Poetry is an effective form of communication. Literature students read and compare poems from different eras in order to understand their similarities and differences. This contributes to the knowledge of an array of issues that exist in societies such as culture, religion, and media. This paper outlines comparative literature of the neighborhoods of Gary Soto and Marge Piercy (which was also my neighborhood).
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Similarities of the Neighborhoods
Both of us grew up in areas with high populations. I lived in Detroit, the neighborhood of Piercy. Life was lovely with plenty of food from farms, which were in proximity to the urban areas. Similarly, Soto grew up in a Central Valley, in California. He hailed from Fresno where his family depended on agriculture for economic gains.
There were two distinct social classes in the neighborhoods; the poor and the rich. They had different lifestyles; the poor lived miserable lives with meager finances whereas the rich lived affluent lifestyles with adequate finances. Both of us belonged to the poor social class. Soto and his family moved out of the agricultural Fresno area into the industrial area to look for jobs following his father’s death. Similarly, following the death of my mother, we had to move out of an asbestos house, to look for manual jobs in the industrial area of Detroit.
We grew up in mixed-race neighborhoods. Soto grew up in a neighborhood of Mexican Americans, and I grew up among African Americans and Jews. Life was tough in the neighborhood as seen in Soto’s poem where he says “so man tugs on a sock, and this is sheep, and child slips on a hat.” This indicates that they depended on animal skin for clothing as opposed to rich people who could buy manufactured goods (Gary, 1992). Piercy says, “…drew the curtains and examined the face of the day” signifying that life had to change after the mother’s death (Piercy, 2003). Life in the neighborhoods was hard for anyone without parents.
Differences about the Neighborhoods
I grew up around the blacks or African Americans, whereas Soto grew around Mexican Americans. The mixed races determined the activities and nature of the two neighborhoods. Racism was the order of the day with the superior races getting opportunities for employment in my neighborhood. My neighborhood got frequent attacks from troops who were against Semitism, whereas that of Soto was peaceful.
I grew up in a suburb of Detroit city. On the contrary, Soto grew up in a rural area in California. I had some privileges such as an alarm clock. Piercy talks about alarm ringing into her ear following her mother’s death (literary) and an alarm clock was a preserve for the middle and high class in my community (Piercy, 2003). On the contrary, Soto lived in rural areas as seen in his concern for sheep, in his poem.
Soto’s neighborhood did not value education. In the poem, Soto mainly talks about animals and poverty. In some Odes, he says “Our shelves were not lined with books, they were lined with Menudo.” His family did not encourage him to work hard in school. Therefore, Soto maintained the status quo of his society and remained semiliterate for a long time. On the contrary, my neighborhood encouraged me to get an education since there were many schools in the city. Piercy says, “I seldom have premonitions of death.” (Piercy, 2003). This was the same situation as me. My society had taught me to be a strong person and use of reason, not spirituality in making sound judgments. The neighborhood had nurtured me in to a person who loved reading, and I developed a reading culture during my middle childhood.
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In essence, poets come from different neighborhoods. There are those who are poor, rich, dynamic, creative and imaginative. It is expedient to understand the neighborhood in which a poet grew in order to understand the subject matter and context of their poems. This knowledge also helps the reader to elaborate on the meaning of a poem.
Gary, S. (1992). “Ode to a Day in the Country.” In Neighborhood Odes. New York: Harcourt.
Piercy, M. (2003). “The Day My Mother Died.” In Colors Passing Through Us. New York: Knopf Publishers.