Friday, September 26, 2008

Celebrate Soto and Mora for Latino Heritage Month

In honor of Latino Heritage Month (September 15- October 15), I’d like to highlight the latest poetry by two of my favorite poets, Latino or otherwise, Gary Soto and Pat Mora.

Gary Soto’s new collection, Partly Cloudy; Poems of Love and Longing, looks at love in 100 poems, the first half from the girl’s point of view (“A Girl’s Tears, Her Songs), and the second half from the boy’s point of view (“A Boy’s Body, His Words”).

These unrhymed, free verses swing from funny, to serious, some sad, some ironic, some hopeful, some angry. I like the idea of pairing or matching boy and girl poems—either based on similar feelings or tone or by contrasting them—does one reflect the rejection of the other? Could they be cross referencing each other? The voices reflect young, perhaps first love—many are identified as 13-14 years old. Kids as young as middle school age will relate to these emotions and experiences, as well teens and older readers. Here’s just a taste; first from a boy, then from a girl:

Natural Talent
by Gary Soto

You brought out a can of chicken noodle soup,
And set its contents in a pot
Over the stove’s collar of blue flames.
“Wow,” I said, “you can cook.”
The refrigerator’s bulb shone on your handsome face
When you brought out a block of cheese—
You deftly cut little squares
And placed them onto saltines.
“Where did you learn all this?” I asked,
And you shrugged your shoulders.
I even liked how you turned on the kitchen faucet
With your elbow— you had to keep
Your fingers clean—and whittled little pieces
Of salami. We ate looking at each other,
Me so obviously in love. I asked, “Do you iron?”
You nodded—god, you have shiny hair!
After we ate, you asked me to take…
To take off my blouse! “Slow down,” I said,
Hands on my hips. Then I understood.
You gave me a sweatshirt to wear
While you sewed on my loose fourth button.
Where did you learn this,
Multi-tasking lover boy of mine?

p. 13

Beautiful Trouble
by Gary Soto

They say you have a tattoo of a butterfly
On your thigh, but how will I know?
That you can uncurl cigarette smoke at will,
That you can cuss in six languages,
That your last boyfriend is using a whole box
Of Kleenex to wipe away his river of tears.
These are rumors, just rumors.
But I can see. You’re dressed in beautiful trouble,
The skirt that swings and the low-cut blouse,
And I may as well mention the red smile,
The ring on your loveliest toe,
And the glance in a compact mirror,
Seeing me watch you.
When you raise your hand in class,
Your bracelets ring. You seldom get the answer
Right, but who cares!
My dad, a deacon in the church, warns,
“Watch out for girls who cause trouble.”
Indeed, I watch every day as you swing
Down the hallways, the little roll of muscle
In your calf, and somewhere up higher,
The rumor of a butterfly.

p. 58

Soto, Gary. 2008. Partly Cloudy; Poems of Love and Longing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

More love poetry for young people is on its way in two collections by Betsy Franco and Pat Mora coming out later this year or early next year. I can’t wait!

Speaking of Pat Mora, her new poetry book this fall is Join Hands! The Ways We Celebrate Life. It’s a poem picture book illustrated with color photographs by George Ancona of kids in constant motion. A single pantoum poem bounces across the pages, with repeated lines appearing across each of the four line stanzas. (A diagrammed poem at the end explains this repetition visually.) This reiterative, circular Malaysian poem form plays out like a playground chant as you read the book aloud, inviting children to participate in the suggested movement and actions: masquerade, parade, dance, skip, prance. The poem begins:

“Join hands!” is what we say.
We sing canciones, too.

We plan a hoopla day.

We strut and ballyhoo.

Kids are pictured in a variety of scenes, settings, and garb, suggesting multiple multicultural connections: Native dancing, flamenco, mariachis, etc.

Join the Poetry Friday gathering at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Picture credits: Charlesbridge;


Linda said...


Two wonderful poets!
Thank you for sharing Gary Soto's new collection. I plan to order it right away!

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks, Linda. I think you'll really enjoy it. And I know teens will!

Anonymous said...

Oh, lovely! I've put the Soto book on reserve at my library, which has it on order.

I just read Poems from Him and Her, by Sara Holbrook and Allan Wolf, and loved it. Teen love poems are enjoying a renaissance!

Stella said...

Wonderful Posting! THanks for also spreading the word on Hispanic Heritage Month!

Sylvia Vardell said...

You bet! I love Latino poetry and wish there were more, more, more for kids and teens.

susan said...

Thanks for the review. I do admire Soto's work and didn't know about this collection. Will add it to our wish list.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thanks for stopping by. Always glad to help plug wonderful poetry books!