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Jimmy Santiago Baca

I Am Offering This Poem

Fiction | Poem | YA | Published in 1990

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Summary

Overview

Overview

Published in 1979, “I Am Offering This Poem” has garnered much recognition for its sincerity and striking imagery. Poet Jimmy Santiago Baca infuses this love poem with deep knowledge of hardship. Prior to the publication of this poem in his book Immigrants in Our Own Land, Baca spent several years in prison and found his calling as a poet during his time there. In an era when few writers of Latinx and Native American heritage connected with mainstream literary audiences, his work broke through with its frank, vivid depictions of barrios in the American Southwest. Baca now stands alongside many other contemporary Mexican American poets—such as Juan Felipe Herrera and Sandra Cisneros—who have contributed to the canon of essential American poetry.

Poet Biography

Jimmy Santiago Baca was born in 1952 in New Mexico. Abandoned by his parents at an early age, he spent his childhood with relatives and in orphanages, from which he often tried to escape. A poet of Mexican and Apache heritage, Baca has lived in the American Southwest for the majority of his life and often writes about the region in his poetry.

In 1973 Baca went to a maximum-security prison as a young man after being arrested on drug charges. At this time, he couldn’t read or write. During his imprisonment, he stole a book from a guard and used a poem by William Wordsworth to begin teaching himself to read. Baca also taught himself to write during this time and published poetry while in prison. Though he wanted to study and earn his GED while in prison, the authorities denied his request, which led to conflicts with guards and other inmates and other kinds of difficulty for Baca. As well, this incident inspired Baca to commit his life to education once he was released from prison and to make literacy available to more people, no matter their life circumstances. While in prison, he sent poems to renowned American poet Denise Levertov, who took a sincere interest in Baca and his work and became his mentor.

Baca wrote about his imprisonment in his first poetry collection, Immigrants in Our Own Land (1979), the book containing “I Am Offering This Poem.” He has written many books of poetry and received accolades in the forms of a Pushcart Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature. His 2001 memoir A Place to Stand also received the International Prize and became a renowned film. He also wrote the screenplay for the 1993 film Bound by Honor and has penned multiple novels.

Currently, Baca teaches poetry to a wide range of student groups. He also runs the nonprofit Cedar Tree, Inc., which provides education, writing workshops and other services to members of underserved communities, young people, and those in prisons.

Poem Text

Baca, Jimmy Santiago. “I Am Offering This Poem.” 1990. Poetry Foundation.

Summary

The poetic speaker tells someone he loves that the poem is the only “offering” (Line 1) he has, comparing the poem to a warm coat or socks in cold weather. The speaker continues to emphasize his offering by going on to compare the poem to a filling serving of corn or a protective scarf during winter that he would like to give to his beloved in a time of need. He confesses his love multiple times throughout the poem.

The speaker urges his beloved to hold the poem as close as if it could help the beloved find shelter in a deep forest or an inhospitable wilderness. The speaker assures his beloved that the poem will be like a warming, comforting fire. He repeats that the poem is all he has to offer; the poem—and his love—has the power to protect his beloved against the world’s cruelty, and he will always remember his beloved no matter if others forget.