Christopher Soto

Interview by H. Melt

TRANSACTIONAL SEX WITH SATAN

He smokes // heavily // & smells like // the suicide // of one thousand angels.

Intergalactic ash // spread // over his // bed sheets // & vintage dildo // dreams.

I write // bestial love-letters // & have an affinity // for gothic cemetery // cults.

Mother // used to ask // for my strangeness // to be kept deep // inside Alcatraz.

Bound & bruised // I’ve become the siren & shipwreck // synonyms for lonely.

My sex is // melancholic terrorism // or // witchcraft in // the Catholic Church.

He plugs my nose // my tonsils gape open // & dick is shoved // into my heart.

Lampposts mock fireflies // in their flicker & worry // about seizures in the sky.

Been drunk & practicing // telepathy with friends // everyone has low // libido.

He ejaculates // & lilacs // fill the room // jars of milk & honey // below stucco.

In the morning // I’m awake & lonely // I clip my toenails into crescent moons.

Everything is legal // somewhere.

 

SELF PORTRAIT AS SONORAN DESERT

She walks across my chest—
                                                          dragging her shadow & fraying
                                                                               [All the edges].
My nipples bloom // into cacti—
                                          Fruit & flower.
She eats // then I do.
           —A needle pricks her.

I have only seen this woman // cry once—
                                                                Squeezed // like a raincloud.
She cried because // two white men.
[Two white men]
                                                       Built a detention center—
                                                                            From bone & clay.

[The first bone— my clavicle].         The second— her spine.
She howls
                                                                  [As the fence // surrounds her].
She coughs &
Combs // the floor // my chest
                                           [Shiv-shivering].
Inside the detention center—
                                                     [She is named] “immigrant” “illegal.”
                                                                          She loses 15 pounds &
Mental health & her feet are—
                                Cracked tiles // dirty dishes.

This border—                         is not a stitch [where nations meet].
This border is a wound //                         where nations part.

 

YES, I HATE AMERICA

How electric // tidal // capitalism // crashes over us.

Neon burial grounds // tumbling // through the border.

That day I left // my ex-nothing // on Apache lands.

He sold my memory // for mule // psychiatric garden.

Yelling my ignorances // each fence erect // splooging!

Surveillance cameras // shaking // skinhead passports.

Border communities // patrolled // petroleum desires.

This sweet & cherry // boy-pussy // is a great machine.

How could I // leave // ethereal night // or etheridge?

Feeling fucked up // no license // in the porn arcade.

Hell is temperate // climate // compared to // this life

Without you.
 
                                                Poems were originally published in American Poetry Review
 
 
SILENCE HAS REPURCUSSIONS
An Interview with the author of Sad Girl Poems

Christopher Soto (aka Loma) is a queer latinx punk poet, prison abolitionist, and the author of Sad Girl Poems, a new chapbook that will be published by Sibling Rivalry Press on January 30. Loma’s chapbook is a small but powerful collection of resilience in the face of harm, of longing for and losing those they love, of the neverending search for and constant rebuilding of home. I spoke with Loma via email before their Tour to End Queer Youth Homelessness comes to Chicago.

H. Melt: Your chapbook Sad Girl Poems will be published by Sibling Rivalry Press. How did the book find a home there? What has your experience been like working with the press?

CS: There were only three presses that I was really interested in for my chapbook: Sibling Rivalry Press, YesYes Books, and Organic Weapon Arts. I remember thinking “If none of these presses accept my work then I’ll just print it as a DIY zine and give it to friends myself.” I’m not too good at being patient about poetry publishing, waiting for acceptances. Now, after having gone through the publishing process with my chap and other poems, I think I’ll be a bit more patient and open minded with my first full length, hopefully.

I wanted to be with Sibling Rivalry Press because that’s where Ocean Vuong and Saeed Jones got their start. I respect a lot of poets on that press. I’m grateful for all the work that Bryan and Seth have put into making my chapbook. They have been such sweethearts and so supportive of my work throughout this process.

HM: You’re going on a Tour to End Queer Youth Homelessness at the same time as the release of your chapbook. Why did you decide to focus on queer youth homelessness and how will the tour work to end it?

CS: I talk a bit about Queer Youth Homelessness in my chapbook so it seemed like a logical connection. I think it’s an under-spoken, under-addressed reality within the queer community, which impacts so many people. “About 40% of homeless youth are LGBT” according to the Williams Institute at UCLA. I wanted to better understand myself in relation to queer youth homelessness, and the state of queer youth homelessness in general. By talking about queer youth homelessness, I’m also able to address a host of other issues which are important to me, such as domestic violence, police brutality, the decriminalization of sex work and drug usage, the failures of marriage equality and gay assimilation.

Pertaining to ending queer youth homelessness, I’m not sure that it can be accomplished by one chapbook tour. I view this as more of a consciousness raising effort, an attempt at creating community dialogue. Consciousness raising is important but it is hard to track the direct impact of consciousness raising on a community. If possible, I would also like to help raise funds and provide direct services too but I have to realize my limitations on this tour. I can’t be every department in a non-profit organization.

One white person just wrote me the other day saying my work was “unhelpful” and in my head I’m thinking “why don’t you organize your own fucking tour and launch your own campaign instead of lazily criticizing mine.” It takes a lot for queer and trans people of color, to have enough confidence to speak publicly, in a world where our lives and work are so constantly devalued or seemingly non-existent. It infuriates me when cis-white people think they have a right to speak to me that way. MEDIOCRE BITCHES WILL NEVER SILENCE ME.

HM: In your chapbook, you talk a lot about home. You say, “Home isn’t merely a physical space” and is “Often defined by a feeling of security.” Where are some places that you feel home? Do you ever feel that people can provide a sense of home?

CS: Right now, New York is starting to feel like home. Some of my friends and family feel like home. I don’t have home in a physical property. I’m not sure that I ever did. I would like to create a physical home in New York but it is so expensive and I have moved every year since I’ve been here. Always changing neighborhoods, always changing roommates. And yes, I think that people can be a sort of home. My mother feels like home.

HM: In your poem “Ars Poetica” you write, “This is such a useless fucking poem.” Your next poem starts off “I hate these poems.” This made me wonder, do you feel there are limits to poetry and what it can do? If so, what are they?

CS: Good observation. This chapbook was a pain for me to write. Brenda Shaughnessy once said “You seem like you’re frustrated with what you’re writing.” I was in her workshop with Javier Zamora, Monica Sok, Jameson Fitzpatrick (who all write such crafted and intentional and linear poems). I felt too messy, and illogical. I felt like my poems lacked craft and voice and perspective and form and lyric. I was discovering my voice in this chapbook and pushing too much to be like other poets around me. I was tired of writing over and over and over again the same poems about daddy problems and being traumatized. I wanted to create something new and was unable to do so.

In my personal opinion, this chapbook functions in a very similar manner to a first book for many other poets. It is very close to the adolescent “I” and it is exploring closed forms (such as the villanelle) trying to flex poetic muscles, it also steals very much from the poets which I read. At first, I hated these poems. Now I am more appreciative for them, as part of my growing process and learning process as a poet.

My new work, the voice that I have come to recognize as my own (which not many folks have read) shifts away from the personal narrative and is more directly concerned with the political. My new work tries to find the high lyric in relationship to punk (as Lorca did with gypsy music, as Langston did with Blues). My frustrations with “Sad Girl Poems” were not with the limitations of poetry as a vehicle for political action. My frustrations in “Sad Girl Poems” were as an individual writer, who was losing and rediscovering my poetic voice.

HM: You’re the editor of Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color and were also part of the Undocupoets Campaign. What impact do you think these projects are having on the literary world and what do you think is the relationship between poetry and activism?

CS: I’m not sure what the impact is. What metrics are we using to calculate impact? (Just kidding, kinda). For me, the impact is really only visible when I get messages from other people, like I did this morning (from another poet who is starting a journal dedicated to queer indigenous writers, called Cloudthroat) citing Nepantla as an inspiration. That’s when I feel the impact. Otherwise, I often don’t feel the reach of my little poems or interviews or projects. Maybe I’m too close to its center.

And the relationship between poetry and activism is long and complicated to discuss. It has looked so different for different poets in different locations over time. I trace my lineages to June Jordan in the US, I trace my lineages to Roque Dalton in El Salvador. I understand that political poetry has cost some people their lives and safety. I am thinking about poets such as Ashraf Fayadh who was given a death sentence by the Saudi Arabain government for his words. I’m not sure what impact my work has but I understand that activism has repercussions. I understand that silence has repercussions too.

HM: You’ve written about being gender nonconforming and I was wondering if you could mention some GNC people who inspire you and/or affirm your existence?

CS: Alok and Janani from DarkMatter are close friends of mine and their work constantly inspires me. Also, Joshua Allen is an activist and prison-abolitionist based out of NYC whom I love dearly and find strength in (though we don’t talk too much right now). Other gender nonconforming activists / artists of color in New York City who inspire me are Jamal Lewis, Kiki Williams. I have been a bit of a recluse lately, mainly talking to my partner, other poets, and my poems. But the existence and vision and voices of these people give me strength.

HM: The introduction to your chapbook includes your vision of a dream poetry world where there is more support for POC poets and publishers, along with the call for poets to get paid for their work. What would your dream world outside of a poetry context be like?

CS: Put minimally, in my dream world everyone would have access to food, safety, shelter. I don’t think this is too much to ask. I think my political framework is actually very deeply rooted to my relationship with Catholicism. I grew up Catholic. I always thought Jesus was extremely radical, political. He was born homeless, hung out with sex workers, was an anti-capitalist, and was crucified by the state. I think my dream world is very parallel with some Catholic ideologies. I believe in the redistribution of resources and helping those who are in need of help.

Loma will be reading Friday, February 5 at Women & Children First with Fatimah Asghar, Richie Hofmann, and Erika L. Sanchez (7:30 PM). They will also be reading Saturday, February 6 at Subterranean with Roger Reeves, Jamila Woods, and Emily Yoon (7 PM).

 

 

Christopher SotoChristopher Soto (aka Loma) is a queer latinx punk poet & prison abolitionist. For more information visit christophersoto-poet.com

h.melt bio photoH. Melt is a poet and artist whose work proudly documents Chicago’s queer and trans communities. Their writing has appeared in Lambda Literary, The Offing, and Them, the first trans literary journal in the United States. They are the author of The Plural, The Blurring.

 

 

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