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  • Laura Villareal

From West Branch Magazine: A retrospective on Gary Soto's The Elements of San Joaquin





When Shara Lessley emailed asking if I would contribute to her series "This Long Winding Line: A Poetry Retrospective" at West Branch Magazine I was elated as an admirer of the series and of both her and Gary Soto's writing. In book criticism, there's more often than not a neccessity to review books before they've arrived in the world or very close to their publication dates. It can be daunting to keep up with this requirement especially in reviewing poetry. The lifespan of books is long so I have always questioned this focus on the latest and newest. As writers, we hope our writing will reach readers in some way and if we're lucky it will resonate with them well after. I think"This Long Winding Line: A Poetry Retrospective" exemplifies how illuminating it is when writers come together to read and write about books published years ago.


In the introduction, Lessley writes: "Of all the installments published thus far via West Branchs retrospective poetry series 'This Long Winding Line,' the following essays by Manuel Muñoz, Nico Amador, Rigoberto González, and Laura Villareal are by far the most personal. Remembers González of his first encounter with Soto’s collection, 'The Elements of San Joaquin was inhabited by stories and people so familiar to me, it read like a logbook of memories.' As a daughter of the valley, I see The Elements of San Joaquin as a stay against isolation and ignorance, a poetry that maps a place where almond orchards are insured for flooding, while the men and women potentially injured while tending them too often go without coverage."


Soto is a writer who has reached readers of all ages through a variety of genres, so perhaps its no wonder that these essays were some of the most personal.



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