LatinxLit: Poet Christopher Soto

About the Author

Christopher Soto (aka Loma) is a Queer, [email protected], punk poet & prison abolitionist. Their poetry delves into their relationship with domestic violence, queer youth homelessness, & the suicide of a close friend. Of the chapbook, Eileen Myles writes, "Sad Girl Poems are revolutionary and sad and finely wrought on the fly… I keep reading, needing to be living in the world of them.” Soto is originally from the Los Angeles area, and now lives in Brooklyn. For more info visit www.christophersoto-poet.com (Sibling Rivalry Press).

RQ: Loma, it is a pleasure to have this exchange with you. I’ve been looking forward to having this interview with you to talk about the sadness you describe in your chapbook, Sad Girl Poems. Sadness and pain, as a POC, are central to this collection and both are important for readers to understand you and the work you do.

In your Preface, you state that you don’t care about the emotional response readers have to your work and its content. The impression I have is that you want a reader to be moved to action, a move that encourages the reader to get involved; I’d like to know what you care about when it comes to readers. Furthermore, what can a reader who doesn’t have money to give to charity do to be involved?

LOMA: I’m not a huge fan of Whitman but I’m thinking of his lines, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” I feel I answer this question differently whenever I encounter it. In one part, I want to say that I do not think of readers, on the other hand I say that I want people to listen and act. If folks don’t have money to take political action, then they can march on the streets against police violence (in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter), or they can write articles and materials for political change, or something. There are many ways that people can be can politically engaged which aren’t contingent upon income. So many activists I admire died poor–Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson. Pertaining to readership, I’m happy whenever people come across my work. But now I’m thinking about Toni Morrison who said, “I’m writing for black people… I don’t have to apologize.” I say, I’m writing for queer people of color, to a degree. Kinda.

RQ: During your work with Undocupoets, a campaign to change the guidelines for first book prizes, I read that you encountered nearly all editors running these prizes were white. I’ve discovered a similar phenomena with poetry editors of major literary magazines. Why do you think there are so few POC in editorial positions or positions of power in literary institutions?

Loma: Institutional racism. I remember sitting in Major Jackson’s class and hearing him tell a story about Amiri Baraka. He said that Baraka once cried knowing (or thinking) that the major literary institutions like the New Yorker would never publish his work. I feel that way often. I once received a letter from a major editor saying, “Thanks for these necessary and powerful poems, for diversifying and equalizing the literary playing field.” Then that editor denied my work. Stating that it may not be a fit for their readership. I get a lot of statements like this, where people want me to exist in the literary field, to be radical and brown and trans. But then they don’t want to employ me or know about my daily struggles.

I think of the essay by Juliana Spahr, “Contemporary U.S. poetry and Its Nationalisms,” which discusses the relationship between the state and poetry funding. If the government is funding the NEA and you are writing poems about destroying the government, then you may not be prioritized in winning the grant. This is one example of the type of obstacles that face me as a radical brown writer. That’s why I write essays, tour, etc.; I have to think of ways outside of the literary institution to promote my own work. Also pertaining to white publishers. There is an article by Publishers Weekly that says 91% of publishers are white, only 3% Latinx, and 1% Black. It is hard to get into a field where there is literally NOBODY that looks like me (trans latinx). The statistics look like big signs that read FUCK YOU, GO AWAY, FAGGOT!

RQ: You want your readers to act. We’ve seen recently other writers address similar inactivity through the use of social media, sharing posts or leaving a comment on a post, which is not enough–I’m thinking of Roger Reeves’ craft talk “The Work of Art in the Age of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston“–I agree with him. You’re echoing these sentiments as well–what action should readers take? What does it mean to be mobile?

Loma: Donate money, march, produce media or art. Do something.

RQ: I’d like to shift my focus and hear more about your poetry. I’m interested in the poem “Those Sundays” and its confessional tone. I found great sadness and strength to be taken from this poem. It reveals a situation and experience many children encounter. The experience of those who have family members or friends who are intolerant and ignorant about gender and sexual diversity. I’m reminded of my own experience of coming out and of the fear of being discovered by family before I was ready to come out. The speaker of your poem finds strength and protection in Rory, a relationship and an individual, who exists outside of the home. Please tell us about this poem and what you hope readers will take from it?

Loma: This poem is written in conversation with Robert Hayden “Those Winter Sundays.” It’s one of my favorite poems by Hayden (also “The Tattooed Man”). I wanted to humanize my father in my poems. I wanted a multi-dimensional character. How can you love someone so much who has been violent with you? How can you learn to accept the love of a previously violent father who is growing old? Ultimately, I failed at this task within the poem and my father was not humanized. The pain was still too present. Instead, I looked to Rory in the poem as an example of love, intimacy, in the midst of violence. I look to Rory (as a character) to show that I am still capable of being gentle during domestic violence. Yet, my gentleness with Rory still causes him pain. I transmit pain to Rory, from my relationship with my father. I’m interested in looking at pain collectively and how we carry the hurt that has been given to us.

RQ: Your poems resound with pain but the experiences you describe moved me to what you call “contentedness & meaning.” The last stanza of this collection is overwhelming and beautiful:

But all I own are these little lips.
They kiss, then close [like the lid on
A casket]. Please, let me die alone.

What makes you content and what do you find meaningful?

Loma: Thanks, I was debating for a while about cutting the last poem altogether. I feel like it’s a necessary closing though. It’s an exit poem, a conclusion. It was me afraid and feeling unprepared to love other individuals because of my trauma. I was pushing others away, after sharing a moment (a chapbook) of intimacy with them. Also, I think contentedness and meaning are contingent upon each individual. For me, I find meaning in poetry, conversation, political action, listening to another, humanizing them, living honestly, building community, finding patience and forgiveness, and learning. I strive towards contentedness because I feel happiness is fleeting and intangible. I welcome happiness when it comes but I believe happiness is an unstable emotion and people shouldn’t waste their lives waiting for happiness to come, or mourn its loss. Happiness is so horribly defined by the sadness that precedes it.

RQ: Finally, tell us what you have planned after this collection–I know you’re the editor of Nepantla, a journal dedicated to queer poets of color, and you’re an activist. What can we expect from you this year?

Loma: I’m going on a national Tour to End Queer Youth Homelessness in spring. This summer I’m going to edit Issue #3 of Nepantla, and next Fall I want to launch another campaign (protesting classist reading fees by literary journals). I want to keep reading and editing and writing. I’m going to keep producing poems too. My goal is to finish my first full-length collection in the next 5-7 years. I’m trying to be patient with my writing process and I’m glad that folks will have this chapbook (at least) while I’m slowly working on the full-length. It feels good to have this chapbook out and to know that people are interested in having more. Also, thank you Ruben for taking the time to do this interview with me! I appreciate you tons.

RQ: Thank you, Loma, for your time, strength, activism, and heartbreaking poems.


THOSE SUNDAYS 

My father worked too many hours. He’d come home with
his cracked hands and bad attitude. & I’d rather talk about
Rory now. [His blond locks] How the sun would comb crowns
into his hair. Rory was my first love, before he killed himself.

My father hated faggots. The way my cock looked beneath a dress. The mismatch of his chafed knuckles and my cut cuticles. A scrambling of hands. I was always running. Mascara. Massacre. My momma would wash the red paint off my nails and face. She’d hold me like the frame of a house. No, the bars of a prison cell.

“Mijo, your father is coming home soon. Hide your heels.” I’m
the donkey clanking down the hall. Click, Clack, Click, Clack.
Over Momma’s body [he’d grab me] & throw me against the wall.
My bruises dark as holes, he punched into the wall. His hand was
the hammer. I was the nail. & I want to talk about Rory now.

That night, after my father smashed the television glass with his baseball bat, I met Rory at the park. We made a pipe out of a plastic bottle and aluminum foil. [He watched me undress & run through ticking sprinklers]. I fell beside him then; beneath the maple tree. & he saw my goose bumps from the cold. & he felt my bruises, as they became a part of him.

Rory, I want to say that death is what you’ve always wanted. But
that can’t be the Truth. [This time] we can blame it on me. I’ll be
the packing mule, carry all the burden. & you, you can be a child
again; fold your church hands like dirty laundry [crease them tight].
Nobody has to know about us, not my father nor yours-                                                                                                                                                                                                                   No, not even God.

“Those Sundays” first appeared in OmniVerse in 2015. 

Christophoer Soto’s forthcoming poetry chapbook, Sad Girl Poems, is available now for pre-order from Sibling Rivalry Press. Sad Girl Poems will be released on January 30th. You can order your copy here.

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