The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Home Course in Religion,” a long narrative poem, does not adhere to a specific rhyme or rhythm scheme. Instead, this prose poem relies on a variety of structural devices to provide unity. As with many of his other poems, Gary Soto is more concerned with creating and conveying an image with short, tight lines and direct, succinct diction than he is with rhyme and rhythm. For example, Soto consistently juxtaposes two seemingly ordinary, terse words (such as “Top Ramen” and “cereal bowl”) that together reinforce the reality of the persona’s poverty, a poverty that influences his every action: “I was living on Top Ramen and cold cereal.” The socioeconomic concept of poverty and its resulting oppressiveness is pervasive in the poem. Building on this sense of poverty, the poem, written in the first person, allows Soto to create a persona whose view of the world and whose experiences are very similar to his. Thus, the poet speaks directly to and intimately with the audience, conveying an experience that is immediate and authentic.

The poem universalizes the archetypal journey of an eighteen-year-old college student as he struggles to find the “quiddity,” or essence, of his life. As the title “Home Course in Religion” implies, the student undertakes his introspective journey by turning to religion. He begins by reading “a really long book” that “ought to be read by anyone/ Who has had a formal or home-study course in...

(The entire section is 529 words.)