Sad Girl Poems (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016) is a bold selection of one vast corner of Christopher Soto's brazenly vulnerable life. Its preface honestly, vitally calls out the reality of race, class and othering in the poetry-world, properly, keenly framing this powerful book of poems.
Michael Harper / Gramma : In the preface to your book, Sad Girl Poems, you briefly describe your "poetry dream-world"― one of empowered poets of color, POC publishers, artists getting paid for their work and time, and you living like a KWEEN. What else should we work to add to this dream world as we try to make it a reality?
Christopher Soto / Loma : Shit, well Trump just got elected and my poetry dream world feels so far away now. I think all poets need to be on the floor, donating to the arts and donating to our most vulnerable communities, and creating work that is LOUD and protests. I think it is the obligation of poets to be writing counter-narratives to all of the racist, homophobic, xenophobic language that is flooding televisions right now. Poets should be obsessed with language, poets should be terrified about what is being said by president-elect Trump and need to be speaking against him. Non-optional.
MH : What will white publishers "mobilizing for" POC leadership look like? What are some examples of this vital mobilization of publishers or things certain publishers are doing?
CS : White publishers need to bring more editors of color onto their teams. Also train and pay and support editors of color. Also, when publishing poets of color, all publishers should reach beyond one-page high lyric narrative poems about POC pain. I want poets of color to also feel like they can also write messy, long, ugly, unpretentious poems. I love poets of color in the "avant-garde."
MH : What defines a "narrative poem for white people"? Intent? Content? Something else?
CS : By narrative I mean, explaining your life story in a chronologically linear first person manner. When writing "For white people," I was just critiquing the ways that some white folks expect brown/black people to write. I was also critiquing brown/black folks who will write those poems for publication, grants, etc.... Also, I don't want to critique POC who write in that format too much though. Cuz a lot of my chap is first person narrative and a lot of the folks who write these narrative poems are doing shit Im interested in too... I think, more so, what I'm trying to do is open the possibilities for POC writers who don't fit that mold of writing clean narrative poems and also deserve to be celebrated too.
MH : Your poetry often reads like a conversation―parentheses or brackets containing alternate voices or viewpoints. How do you decide to use or define the time to utilize these parenthetical remarks? What do these statements mean to you in the greater scope of your work?
CS : I listen to poetic impulse with the parenthesis and brackets. They don’t have too much of a cohesive pattern. Sometimes, I use them to indicate an aside. Sometimes not and they are merely aesthetic. Also, the punctuation is a way of me helping my brain to organize the poem, when the image or the mood switches. I think my mind is so tangential that I made up grammar so that I could have my poetry be somewhat legible ... Punctuation has become a bit of a trademark on my work now too. People always ask about my punctuation. Some people have started to copy it in their work. Makes me smile.
MH : What happens next?
CS : I have a few things in my life and work that Im getting together. I can't talk about it yet though... Will keep writing poems, that's for sure.
The night Rory died [he moved the chair]. His blonde locks fell
& we’ll never be the same.
I moved to the beach [thrusted my hands into the mud]. Broke the
Jaw of every clam, hoping to find him.
His pearly smile [like a broken necklace] thudded to the floor &
Scattered about // my feet.
Once, Rory almost drowned // in the bathtub. His pubic hairs
Curled like broken strings // on a harp.
Once, Rory was a starfish [starfish cannot drown]. We watched sky
Burn & fall [like terrible angels].
We were so alive. My heart // a red cardinal // resting between two
Rib cages. Its wings expanding. Rory—
The night he died // I went to the beach. Waves beat statically
Against the fins of mermaids.
I tried to call his cell phone [but he didn’t answer]. My body was
A match // his memory was a flame.
My tears were gasoline. Bonfires were scattered along the coast & Fires pawed the sky // like hungry dogs.
Why did the curtains not flail their arms?! // How could they watch
Rory, hanging // quiet??
Each night, I dreamt about Rory. [My teeth fell into his neck] like
Shiny white guillotines.
Each morning, I gnawed on dim light bulbs // I wrestled with lightning
[& dragged myself into the shower].
Why // why won’t the angels stop plucking their wings from passing—
Pigeons? [His wings were stolen].
New lovers plagiarize, say awkward things & yearn. They ask to
See my pretty smile…
Who smiles // when the sky [swallows] its stars?
Christopher Soto aka Loma (b. 1991, Los Angeles) is a poet based in Brooklyn, New York. He was named one of “10 Up and Coming Latinx Poets You Need to Know” by Remezcla. He was named one of “30 Poets You Should Be Reading” by The Literary Hub. He was named one of “7 Trans & Gender Non-Conforming Artist Doing the Work” by The Offing. Poets & Writers honored Christopher Soto with the “Barnes & Nobles Writer for Writers Award” in 2016. Christopher Soto’s first chapbook “Sad Girl Poems” was published by Sibling Rivalry Press. His work has been translated into Spanish and Portuguese. He is currently working on a full-length poetry manuscript about police violence and mass incarceration. He founded Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color with the Lambda Literary Foundation and co-founded The Undocupoets Campaign. He interned at the Poetry Society of America and received an MFA in poetry from NYU.
The poem "Crush a Pearl [It's a Powder]" is included in Christopher Soto's book titled Sad Girl Poems, published by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2016.
Cover image by Sarah Meadows