Dissonance(s): Christopher Soto’s Sad Girl Poems
Questioning exactly who gets to tell the story and why is always relevant. However, it’s the kind of relevance that far too often goes unacknowledged. Representation gets increasingly problematic, especially when the one telling the story willingly deletes or obscures the structural context and reason why a particular story gets told at the expense of another.
It’s against this ticklish background of (mis)representation that Christopher Soto’s Sad Girl Poems counterbalances mainstream representations of LGBTQ life (more specifically, white LGBTQ life) with contorted queer poetics that get to decide its own pulse — a poetics dictated from within, not decided from the outside. Engendered by turning the brown body inside out, but without the eagerness to please as degradation and abjection are avowed right from the start, Sad Girl Poems goes against the grain by rebuffing racial stereotypes and rainbow-fueled analogies and replacing them with the glorification of sadness as a sheer rejection of the happiness, comfort, and well-being marketed to us on a daily basis, regardless of the real toll such faux social constructions take.
Lorde know(s) cis-hets don’t like me.
Baldwin know(s) how white homos exoticize me.
I hope heaven got a gay ghetto.
Where my QPOC family don’t feel shame.
Don’t feel too brown or black.
Or femme & phat.
Soto’s sadness is not a cushy display of suffering for you to consume or pass away your time as a reader (especially if you are a white one who is trying to forget about the world around you and immerse in some “exotic” reading instead). Also, it doesn’t spring from the same nasty “family” as the currently popular, insidious sado-masochistic performance of white guilt, especially in front of the so-called “progressive” audiences: I’m white, I want to feel guilty, oh, tell me that I am guilty, I want to hear more about my guilt. Instead, Soto dismantles the norm that anyone is/must be happy no matter what, and prompts real solidarity with survivors of systemic violence (queers, homeless, POC) in their ongoing struggle to make meaning out of their lives despite being silenced and marginalized. Queer poetics becomes active resistance — it becomes life itself, a life built on different meanings and acknowledgements that also reject traditional structures that work only in the actuality of the privileged ones.
The gummy smile of a teething child.
The pearl in an oysters’ mouth, round
My semen on your tongue.
The degradation of the brown body isn’t something to be afraid of, but something to be celebrated as a different kind of beauty — a beauty that reveals itself once the gaze becomes blind to other-ing differences. The gaze, instead, gets turned inward with a sole purpose: to challenge external constructions that insist on defining people in terms of what they own, their current capital — be it a bank account, real estate or a partner as our current notion of “love” is becoming more and more privatized. Soto’s first love, Rory (now dead), seems to be the filigree of the entire chapbook. The acute memory of this first love is envisaged against the real world of an abusive, homophobic father, police violence, femmephobia, incarceration, and ongoing criminalization of poverty and homelessness. But this memory also tosses and catches its own limitations: it doesn’t act as false nostalgia that tends to remember things better than they usually were.
Home isn’t merely a physical space
But also a philosophical one —
Often defined by a feeling of security.
Here, it’s possible to [own] property
& feel completely homeless.
Here, it’s possible to be sleeping on a park bench
& know you are home.
Sad Girl Poems (re)defines sadness, but also survives it as a form of revolt against structural oppression. Sadness becomes an active dissidence that takes the shape of angry poetics, asking for solitude, even silence. It’s the kind of sadness that embroils strenuous, critical questions regarding one’s identity and existence without waiting for comfortable or comforting answers and without sacrificing one’s differences. This work challenges fabrications of acceptance and normality, as such constructs only work to cultivate fear of difference and self-loathing. The queer poetics of Sad Girl Poems seem to readily incite your misunderstandings while also having a life of its own, a life well-dressed as survival and activism.
My heart is a mudslide, it’ll suffocate you
[Stuff your mouth with forestry].
Don’t you know? Broken-boys can’t
Make a proper home. Just listen to my chest.
One-thousand lovers are stuck inside me
Beating — thud, thud, thud, thud, thud.
Christopher Soto (aka Loma) is a queer latin@ punk poet & prison abolitionist. They co-founded 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.
Cover xerox-art by Rini Templeton who used to make drawings of activists in the United States, Mexico, and Central America while she joined them in their meetings, demonstrations, picket lines, and other actions for social justice.
Sibling Rivalry Press is an independent press based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Its mission is to publish work that disturbs and enraptures.
Images and author bio courtesy of Sibling Rivalry Press