The story revealed in these mid-life recollections by Chicano poet Baca is absorbing: an orphan child in a New Mexican city or town name not given/MM barrio, poorly schooled, immersed in drugs and petty crime, he only discovered the power of language as a convict, on reading Neruda and Paz: ``Their language was the magic that could liberate me from myself, transform me into another person, transport me to other places far away.'' This volume is less an autobiography than a romantic paean, taking form as a series of essays, to the redemptive, ecstatic capabilities of poetry. Baca sees his vocation in transcendental terms: ``I became one with the air and sky, the dirt and the iron and the concrete''; he regards himself as a voice for the poor and oppressed in America. As a self-ordained spokesperson for Chicanos, he is at his best when evoking barrio culture: his stately grandmother, the village cantinas and the quiet solidarity of Mexican workers. The book finally disappoints, however; too many reflections are self-indulgent, gratuitously profane, incoherent or simply lost in torturous metaphors. (Apr.)
Baca is the author of several volumes of poetry, including Martin and Meditations on the South Valley ( LJ 10/15/87), the 1988 winner of an American Book Award. Baca learned to read and write as a young man in prison; his poetry focuses on prison, darkness, night, myth, and Chicanismo. This is a collection of autobiographical essays exploring his ethnic identity and the process and experience of creation and writing; the essays are permeated with Baca's intensely lyrical sense of the empowerment of literacy and language. Appropriate for comprehensive contemporary poetry collections as well as Chicano literature collections.-- Mary Margaret Benson, Linfield Coll. Lib., McMinnville, Ore.