Nothing special contextualizes this skillful verse; in form, nothing is experimental. Yet, what is attempted in A Fire in My Hands is mastered. Gary Soto’s strategy of attaching anecdotes to the poems is a good one, both because it suggests to the reader how ordinary experiences, not extraordinary adventures, give rise to poetry and because it impresses the reality of Soto himself into the poems, which are narrative in form but not confessional. The speaker may interest readers in the United States because he is Mexican American and has life experiences common to a large minority group. It is more significant, however, that readers hear an exquisitely humane voice speaking for and about all people. His is a very American voice, a voice made universal by its command of native idiom. Soto has neither sugar-coated the facts of youthful life in the United States nor betrayed its positive features with a predictably ugly realism. Life in these poems is whole. Readers will not find them significantly different from the rest of Soto’s poetry even though they touch so much upon youth. His is always a down-to-earth way of speaking, of exploring ordinary ground with an eye, and an ear, for rarity.
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