Here at the Adroit blog, we’re huge fans of Nepantla, a new journal dedicated to featuring and supporting the work of queer poets of color. We adore the publication’s mission, and share a number of poetry contributors—Xandria Phillips, Eddie Martinez, Darrel Alejandro Holnes, and Chen Chen, among others. When our founder & editor-in-chief crossed paths with Nepantla’s editor, Christopher Soto (a.k.a. Loma), coordinating an interview felt necessary.
Peter LaBerge, Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Adroit Journal: First thing’s first, can you share with our readers a quick bit about yourself? How about one sentence (with as much punctuation as you’d like)?
Christopher Soto, Editor of Nepantla: My name’s Loma. I’m a messy punk faggot from Long Beach, CA // currently living in Brooklyn, NY.
PL: What brought you into poetry, and what brought you into editing (Nepantla, but also in general)? Was editing something that felt logical, or did you take yourself by surprise?
CS: I was raised by cholas. Hip Hop brought me to Slam Poetry and Slam Poetry brought me to the page, the page brought me into the MFA, and now I’m an institutionalized Kween… It was almost accidental that I started editing… Jameson Fitzpatrick was editing with Lambda Literary at the time. We met at NYU. We got drunk together. Then, Jameson introduced me to William Johnson [LambdaLiterary.org Managing Editor] and I started to more concretely set ideas for the journal… To be honest, when I first began to school at NYU (& editing Nepantla) I barely knew what I was doing. I didn’t know shit about the contemporary poetry community, never heard of Adroit or Lambda or Sibling Rivalry Press or Poetry Society of America… When the other students would take restroom breaks, in between class, I would take my journal and write down all the names of the poetry journals that lined the walls of my classroom. My first class at NYU was with Charles Simic. I hadn’t even read his work… People started to ask me for poems and started praising my work / editing before I even knew what was going on… I didn’t want to publish any poems until after finishing my MFA. It still feels, at times, like I’m running ahead of myself… So much has changed for me, in such a short time.
PL: Have you noticed recently any poetic trends that you think are on the rise?
CS: Stylistically, no. Thematically, yes… Not sure how you would quantify this, but I think more poets are starting to get political, starting to directly say, “Fuck the police” & “Fuck mass incarceration” & “Fuck White Supremacy.” It’s an exciting time… Also, I see a surge in the distribution of trans poetry, which is cool, & I see a surge in internet angst amongst poets, which is less exciting (but a complicated discussion to have within one sentence)… P.S. My observations are based off the last two years, since I’ve been kicking it with bougie poets.
PL: It’s clear based on the terrific spread of poets in Nepantla’s debut issue, as well as the issue that just went online that you as an editor value diversity within the community of queer poets of color. How did you come to assemble such a wonderful crew for your first issue?
CS: I actually have complicated feelings about diversity. I feel like it’s really reductionistic… I try to pay attention to age, gender, race, etc. but there’s always someone missing. The people who don’t get considered in conversations about diversity are usually those with the least amount of access to publication– incarcerated poets, homeless poets, working-class poets, etc. I think diversity is important but it has a lot of limits… &&&, pertaining to our first issue, I had a lot of help. I asked a group of QPOC poets in NYC to come together for a meeting about the inaugural issue. We wrote down names of poets to contact and solicit. These journals are a lot of unseen work.
PL: I know some publications that have recently come into the spotlight for publishing problematic work that whitesplains, mansplains, straightsplains, etc. & have said that they read blind and therefore support diversity. Personally, this justification doesn’t feel adequate to me (after all, what if no diverse writers are submitting?). Where does it fall for you? What advice do you have for these publications that hope to introduce diverse voices into future issues, but don’t necessarily know how?
CS: Reading blind doesn’t support diversity, that’s bullshit… If you’re interested in supporting diversity then you should solicit from and build relationships with the communities that you want to include in your journal, then affirmative action their work and make sure that it gets published… I’ve asked for multiple rounds of submissions from some people, I’ve workshopped poems with some people… Solidarity takes work, undoing systematic oppression takes work… I don’t really think that many people understand how truly hard it is for poor brown girls to slay in this community, sometimes.
PL: Let’s shift gears for a moment. I know, in the midst of editing the journal’s second issue, you moved from New York to San Francisco and then back to New York. In what ways do you think your time in San Francisco, or even the moves themselves, influenced your editing process?
CS: I could barely edit or write this summer. (Bummer.) I started canceling readings and shit cuz depression hit me real hard– dealing with a racist workplace, moving to a city with no friends, sleeping on couches for over two months. Then the police killed two people on the block where I finally found a sublet. My mental, physical, emotional health was not there this summer. Venus was in retrograde, but I’m back in NYC now… Cali is where I was born, but it has seldom held me. When I got back to NYC, my mentor said he knew I’d come back. He said New York is 10 years ahead of the CA… I told him that I’m 10 years ahead of New York… I have no fucking clue how I was able to edit the journal this summer… Now I’m thinking about the materiality of production, all of the material resources, support, privilege that it takes to put something like Nepantla together.
PL: How has being an editor affected your personal creative writing, and vice versa?
CS: Editing allows me to see all of the clichés within my particular community. When I’m reading so many queer folks of color, I start recognizing recurrent themes (that aren’t always prominent in the rest of the literary landscape). I try to avoid those themes in my poems… I’ve also become more thankful for the labor of editors and more conscious about what I submit, since founding the journal.
PL: And, finally, if you could say one thing to the Christopher Soto of five years ago, what would you say?
CS: Five years ago, holy jesus!!! Wow. I would tell myself to be strong, to get the fuck out Long Beach… Fucking shit, I started to cry already…. Peter, I’ve had some hard times in this life… I’m aquarius, I’m sensitive. I would tell myself that there are whole communities that will love and support me. I would tell myself that not everyone hates waking up in the morning, not everyone wants to die every morning, not everyone has to work so many hours, not everyone has a group of dead friends that follow them like ghosts in the hallways, not everyone gets pulled over by the police on their drive to school, not everyone gets pulled over on their bicycle too, & fucking shit, DON’T FALL IN LOVE WITH ALEC… He is the only person in California who is messier than you. Ah, I don’t think that I’d believe myself, five years ago, if I said, “You are going to get your MFA from NYU, start editing a national journal, start publishing everywhere, you’re going to be (generally) happy with life, you’re going to have social and intellectual and creative and financial support. You’re going to become so much more than you think.”