, and you breath it, and you plant it, and you harvest it, it's going to have influences far beyond your own depth into many many generations that come after you. That's what they're afraid of and that's what makes me celebrate my life even in it's most improvished condition. Is that I've not given my voice away, you know, I've kept it, disregarding the pain and all the shit I've been through I have my voice. You may take my skin, my freedom, shoot me and knife me, and not give me education and never allow me to be judicially treated in your courts, but you may not take my voice! I can speak in my own head if I have to, and you can beat me everyday, as they did in prison, and lock me up in the dungeon, and forbid me to speak, but I have my voice, and inside of me it continues to speak.
RM: In fact, was that the birth of you poem personae?
JSB: Yes! Yes!
RM: I mean when you were in isolation, when you were in a place where your voice was either . . . they tried to ignore it or shut it out?
JSB: Well we're all born without voices. We're not born with a voice, we don't have voices. We're born into this society as a silent creature because it's not our society, it belongs to the rich person, it doesn't belong to us. That bank's not mine, that building's not mine, that house up there's not mine. I have nothing. I have no voice. So, I begin to come into this culture believing I have no voice and that's how I lived and then you're shocked, one day when you realize that there's an opportunity for you to get your voice. It's the miracle when you can realize that there is a Chicano Moviemento, that there are poets singing who we are and you have to grab those threads man because if you don't you're gonna go through life without a voice. You're gonna act like you've never lived, you're gonna die and never know you lived. But once you grab that one thread and it leads you to the great tapestry of your life then you realize that the more you enter that world the greater your voice becomes . . .meaning the more significant your life is, then you can't give it up. You really have the great beauty of discovering your own voice. It's a great thing.
RM: Your dreams feed some of your writing. Do you ever think that your life feeds your dreams, it's like a back and forth process? Do you change in your dreams?
RM: I think that what happens in dreams is that fear, our fear of regular life, how we live, and what we do, all our fears most predominately surface in our dreams. And our dreams show us how best to live our lives without fear. That's what I think dreams do for me. I think they're most metaphorically instructive in helping me lead my life by facing things I'd ordinarily not want to face. And understand those things I'd ordinarily not want to understand. So I think dreams are a strong impetus towards character, in getting character.
RM: How many lives do you think you've lived?
JSB: I've probably lived three, so far, I'm almost certain that I've lived three. I'm almost certain that I've had the choice to live or die three times over powers outside of myself that then came to me, "you don't have to live anymore, so what are you gonna do man?" I've been in a spiritual state of grace where I didn't have to wake up if I didn't want to. And, I firmly believe that you can die when you want to die.
RM: How about an assistant? Do you think you have a guardian angel?
JSB: Yea, very strong. I have a strong higher power.
RM: How about companion spirits?
JSB: I never thought about a companion spirit in that sense, although I do believe that there's spirits in things, like trees and the earth and the rocks. And I do believe that there's people who pray for me. And I think that their prayers become my companions on my journey.
RM: And you can draw on those whenever you need it, is that how it works?
JSB: I don't know if I draw on them consciously but I know that intuition, I know that they're there to help.
RM: How about, have you and Beatrice ever had the same dream?
JSB: Yea, that happened one time.
RM: Yea, almost the same dream, you know?
JSB: Beatrice is very powerful inclined with her spirit, yea.
RM: Do you keep much in touch with other poets, well, you're in touch with Soto, Gary Soto, who are some of the Chicano poets you keep in touch with?
JSB: I keep in touch with a lot of poets, I mean not just Chicanos, but a lot of them. Um, oh gosh.
RM: Do they have you read some of their stuff?
JSB: Yea, over the years, yea. I mean, I keep in touch with lots and lots of poets. They write for one reason or another. Michael Anias, who runs the ------ magazine called this morning and then I talked to Gary and um . . . Jose -----, I mean all these poets I keep in touch with all over the country. I don't write them everyday and I don't . . . it's not a consistent correspondence . . . we talk. George Evans, a great poet, he calls me about once a month and we keep in touch, see what's going down and stuff like that.
RM: Have you called ----- Sanchez, are you still in touch with him at all, or no?
JSB: I haven't seen him. I don't know what ever happened to him.
RM: He had medical problems for a while.
JSB: He came by here about two or three years ago. I gave him fifty pounds, two bags, fifty pounds of green chili, each . . . I never saw him again. I guess the chili was a little too hot.
|Title||An unedited interview with Jimmy Santiago Baca (JSB) by Rudy Miera (RM). Feburary 14, 1993||Type of Content||Interview|
|Criticism Author||Rudy Miera||Criticism Target||Jimmy Santiago Baca|
|Criticism Type||Poet||Originally Posted||27 Jun 2021|
|Publication Status||Excerpted Criticism||Publication||JimmySantiagoBaca.com|
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