Arts & Culture

Christopher Soto: A needed treat for coming out week

Taiwana Shambley, Contributor

Augsburg’s Queer Indigenous and People of Color (QIPOC) brought out queer poet and activist Christopher Soto to share his work with us for Coming Out Week. Soto is the author of “Sad Girl Poems” and editor of “Nepantla: An Anthology for Queer Poets of Color,” the first book collection of poetry for queer poets in the United States.  

Soto is the son of El Salvadoran immigrants and is also a co-founder of the Undocupoets Campaign, which forced many publications to change their anti-undocumented immigrant policies. Soto’s work explores El Salvadoran identity, intimacy and religious tension.

Before reading his own work, Soto opened up the space by inviting audience members up to read works from authors in the aforementioned anthology. He stood engaged, patient and reassuring as volunteers from the crowd stumbled through readings of poems from fellow Dark Noise member Fatimah Asghar and others.

   Before reading his poem “Transactional Sex with Satan,” Soto shared a short anecdote about a time where he upset a pastor by reading this poem in the chapel of a conservative college. He also admitted to the crowd that he was reluctant to perform at Augsburg hearing it was a Lutheran institution. Nonetheless, he was there for the POC, queer and trans folk of Augsburg, reading “Transactional Sex with Satan” to us: “He smokes / heavily / & smells like / the suicide / of one thousand angels.” He continues, “Intergalactic ash / spread / over his / bed sheets / & vintage dildo / dreams … He plugs my nose / my tonsils gape open / & dick is shoved / into my heart.”

    Soto shared that he’s come to see his mother’s conversations as a form of poetry because of her weird grammatical or syntactic breaks. She spells out her words incorrectly and uses them in the wrong places, opening up language in really interesting ways, to which he says to her, “That’s not what you meant to say, but that’s like fifty times better.” His grandma’s influence on his relationship with language particularly shows in a poem he read in honor of his theme for the night: “Reading new shit and test-running it with us.” The line goes, “Police ask, ‘Are you drunk? Are you high?’ / I reply, ‘No, I’m Salvadorian.’” We, the audience, were as satisfied by Soto’s set as a newborn baby that was sung a lullaby. Soto opened up the last few minutes of his reading for questions, and I asked him from the crowd, “What writing advice would you give yourself five years ago?” He replied — and this is his advice to all young writers — “Read.”

This article first appeared in the Friday, October 12 edition of The Echo.