Poetry News

Gary Soto Shares Drafts

By Harriet Staff

As we reported last week on John Darnielle, The Atlantic is offering us another look inside the drafting process, this time through Gary Soto, who shares two poems, one new and the other old. A bit from Soto's reflections, on writing and his editorial relationship with Christopher Buckley:

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.

Then I will put in the mail this revised poem, perhaps with others, for my buddy and poetry editor, Christopher Buckley—not from the Republican Buckley clan but the poet who grew up surfing in Santa Barbara. He's been my rewrite man and drinking chum of the first order since graduate school at UC-Irvine. I remember the first time I presented a poem to the class, all ten of us with sadness in our satchels. Buckley uncapped his fountain pen--a functional Parker--and began, "I think we have a poem here, but..."

I bristled, as I was 21, full of myself, having already appeared in such notable journals as Raccoon Review! What does this guy know? I thought. Apparently more than I. He possessed an MA in literature and easily dropped the names of philosophers, artists, foreign movies, and trendy critical theorists—Foucault, for instance. And just think, as a Fresno boy wet behind the ears, I thought Foucault was the ultimate stage of drunkenness. Names of established poets were tossed around like horse shoes, sometimes hitting the irons with loud rings.

Originally Published: June 28th, 2011