Gary Soto 1952–
Considered one of the most talented Chicano poets, Soto is consistently praised for his gripping depictions of poverty and desolation, especially among Mexican-Americans. Although his work is frequently autobiographical in theme and locale—Soto's childhood in California's San Joaquin Valley included experience as a migrant laborer—the strength of his poetry rests on its ability to transcend the particulars of the situations he depicts. Reviewing Soto's first collection, The Elements of San Joaquin (1977), Jerry Bradley notes that the characters "rise above the meanness of their appearance, not as unscarred ideologues or saints or rhetoricians, but as human—frail and impoverished—whose heritage is simply and redemptively the earth."
Critics often cite in Soto's writing the influence of Philip Levine, an established American poet associated with the "Fresno School" of poets who characteristically employ short, enjambed lines, clear, unencumbered diction, and an elliptical accumulation of concrete images. While some critics fault his detached narrative style as lacking power and true poetic rhythm, many praise Soto's tight linguistic control and contend that his suggestive understatements successfully induce the reader's sympathy and involvement. Soto's second and third volumes, The Tale of Sunlight (1978) and Where Sparrows Work Hard (1981), have further contributed to his growing reputation as an important contemporary poet.