Monday, February 14, 2011

Human Nature: Poems / by Gary Soto

Fresno, California native Gary Soto has said that he was never a good student growing up, in part because following the death of his father, he, his mother and siblings all had to work full time at a variety of jobs to make ends meet. Nevertheless his interest in literature prompted his interest in writing and eventual college degrees from Fresno St. and UC-Irvine. Since the mid-seventies, he's published numerous prose and poetry collections like The Tale of Sunlight (1978) for which he won a Pulitzer Prize. His additional work has included stories for youth and children including the much heralded Baseball In April (J FIC SOTO). His 1985 memoir Living Up The Street won an American Book Award. He's also held faculty positions at various California institutions, UC-Berkeley and Cal St.-Fullerton to name a couple, over the years as a visiting professor of literature. Within his latest poetry collection, Human Nature: Poems, Soto represents himself well.

"I'm fifty something,
Myopic. What I think is a flower
On a bush and a sign of natural life,
What I think is worth a closer look . . .
Is a condom, an ugly swagging thing."
--from "Human Nature"

"I'm in love with a girl in the third row,
And if I can't get her,
Then I can turn my head thirty degrees
To another in the fifth row.
this is the math that matters,
A subtraction of rows, a narrowing down
To the equation of who might love you
This breezy fall."
--from "Algebra"

"Later, at the Rose Garden,
A youngish man comes up, snaps his fingers,
And says excitedly, 'I had your class. You're professor. . .
Professor. . . What was the class?
It was so good. . .'
. . .
'Oh, yes, that class, it was . . .'
Both of us snapping fingers,
Both of us without remembered names."
--from "The Way It Is"

Soto is one of those writers who just seems to get it, and who, consequently, gets the reader to 'get it'. His phrases, descriptions and economy of words all just seem to engender life, any life, all life with uncanny familiarity. To Soto's credit, nothing is very elaborate about his writing. There are no flowery descriptions or overly obtuse metaphors to deal with. He's almost always upfront about where his consciousness lies and though his willowy style emotes very little, you always get a sense of where he stands. The world of his youth, of memory, the world which bemuses him, the steady pattern of the mundane and the subtle clarity of routine are all intertwined in a voice which is never quick to judge or react but generally accepts the world in quiet acknowledgement. A Mexican-American whose work is concentrated but not restricted to hispanic themes, Soto has said that his objectives have never been socio-political. He merely strives to provide portraits of people in the rush of life. He does it very well. (811.54 SOTO)

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