Review: Sad Girl Poems by Christopher Soto

By Nicholas Alexander Hayes

sad_girl_poemsAfter the massacre at a Latinx night at Pulse Orlando, Christopher Soto posted a eulogy called, “All The Dead Boys Look Like Me.” Soto expresses their frustration and exhaustion at mourning once again. They describe a moment before they learn of the massacre, a moment in which their lover turns Soto’s body into a sacred space. It collapses as they learn the news and are forced to face the violence of the outside world. The poem ends, saying, “Yesterday, my father called. I heard him cry for only the second time in my life/ He sounded like he loved me. It’s something I am rarely able to hear./ And I hope, if anything, his sound is what my body remembers first.” This poem captures central themes of Soto’s small collection Sad Girl Poems. Moments of temporary solace and an uneasy relationship with a father figure suffuse the lyrics.

Yet Soto provides us with the deeper context of US production of literature in their introduction to the book. Much as white and straight people have tried to control the narrative around the Pulse Orlando Massacre, these people also dominate the publishing industry. Soto reminds us that even when these groups promote the works of Queer and Trans people of color they never relinquish their control over production. These groups curate and craft voices of minoritarian populations when the better solution would be to empower underserved populations. A belief that Soto embodies as an editor of Nepantla: A Journal for Queer Poets of Color.

Issues of intersection are elemental to Soto’s work. It would be easy to shunt them into a heritage of Queer, transgressive literature. When I hear the speaker eulogize the first love Rory, I can easily assume parallels between this work and George Miles in the Dennis Cooper’s novel cycle. I could easily invoke the longing for a lost lover separated by violence and homophobia to cement this connection and dilute it with an assertion of universality. This analysis would disregard the deeper work that Soto performs.

Their work does not replicate the violence that is so often indicative of the works of transgressive white Queer writers. Instead the work meditates on the dual and resonant traumas of domestic violence experienced and the loss of a first lover. This violence is not fetishized as it is in Cooper. In contrast, Soto recounts the ways they survived. In “Home [Chaos Theory]”, they say:

We used to sneak out & sleep in the backseat
Of that car // every night that

My father would
Whoop my ass.

[So almost every night]
We’d sleep there.

The violence of the straight world displaces the lovers. They convert the transient nature of a vehicle to a place of security. This place much like the bedroom in “All The Dead Boys Look Like Me” contains the promise of Queer futurities devoid of injuries of white, cis het domination. Unfortunately, these places are often ephemeral. Their loss exaggerates the grief. At times the grief echoes and can only be expressed through symbolism like when Soto describes how “Once, Rory was a starfish [starfish cannot drown]. We watched sky/ Burn & fall [like terrible angels].” Instead it is a call to honor injuries and to continue.

The resonance between the scenes of domestic violence and the institutional violence of the literary industry emerges. Soto puts their work in the context of their white classmates’ Columbus-like discovery of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. In the onslaught of these violences, it is not sufficient to want to save. It is a call to honor and create space for healing.

Sad Girl Poems
Christopher Soto
Sibling Rivalry Press
ISBN 978-1-943977-03-1