April 22, 2019 | 59° F

Poet Christopher Soto bravely shares his work focused on queer perspective

Rutgers students sat for a lecture and poetry reading provided by nationally-acclaimed writer Christopher Soto on Tuesday, April 18. During the event, the group explored the healing space that poetry can create in a time of continuous suffering and oppression.

Created as a GAYpril celebration, the lecture hit close to home as the LGBTQIA community continues to recover from the Pulse nightclub shooting attacks and the overall oppression they face on a day to day basis.

The lecture also put a focus on coping with oppression as a person of color, specifically regarding the ongoing issue of police brutality.

“I felt compelled to come out to this poetry reading because after what happened at Stonewall and in Orlando, I think expressing ourselves creatively is helpful in processing and grieving,” said Daria Martin, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. “It’s also going to be important for people of color whose oppressive experiences are often overlooked.”

Soto, who sometimes goes by the name Loma, briefly introduced the lecture with describing his mission as an activist and his experiences as a queer person of color.

Soto discussed his fascination with society’s definition of violence, and asked the audience the same questions he once asked himself: “How can my community heal on an interpersonal level, and how can we love each other in the midst of discrimination?”

The question was answered with a reading of four poems written by femme people of color, including Audre Lorde, Ai, June Jordan and Joshua Jennifer Espinoza.

Each poem addressed the pain caused by racial oppression, police brutality and served as examples of the therapeutic and liberating properties of poetry.

As a queer person of color himself, Soto admitted that the fearless qualities of Lorde’s poetry initially shocked him.

Inspired, the writer realized that with poetry came power and expression.

“Language morphs the reality in which we exist, so when I hear other poets speak about police violence, I’m like, ‘Wow, you created that world,’” Soto said.

The oppression of people of color and people of the LGBTQIA community is often denied or pushed under the rug, and Soto credited writing as a way of resisting that oppression. 

“You have to use language to create your own existence,” Soto said

After a brief discussion of other people’s poetry, Soto went on to read some of his own work, starting with the poem titled “Los Padrinos Juvenile Detention Center Unit Y2.”

Separated into five sections, the poem deals with Soto’s experiences as a poetry teacher in a juvenile detention center and his depression over the systemic racism present in America’s prison system.

Soto also read “All the Dead Boys Look Like Me,” a poem he wrote the morning after the tragic 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.

Typed in five minutes and posted on a friend’s Facebook page, Soto received thousands of digital shares, proving the impact of poetry in a time of grieving.

The poetry reading was followed by a Q&A where Soto shared his history and experiences as a poet. In a sea of unsure college students, the biggest question asked how he gained the courage to share his work and stories.

Like many young people, Soto said there was a time where he did not feel he had the authority or intelligence to be a published writer, especially as a queer person of color.

With guidance and encouragement from published roommates, Soto is now a nationally-recognized writer who is making a living off of his work. 

“It was a process to realize the value of my words and to feel comfortable with putting it all out there,” Soto said.

Passionate and impressive yet still funny and relatable, Soto’s visit to Rutgers was an inspiration for aspiring writers and anyone affected by systemic oppression, and his lecture and readings proved the power of poetry.

Clarissa Gordon

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