J Jimmy Santiago Baca

I Am Offering this Poem by Jimmy Santiago Baca

‘I Am Offering this Poem’ by Jimmy Santiago Baca taps into what most lovers of poetry probably already know, that poetry supplies spiritual and emotional sustenance to humankind. It was published in 1979 in “Immigrants in Our Own Land.”

Have you ever been in love? If so, maybe you shared your affections through writing. You wouldn’t be the first to have done so, nor will you be the last. In ‘I Am Offering this Poem,’ Baca explores poetry as a symbol of love.

Isn’t it incredible how the simplest things in life, like words on a page, can be all the comfort one needs during the harsh winters of life? This piece proves that sometimes the simplest answers to life’s problems are the best.

I Am Offering this Poem by Jimmy Santiago Baca


Summary

‘I Am Offering this Poem’ by Jimmy Santiago Baca is a love lyric that uses figurative language to depict poetry itself as a place of refuge.

Through a series of short stanzas, Baca’s speaker addresses an unknown listener. He tells them that they should take “this poem” and regard it as a place of safety and warmth. It is compared through similes and metaphors to warm clothing, a map, and fire. The text concludes with the speaker telling the listener to keep this poem in a safe place and go back to it whenever they feel lost and/or need to redirect their lives. 

You can read the full poem here or watch Jimmy Santiago Baca reading the poem.

Meaning

The poem’s title ‘I Am Offering this Poem’ presents a comparison between poetry and an offering. The words of the poet are an offering directly engendering from his heart. To understand the meaning of the title, the second line of the poem has to be read. It says the speaker (Baca) has nothing else to give. That’s why he is providing the most valuable help to humankind. It is nothing other than poetry, an evergreen form of art.

Baca is of the view that when a person wants to protect himself from the harshness of winter, he seeks warm items of clothing first. Likewise, when one needs mental support, it is art or simple things of life that rejuvenates the mind and supplies the energy to survive apart from the basic necessities of life.

Structure

‘I Am Offering this Poem’ is a thirty-line poem that is loosely separated into four stanzas. These stanzas contain different numbers of lines, ranging from five to nine with each separated by the three-word phrase “I love you”.

The lines do follow a specific rhyme scheme but there are scattered instances of rhyme throughout the text; for example, “you” and “through” in the first seven lines and “give” and “live” in the final six lines.

There are also examples of half-rhymes throughout the poem. Half rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse.

For instance, “mature” and “fire” in lines sixteen and twenty-one and full or perfect rhyme can also be found within the text itself, rather than at the end of lines. Examples include “hair” and “wear” in lines eleven and twelve:

it is a scarf for your head, to wear

over your hair, to tie up around your face,


Literary Devices

Baca makes use of several literary devices in ‘I Am Offering this Poem’. These include but are not limited to simile, metaphor, alliteration, repetition, and enjambment.

Simile and Metaphor: The first two, simile and metaphor, are similar. They are kinds of figurative language that make comparisons between two, unlike things. A simile uses “like” or “as” and a metaphor does not. Within the poem, Baca compares the poem he is writing to a scarf, cabin, gift, and warm coat.

Alliteration: It occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “comes” and “cover” within line four and “and all anyone” in line two of the final stanza.

Repetition: Baca also makes use of repetition or the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone, or phrase within a poem. In this case, along with a few other instances, repetition appears in the form of a refrain, “I love you” that appears after each stanza.

Enjambment: Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. Examples include the transitions between lines three and four of the first stanza and two and three of the second:

Keep it like a warm coat

when winter comes to cover you,

(…)

so it is a pot full of yellow corn

to warm your belly in winter,


Themes

Within ‘I Am Offering this Poem’ Baca speaks on themes of love,  poetry, simplicity, and safety. He creates a hopeful mood and addresses the themes with an optimistic and dedicated tone. According to him, love is what keeps the mind ignited. It is unlike materialistic pleasure that fades away when the initiator is absent. Love stays forever if one knows the art of caring for another person without anything in demand. Baca makes use of the theme of poetry by clearly stating the main idea that is poetry, an embodiment of selfless offering. The themes of simplicity and safety are present in the references to a warm coat, socks, corn, scarf, and map as well as in their importance in one’s life.

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1–7

I am offering this poem to you,

since I have nothing else to give.

(…)

the cold cannot bite through,

                         I love you,

In the first lines of ‘I Am Offering this Poem,’ the speaker begins by “offering” the poem to “you”. It is, he says, the only thing he has to give. The title immediately appears in these lines, a fact a reader should take note of. This increases its importance in the larger context of the poem. The poem, or writing in general as a gift or offering should be at the front of a reader’s mind.

Continuing on, Baca uses the simile of a “warm coat” to compare the poem to comfort and safety. It’s going to provide the reader or the intended listener with protection from when “winter comes to cover you”. It is a note, a declaration, and a statement of intent. This becomes all the clearer with the interjections of “I love you” after each stanza.

Lines 8–13

I have nothing else to give you,

so it is a pot full of yellow corn

(…)

over your hair, to tie up around your face,

                         I love you,

The refrain of “I love you” brings the reader into the second stanza which is five lines long. Here, the speaker reiterates another line. According to him, he has “nothing else to give you” and therefore, the poem has to symbolize a “pot full of yellow corn”. This metaphor is another, directly related to comfort, happiness, and wellbeing. With a “pot full of yellow corn” the intended listener can be warm throughout winter.

The poem is a “scarf” to keep the listener’s head warm. It can be used to wrap around “your” body just as the winter attempts to consume you.

Lines 14–23

Keep it, treasure this as you would

if you were lost, needing direction,

(…)

rest by this fire, and make you feel safe

                         I love you,

The next stanza is nine lines long and informs the listener at the top that they should “Keep it”. “It” means the poem. “You” should “treasure the poem just like you would a map “if you were lost”.

Once more a metaphor is being used here to compare the dedicatory poem to safety, security, and happiness. It is expanded in order to include not just physical dislocation but mental and emotional. Life becomes more and more chaotic as one progresses from birth to death and as it “matures” the map or poem remains in a draw. It is there, always tucked away in case it’s needed.

Baca uses another simile to compare the poem to a “cabin or hogan” that is hidden in the trees. If “you” need to, you should come to the cabin, knock on the door, and “I,” the speaker, will answer. By returning to this point you can reestablish the direction of your life.

Lines 24–30

It’s all I have to give,

and all anyone needs to live,

(…)

remember,

                         I love you.

In the final seven lines, the speaker reiterates that the poem is “all” he has “to give”. But, this is not a bad thing. It might be all he has, but it is all “anyone needs to live”. The poem, and what it represents can provide you with a place of refuge when “the world outside / no longer cares if you live or die”. In the final line, Baca’s speaker asks that the listener remembers for the last time that “I love you”.

Historical Context

‘I Am Offering this Poem’ was first published in 1979 in “Immigrants in Our Own Land”. Baca started writing poetry while he was imprisoned for five years (1973-1978) for drug charges. It is interesting to note here that he was not aware of the art of writing or reading poetry. He learned the form in these five years. The impact of imprisonment had a lasting impression on his mind. Through writing, he released what he learned during that time, caged behind the bars. Especially, in this poem, Baca upholds the importance of poetry and art for survival in suffocating and oppressive environments. The valuable things of life are not what fill our egos or lockers. It is the simple things in life that help us most in hard times.

FAQs

What does the “poem” represent to the speaker of ‘I Am Offering this Poem’?

To the speaker, his poem is like an offering to a person who needs help. It is like a warm coat or pair of thick socks that keep one warm in winter.

Who is the speaker talking to in ‘I Am Offering this Poem’?

The speaker or poetic persona of this poem is none other than the poet Jimmy Santiago Baca himself. He addresses this poem directly to the readers.

What is the mood of ‘I Am Offering this Poem’?

Throughout this piece, Baca maintains a hopeful and friendly mood. For doing so, he softens the tone of the poem and keeps the ambiance warm.

What kind of poem is ‘I Am Offering this Poem’?

Baca’s ‘I Am Offering this Poem’ is a lyric set in free verse. It is also considered as an ode on the importance of poetry and art.

What is the meaning of “and all anyone needs to live” in line 25?

In this line, the poet compares love to “all anyone needs to live”. He has nothing else to give the readers except that. Through his poem, he expresses the love in his heart. That’s why he is also referring to his poem ‘I Am Offering this Poem’ (a symbol of the poet’s love) by this line.


Similar Poetry

Readers can also read the following poems similar to the themes present in Jimmy Santiago Baca’s ‘I Am Offering this Poem’. You can read more Jimmy Santiago Baca poems.

You can also consider reading these beautiful poems about life and fulfillment.

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analysing poetry on Poem Analysis.
  • this poem confuses me, in a good way.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      I think good poetry can sound beautiful even if you have no idea what it’s about but then you can peel back layers and reveal more.

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