New and Selected Poems Essay - Critical Essays

New and Selected Poems

In this collection, Gary Soto records the textures and meanings of his life and those of friends and strangers with whom he shares the San Joaquin Valley, Fresno, California, and trips (sometimes) to Mexico as a tourist. He seeks and finds evocations of meaning in the details of those lives, those places, those avatars of the quotidian, exploring themes of childhood awareness; of place—fields, lots, streets, houses, and nature in mostly quite small segments-and its impact on people; of work, particularly the hard physical work of the Mexican field hand of hoeing and picking, often in contrast with the hard mental labor of the poet; of the consequences of that work on the people and the community; of nature expressed in rain, insects, clouds, heat; of the life of poverty; of eating and feeding; of religion and belief, the manifestations of something beyond the physical.

In its close and attentive observation of the details of nature both urban and rural, Soto’s poetry is full of such images as “a windowsill of flies” or “the leaves of cotton plants/Like small hands waving good-bye.” Taken together, it seems clear that the insect images, especially those of ants, suggest the Mexican-Chicano workers themselves and the complex of meanings that they have as a result of society’s particular construction of them and of the workers’ construction of themselves. A strong narrative line characterizes most of his poems; images of impressive clarity and spiritual force evoke ecstatic visions of the Godhead as pure light and the sacrifices of the curious faithful as they seek to understand the “blank eye” of God toward the suffering of the Mexican fieldworker whom the ants know “For what I gave.” Indeed, Soto throughout this collection demonstrates his impressive power to transform gritty, closely observed reality into images that inform one of the sacramental through the power of his poetic vision.

Sources for Further Study

Library Journal. CXX, May 1, 1995, p. 100.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. May 21, 1995, p. 10.

Ploughshares. XXI, Spring, 1995, p. 188.

Poetry. CLXVII, December, 1995, p. 156.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLII, March 27, 1995, p. 79.

San Francisco Chronicle. November 19, 1995, p. B11.

Voice of Youth Advocates. XVIII, October, 1995, p. 260.