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A Place to Stand Paperback – June 10, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Anyone who doubts the power of the written word to transform a life will know better after reading poet Jimmy Santiago Baca's wrenching memoir of his troubled youth and the five-year jail stint that turned him around.

When he enters New Mexico's Florence State Prison in 1973, convicted on a drug charge, Baca is 21 and has a long history of trouble with the law. There's no reason to think jail will do anything but turn him into a hardened criminal, and standing up for himself with guards and menacing fellow cons quickly gains him a reputation as a troublemaker. But there have already been hints that this turbulent young man is looking for a way out, as he painstakingly spells out a poem from a clerk's college textbook while awaiting trial or unsuccessfully tries to get permission to take classes in prison.

When a volunteer from a religious group sends him a letter, contact with the written word unleashes something in Baca, who starts writing letters and poems with the aid of a dictionary. Reading literature shows him possibilities for understanding his painful family background and expressing his feelings. Poetry literally saves him from being a murderer, as Baca stands over another convict with an illegal weapon, ready to finish him off, and hears "the voices of Neruda and Lorca... praising life as sacred and challenging me: How can you kill and still be a poet?" Baca has a year to go on his sentence, but the reader knows at that point he has made a choice that will alter his destiny.

Without softening the brutality of life in jail, Baca expresses great tenderness for the men there who helped him and affirms his commitment to writing poetry for them, "telling the truth about the life that prisoners have to endure." --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

While readers may find Baca's poetry more dazzling than this prose memoir about how he became a poet, the author still manages to capture both the reader's interest and sympathies. Baca traverses his life, starting with his childhood in rural New Mexico where both parents essentially abandoned him his adolescence in "juvee" halls and his days as a drug dealer. The story leads up to an account of five years in a maximum-security prison in Arizona, and the unusual personal transformation that occurs there through his learning to read and write; eventually, he discovers his poetic voice. The text is structured like a conversion narrative in which Baca's past symbolizes all that is unhealthy and his poetry-oriented future is filled with the hope and optimism that come from discovering something divine in the midst of darkness. The darkness is often literal, as when Baca is describing his lengthy solitary confinements. He also recounts the intricacies of prison politics, in which failure to gain respect and alliances forged with the wrong people can mean death. Oddly, certain story lines are simply dropped along the way, such as his charge that the prison was lacing his food with strong psychoactive drugs. It is too bad that Baca's prose is frequently flat ("Poetry enhanced my self-respect. It provided me with a path for exploring possibilities for life's enrichment that I follow to this day"), especially when reflecting upon abstract topics, since the content of his story is so interesting and his poetry simply shines. (July) Forecast: Baca has won a Pushcart Prize, among other awards, including his title as a one-time champion of the International Poetry Slam. A 12-city tour will win him fans and sell more books.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (June 10, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802139086
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802139085
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,973 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Milli Thornton on December 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
Jimmy Santiago Baca is the recipient of major awards for his raw and emotional poetry. In my opinion, these awards are more special than the average literary awards: They've been earned by a man whose literacy was truly hard won.

A PLACE TO STAND is a memoir of Jimmy's childhood of abandonment, his career selling drugs, and his time in prison. This is also an account of how an illiterate prisoner fought for the privilege to teach himself how to read--and then to write, by corresponding with Harry, a Christian man on the outside, and by writing poems for other cons in exchange for books.

This is not a pretty history. The epilogue tells the shocking tale of his mother's fate. Racism plays its usual dirty role through much of the book. And JSB's account of prison life makes most prison movies look almost civilized. (In an interview with Jimmy in a Santa Fe arts newspaper, he said that he even toned it down for this book because many people cannot accept the harsh truth of prison culture.)

This book is an inspiration to all writers and a testimony to the human spirit. Visit Jimmy's Website to read about his work with at-risk teenagers as founder of Black Mesa Enterprises. And if you haven't yet experienced his poetry, try it first on CD. His readings will blow you away.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on September 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
A Place To Stand, by award winning poet and seasoned playwright Jimmy Santiago Baca, is the memoir of a difficult and sometimes violent life. Sent to an orphanage at a young age, encountering violence and bigotry at each turn, he became a criminal and a drug dealer. Sentenced to prison, he had to go to extreme lengths to stay alive - even slicing an attacker's stomach with a butcher knife. Though self-defense, his violent acts earned him repeated time in solitary confinement. There, struggling to resist the dehumanization of prison life, he encountered memories and revelations that transformed him and inspired him to express himself through poetry. Yet even when the end of his prison sentence and freedom beckoned, more tragedy awaited him and his family. A harrowing true story, of unbearable loss and suffering, with a final revelation offering a tiny flicker of hope. A Place To Stand is riveting, compelling, impossible to put down and highly recommended.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By DasPropheta on March 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent book. I dont read much but this book caught my attention fast. I can relate to this book alot because I grew up in some of the same sercomstances and had similar problems in life like Jimmy Santiago Baca did. And its good to know that no matter where u came from, what color or what youve been through u can pull out of the gutters and change your life like Jimmy did. It makes me proud to be Latino. I give this book 10 stars out of 5!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mike Victoria on November 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
The novel A Place to Stand is a mind gripping story on the author Jimmy Santiago Baca's upbringing, drug dealing days, and his life in prison. The book has many unexpected twists that both leave the reader in shock and astonished. Although at some points the contents of the novel makes you cringe and ask yourself how someone can withstand so much pain while at the same time keeping his composure.

Personally, I did enjoy reading the novel and liked the contents. I found his life story to be extremely rough/ violent and liked reading about the path he had to take to be where he is now. Baca ends up in prison in which he has to serve his time and manage to do it without being killed. While serving his time he manages to teach himself how to read and write poetry as well. This novel is packed with surprises, drama, and suspense, and the reader will not want to put it down until the end.

The only negative aspect of the novel which I personally did not like was Baca's poetic touch and his tendency to be extremely detailed. The reason why I did not like those two writing methods of the author is because it took away from the scene at hand. At some points the author was so detailed that you lose track of what he was originally talking about. Even though I did not like those two writing methods he used the book was overall very interesting and I would defiantly recommend it to someone.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By IVRNGAL on January 30, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Baca on a recent US flight. I read his book and was very touched with his honesty and story telling ability. Such a difficult beginning for him and yet he has persevered, managed to beat the odds and is a delight to visit with. I feel very honored to have been able to spend time with him and to learn more about his life's journey.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John A. Sarkett on September 13, 2012
Format: Paperback
"I don't know if I would have lived had I not found poetry."

I just finished this rather remarkable memoir by poet Jimmy Santiago Baca. We heard him interviewed on NPR, and got hold of his book, and several volumes of his poetry. A Place to Stand tells of a life that starts in poverty, and descends into degradation, in this case, drug dealing, that winds our protagonist up in prison. It covers the several years he spends there, up to and through his release at approximately age 25.

What is the comeback? Stealing a book from a sadistic guard who was also a college student, Baca teaches himself to read, grasps the power of the image, the power of literature, especially poetry, and sorts out his life. Eventually, he becomes a celebrated poet, but that happens later.

The book is variously described in various places as "raw," "searing," "violent." It is all these things and more. It has the most important quality of a book: it is extremely difficult to put down. The author is so transparent and forthcoming with the gritty details of his life, he has you in his grip from the get-go. Yet, a reservation or two, if I may. The writer seems to take responsibility for his life, but almost imperceptibly, pulls back just a bit, i.e. there is always a reason. Whenever possible, he lays off the blame for his crimes to abandonment, loss, heartache. There is always a powerful rationalization process going on, 24/7 as it were, and it is presented to you, the reader, in such an appealing fashion, the enormity of his crimes, and the flotsam and jetsam of human lives he has ruined gets glossed over. This is unfortunate, to say the least.

His depiction of prison life is eye-opening, unforgettable, and harrowing.
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