Poet Of The Week

Christopher Soto

     July 11–17, 2016

Christopher Soto (aka Loma) is a queer latinx punk poet and prison abolitionist. Named one of “Ten Up and Coming Latinx Poets You Need to Know” by Remezcla, one of “Seven Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Artists Doing the Work” by the Offing and one of “30 Poets You Should Be Reading” by the Literary Hub, their first chapbook, Sad Girl Poems, was published by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2016. The winner of the “Barnes & Nobles Writer for Writers Award” from Poets & Writers, they founded Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color with the Lambda Literary Foundation and cofounded The Undocupoets Campaign in 2015. They received an MFA in poetry from NYU and their work has been translated into Spanish and Portuguese. Originally from the Los Angeles area, they now live in Brooklyn. As part of the NYC Poetry Festival on Governor’s Island, they will read for the Brooklyn Poets Reading Series on July 31 along with Shira Erlichman and Thomas Fucaloro.

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.

 

–Originally published by Omnidawn.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

It was written a few years ago after “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden. I wanted to humanize my father in this poem but wasn’t able to yet. I think I may be able to write an ode to my father now, though. We are, for the first time, in a gentle relationship with one another.

What are you working on right now?

My first full-length manuscript about police violence and mass incarceration. I’m afraid this state violence will continue until after the manuscript is finished. So I just keep writing and protesting and writing.

What’s a good day for you?

I’m at the airport in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico now. Yesterday was a very good day. I went kayaking through mangroves with friends.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

Trauma and school. I always struggle in California with poetry and friends. I did my MFA at NYU and loved it here. I think New York will be my home for a while.

Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

Currently, I live in Park Slope, in a really cute brownstone. It’s on 7th Ave next to all the restaurants and only two blocks from the park. When I’m stressed, I go read or run at the park. People in the building have lived here for decades and the landlord hasn’t raised rent in years. In terms of trying to resist gentrification, I think this is the lowest impact move I could make, not supporting a rental company and trying not to displace more brown/black families. Gentrification looks a bit different in Park Slope since it is predominantly white already. My Abuela and father lived ten minutes away from where I live now, decades ago. I feel like I’m returning to their home.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.

Last year, I was partying with Stephen Boyer at a little bar in Bushwick. Björk was there and Stephen was trying to convince her to come to an afterparty with us down the street. She said yes and got in the cab with Stephen and her bodyguards but left the second venue pretty soon after I arrived. I was waiting with some other friends outside the first bar and talking. This famous drag queen, Sharon Needles, was there by me at the first bar. I didn’t talk to her. She was saying racist shit and being confrontational. So someone pushed her into the trash. I left that party and stayed up at the Spectrum (the second venue) dancing until the sunrise, then I skated back home in my little black dress. For me, this feels quintessentially New York.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

Yes, I basically only talk to poets in New York. Many of them are radical queer poets of color. I feel very lucky to have this community. I also think getting my MFA at NYU helped introduce me to a lot of other well-acclaimed writers and publishers in the city/country too.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you. Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

I think Eduardo C. Corral and Ocean Vuong have had some of the greatest impacts on me, both in my personal and in my writing life. I love them both so dearly. Also Alok Vaid-Menon has been a dear friend to me and has taught me a lot. Eduardo and Ocean taught me so much about craft and patience and emotional intelligence. Alok brought me into the revolution.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

I just finished Monica Sok’s chapbook Year Zero and now I’m reading Anybody by Ari Banias. I am also really looking forward to the release of Look by Solmaz Sharif and the debuts from Erica L. Sanchez and Layli Longsoldier too.

The last book to really shake me was Robin Coste Lewis’s Voyage of the Sable Venus. I can’t get over the form and knowledge and expansiveness of that book. Also the Warsan Shire quote: “My alone feels so good, I’ll only have you if you’re sweeter than my solitude” keeps coming into my head lately. I’m currently getting rid of a lot of garbage in my life.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

I read multiple books at once, returning frequently to dog-eared pages on my bookshelves. I usually know what I want to read next but will sometimes unexpectedly be given a book that really catches my attention. I don’t read books digitally and I seldom take notes (though I should more). I just hate writing on the pages.

Where are some places you like to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)? What are some other Brooklyn spaces you love?

I read in my room, on my rooftop, at the park, on the train, during lunch, everywhere. I usually write at home and on the train.

In Brooklyn, I like visiting Berl’s Poetry Shop and Prospect Park. New York is chaotic and these places relax me. I spend a lot of time at my boyfriend’s house too, trying to convince him to come with me to Bahia, a restaurant I like, in Williamsburg.

Why Brooklyn?

It’s hard to find community sometimes, when you’re queer and brown and radical. In New York, I have found a lot of people who care about me. It feels very special to love and be loved.