Christopher Soto (aka Loma) is a queer latin@ punk poet & prison abolitionist. Their first chapbook “Sad Girl Poems” is forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press. They’ve interned at the Poetry Society of America & received an MFA in poetry from NYU. They cofounded The Undocupoets Campaign with Javier Zamora & Marcelo Hernandez Castillo in 2015. They edit Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color with the Lambda Literary Foundation. Originally from the Los Angeles area; they now live in Brooklyn.
Roberto F. Santiago: First and foremost, I have to congratulate you on your wonderful chapbook SAD GIRL POEMS. It is heartbreakingly lovely, and I am sure Lana Del Rey is gonna love it! I took your collection with me on my lunch break with the intention of having a bite and a few poems for lunch. I wound up reading it cover to cover… and I am sure SAD GIRL POEMS had me for lunch, rather than the inverse!
Santiago: You Begin Sad Girl Poems with a call to arms, in the preface you state:
This past year, Citizen by Claudia Rankine was released and white people all across the literary world discovered racism. The sadness in Claudia Rankine’s book was eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinnertime…I want people to act, I want people to mobilize around POC sadness. Don’t just feel bad about our stories, consume us, and spit us out… I don’t care if my stories make you feel bad about queer youth homelessness. I don’t care if you read my work and talk about it with your friends at brunch.
I think you make a very valid point. It is one thing to discuss and consume the plight of others over mimosas and poached eggs, it is a very different thing to act upon that conversation, “to mobilize” as you said. Can you talk a little bit more about the complicated relationship between artists and action?
Loma: I was at a Roger Reeves lecture the other day and he was talking about ways in which the reiteration of violence (writing poems) can become an actual site of violence. I do not want to hurt myself or my community anymore. I want free & optional housing for my community. We must spell out the desires of our writings. I want you to donate money to the Ali Forney Center now.
Santiago: What do you wish people would ask about this project specifically?
Loma: My commercialization of sadness… I started writing “Sad Girl Poems” a few years ago when other writer friends told me that it was literary taboo to be sad, sappy, sentimental. I remember reading the James Baldwin’s quote “Sentimentality, the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty…” I wanted to write into that.
Santiago: Within the pages of SAD GIRL POEMS, you tackle a great deal of issues ranging from the concept of home(lessness), love, loss, longing, belonging, doubt, sex, violence, and perception to name a few. Did you initially set out to put together a collection that harnessed a “sadness everyone could relate to”?
Loma: No. I didn’t think about the reader during this chapbook. Most of this work was produced before my MFA even. It’s not in my thesis. My intent was to harness an emotion “sadness.” Thus, I distorted a lot of my experiences in the work (I lied) in order to find a smaller truth in the poem (that I was hurt and looking for a way to heal). I think the creation of this chapbook was on an individual level.
Santiago: In TOE Good Poetry, you have a poem titled Nobody is From San Francisco, in it you posit that SF is more of an idea/queer ideal, “…just the thoughts that make us,…” It seems that you have a somewhat torrid romance with the Bay Area, how did your most recent return/departure to the Bay Area inform your work?
Loma: Damn it! People keeping finding this poem somehow. Haha! I actually disagree with this poem. It has no analysis of gentrification, it romanticizes the runaway, etc… That said, I love / hate the bay.
I used to run away from Los Angeles to the Bay Area throughout my teenage years, trying to escape an abusive household. I hated undergrad too & finished college early, moving into the basement of a house in the Bayview (San Francisco). I shared the basement with two other people. Got drunk all day and night, wrote a memoir and a screenplay and read. I didn’t work.
I eventually started traveling the country, went to grad school in NY, & tried to move back to the Bay this summer. I wanted it to be home. I barely know people there but I liked the idea of having a home to go to. It didn’t work out.
Last month, I moved back to NYC. It’s the only place that has ever loved me. I tried to write about the cops killing my neighbor, Antonio Clements, in Oakland this summer. But I can’t.
Santiago: How does the poetry scene differ on the East Coast from the West?
Loma: The literary histories differ in these regions. In the Northeast I feel the weight of the New York School. On the West Coast I feel the influence of the beats and performance poetry. These things aren’t exclusive though.
Santiago: Home [Chaos Theory] was my favorite stop on the “Sad Girl Poems” journey, it is fearless and raw and nakedly stunning. It really struck a chord with my own story, and I venture to guess that it will do the same for many people (specifically, queer people of color). Although I would describe you and your work as fearless, I wonder… how fear plays into your work?
Loma: Thanks. I like that poem too. Rachel Zucker helped me start writing long poems. I think it’s a good form for me because my thoughts often like to expand and vomit everywhere, instead of being held to the isolation of a page or two.
And pertaining to fear. I don’t have fear when writing. In grad school, I wrote a poem about my deepest secret- losing my virginity in a drunken threesome and shitting on old faggot dick while being double penetrated. I wrote about that shame and I discovered the shame of others. Even if folks didn’t have my same experiences, they could relate, to the process of confronting fear.
Santiago:Can you tell me about the “TOUR TO END QUEER YOUTH HOMELESSNESS?”
Loma: Yes, I’m going to be reading from my chapbook and leading writing / activist workshops throughout the U.S. I’ll be talking about my experiences with queer youth homeless and resources that the community needs. For booking info, my website is www.christophersoto-poet.com
Santiago: From the tone(s), titles, and forms of the poems in “Sad Girl Poems”, I felt you were inspired by music, would you please put together a playlist to go along with SGP. If you need a suggestion for a title, might I suggest: Living like a KWEEN.
Santiago: Right before the ink dried on my interview with Loma, I was able to speak to Bryan Borland founder and publisher of Sibling Rivalry Press about the journey of Sad Girl Poems and Christopher Soto (aka Loma) to SRP:
How did SGP find its home at Sibling Rivalry Press?
Bryan Borland: I knew Loma submitted to our open reading period and had a manuscript under consideration with us, and they’d appeared in the SRP journal Assaracus in the past, so I was familiar with their work and was a fan. We’d also become friends on Facebook. One afternoon, I saw Loma had posted a status about receiving advice from someone in the publishing industry about toning down their work. Something like, “You have to write with mainstream America in mind.” And of course this was upsetting to Loma, and they were venting about it on Facebook. And I just thought, you know, I’m in mainstream America. I’m in goddamn Arkansas, of all places. I’m IN publishing and I couldn’t disagree more. I don’t want Loma to tone it down. I want Loma to keep doing what they’re doing, because that voice needs to be heard and that voice can save lives. That voice is going to make someone feel less alone, and that’s exactly why I started SRP in the first place. So I yanked the manuscript out of consideration through the open reading period and offered them a contact on the spot, right there in the Facebook comments.
Santiago: Damn! The power of social media harnessed for good!?! Who knew? Why was it so important that SRP puts out this chapbook?
Borland: I’ve got a lot of answers to the question. First of all, I want to be the living, breathing opposite of whoever gave Loma that terrible advice to tone it down. Those kind of actions drive me to keep going with the press and to tell our authors not to tone it down. If anything, be louder. But more than that, I just love Loma’s work. And this chapbook will bring awareness to queer youth homelessness, something that’s a big issue in my own home state. We have one shelter for queer kids in Arkansas. A wonderful organization called Lucie’s Place. I’ve been witness to the good that Lucie’s Place has done, and if publishing this book and helping Loma on their tour to end queer youth homelessness brings awareness to this issue, it’s worth it to me.
Sad Girl Poems is out January 30, 2016 from Sibling Rivalry Press. On Loma’s Birthday!
Please check out the following sites to learn more about what you can do to support and empower homeless LGBTQ young adults: