Soto, Gary. Canto Familiar: A Poetry Collection. Orlando FL: Harcourt, 1995.
With Soto's works, for me anyway, it's an on-again-off-again affair. One book I'll absolutely love, the next I'll despise. When I come across one I don't much care for, I think, Man, this guy is over-rated. He's among the first Mexican American writers teachers brought into the classroom, and so this is why he's publishing even this drivel. But then I come across a book like Canto Familiar, and I'm floored by its beauty and its power. This is a book of poetry! I love the seeming simplicity of the poems. Not a one reads like it's very deep and inaccessible, like a ton of poems I was exposed to (a better word: over-exposed) as a middle and high schooler. Had I been made aware of this sort of writing when I was younger, then perhaps I would've enjoyed the form some, at a quicker pace. I would've understood, perhaps, the power of my world expressed through poetry, because this is the very lesson Soto is teaching us in this book: that we are allowed to write about the everyday, the silliness of today in my life, the heartbreak but in terms I can grasp or wrap my brain around. For example, in the poem titled "Music for Fun and Profit," a boy makes instruments of the most common of house-hold objects: "an oatmeal box," "a comb and waxpaper," "a coat hanger," and other various and sundry things. It is a fun and funny poem, but the theme runs deep; the poem's about family dynamics: kids getting on parents' nerves, kids discovering one way after another to get on their parents nerves, and more importantly, how to manipulate this newly-uncovered information to their benefit. It doesn't have to speak in dark and dreadful language; it doesn't have to be about death and blackness and bleakness. But about the everyday, the common, the me. So thanks to Soto for that. And just get a load of the magical language and imagery in this collection!
Other books of Soto's worth picking up: Mercy on these Teenage Chimps (read note below), A Fire in My Hands, Baseball in April: Stories. Ones to avoid: Poetry Lover, The Skirt.