Christopher Soto aka Loma is a Los-Angeles-born poet based in Brooklyn, New York. In 2016, Poets & Writers honoured him with the ‘Barnes & Nobles Writer for Writers Award’, and his first chapbook ‘Sad Girl Poems’ was published by Sibling Rivalry Press. He founded Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color with the Lambda Literary Foundation, and cofounded The Undocupoets Campaign. He is currently working on a full-length poetry manuscript about police violence and mass incarceration, and editing Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Colour (Nightboat Books, 2018).
Mikaila Hanman Siegersma spoke to Christopher Soto about Nepantla.
Thank you so much for your time, Christopher Soto, your labour and generosity in speaking with me. It was a pleasure!
Can you tell me how Nepantla began and your intentions when the project started?
A few years ago I was studying at NYU and my friend Jameson Fitzpatrick introduced me to William Johnson at Lambda Literary Foundation. William Johnson helped train me as an editor and helped me get Nepantla moving. My intentions were to get involved with the literary community and connect with QPOC (Queer People Of Colour) poets nationally.
On the Lambda Literary Foundation website where Nepantla is published, there is a statement about Accountability Culture. How have you made that a foundation for what you publish? I think it’s a really powerful thing for journals to be fierce about the politics that they stand for, instead of hiding behind a guise of ‘neutrality’.
My ideas around what accountability means has changed since publishing that statement. I think accountability is often used as a word for people to emotionally manipulate others and unleash their anger on others, or publicly shame others. That does not interest me.
I think I am invested in an accountability process that believes in tenderness and rehabilitation and learning and humility and privateness and ego, checking and trying to understand the intentions of other people, trying to understand the hurt of other people and trying to heal with my community. That is the sort of accountability that I want to provide to my community and have provided to me. It is work and love on all parts, and patience. And yes various kinds of politics come into consideration when we publish- identity politics, but also politics about the rhetoric of the poem, and politics of craft of the poem too.
What excites you the most about running a journal dedicated specifically to queer poets of colour? What has been the most recent thing you’ve published that’s made you hold your breath for a moment?
Helping fill a need in my community excites me. I think some people really have found their voice and seen themselves in Nepantla, which is powerful. I am so thankful to have published I Dream of Horses Eating Cops by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza in Issue Two. It’s one of my favourite poems ever. Very thankful for that opportunity.
What do you think is most vital when doing your job as an editor for Nepantla? Does this differ to what’s most important to you as a poet?
A lot of things are vital while editing and writing. They’re very different processes but inform each other.
Finally, what advice would you give to your younger-poet-self, or other young queer poets of colour?
My younger poet self should know that it’s okay to not take advice of the people around you. Sometimes everyone around you is a dumbass. Sometimes you’re the only person who makes sense and you need to move 3,000 miles away to have people understand your brilliance… For the longest time, I didn’t know my potential. Mainly because people had always denied it when I tried to shine.