This collection of free-verse lyrics is spoken by the author. In a brief preface, Gary Soto discusses his unexpected passage into the world of poetry and reminds young people to trust their own experiences to be ripe for poetic exploration. A Fire in My Hands concludes with four pages of questions and answers concerning Soto’s creative strategies. Throughout the body of the work, each poem is preceded by a two-or three-sentence anecdote characterizing the experience or event that generated the poem, certifying that the lyric voice here is Soto’s own. Twelve poems are complemented by ink drawings that capture some salient part of the topic under investigation.
Free verse suits the casual and straightforward tone of these poems. The voice is, by and large, that of a storyteller conveying bittersweet vignettes through lively imagery. Descriptions are vivid and, regardless of the pain that haunts some of the experiences recounted, have a luminous quality, which is especially manifest in the climactic images of the poems. The tiny narratives that house these lyrics are ultimately vehicles for quiet and enlightening revelations. Soto manages to create this tone without turning the poems into fables or lectures and without letting the narrative become overwhelmed by lyric utterances. These revelations emerged via lucidly portrayed objects, acts, or thoughts. His candid voice also makes narrative details stand out at once realistically and ironically. For example, in “Pepper Tree,” a poem about nurturing growth in a hard setting, a store’s name, Lucky Day, is both banally realistic and spiritually pointed. Such subtlety constantly informs the natural speech of this believable and empathic adult as he talks to young people.