Friday, April 06, 2018

Gary Soto's Reboot 2018: Review The Elements of San Joaquin

Melinda Palacio

The Elements of San Joaquin: Revised and Expanded
Gary Soto's The Elements of San Joaquin
Pages: 88 pp;
Format: Paperback 
Publication: Chronicle Books February 2018
ISBN: 9781452170138

There are few opportunities for do-overs in life; make-overs are aplenty. But how often can you reach back forty years and sculpt some improvements? Gary Soto's new book of poems, TheElements of San Joaquin: Revised and Expanded, is an exception. The book was first published in 1976 by Pitt Press and some of the poems were first published in 1972. Chronicle Books reissued a new and selected edition this year with a thoughtful introduction by Soto. Although the concept of revising a collection of new and selected poems is nothing new, many poets at the height of their careers publish such a collection. However, in Soto's case the revisiting of his earliest poems, along with the addition of new ones feels unprecedented, as if he is offering the reader a new and improved version of his younger self. He is at peace with the child he was with roots in Taxco who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley in a family of farmworkers, warehouse men, janitors, egg candlers, and in the case of his grandfather, a security guard for the Sun Maid Raisin factory.
           Here a man in his sixties revisits his childhood and the early poetics that put him on the map as a pioneer in Chicano poetry. He wrote those early poems using the backs of album covers as his portable desk while listening to those records sounding  the likes of Dylan, the Rolling Stones,  and Santana. Careful brushstrokes, some so minute only a trained eye would recognize the changes, to addition of new and recovered old poems refresh the original book that describes both the hardships and joys of growing up in the central valley. 
            The poet has an impeccable memory for capturing the music and sounds of his childhood. He carries a heavy sense of nostalgia with such grace, you'll want to return to these poems again and again. Soto is of the same generation as my parents. Reading his work gives me insight into their world even though they had very different lives and grew up very different places, such as Del Rio, Texas and Panama. The language of the poems remains rich and timeless in phrases such as the days shut like a suitcase, plastic bags that ghost in the wind, and tomatoes hanging/Like small red globes. An entire cosmos is found in his poem "Summer" where the moon pulled its own weight /And the black sky cleared itself like a sneeze.

            If you've lost or loaned your original copy of The Elements of San Joaquin, stop what you're doing and order the 2018 Chronicle Books edition.

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