Gary Soto is known for poetry that depicts the visceral side of working-class Mexican-American life. Jobs in factories and fields have shaped his work, as has an apprenticeship under fellow poet Philip Levine. A winner of the Nation/Discovery Award and the Levinson Award from Poetry magazine, he has also been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Of his job as a writer, he has said, "My duty is not to make people perfect, particularly Mexican Americans. I'm not a cheerleader. I'm one who provides portraits of people in the rush of life." In addition to his poetry, Soto has written novels, short stories, memoirs, and over two dozen children's books. Here he shares the drafts of two poems, one from his 1985 collection, Black Hair, and one from a forthcoming volume, Sudden Loss of Dignity.
No poet who grew up in a home without books writes alone. I'm companion to a semi-literate muse, feathered gossip who will sit in a tawdry dress on my shoulder. Sometimes she will whisper lines into my ear, lovely conjectures and occasionally laughable ditties. I will then share my poem first with my wife, who wears not a tawdry dress but stylish clothes and, hey, are those Jimmy Choos on her feet? She'll look at my creation—this week it's a poem debating whether my hearing is really gone—and she'll frown sourly as she reaches for a red pencil from the canister on my desk. When she finishes with this first draft, my poem will be lashed with suggestions. It'll be bleeding but a heartbeat will be present.