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[Intro jazz music plays

Avren: From Dublin, California, this is Waves Breaking. [Music continues] A podcast in
which I, Avren Keating, talk to my contemporaries in trans and genderqueer poetry.
Coming up in today's show, I talk to Christopher Loma Soto. Loma is a queer Latin@
punk poet, and prison abolitionist. They are currently curating Nepantla, a journal
dedicated to queer poets of color, in collaboration with The Lambda Literary Foundation.
They have work published in Colombia: A Journal of Mis Poesas, Apogee Journal, and
have just released a chapbook called Sad Girl Poems. C.A. Conrad said of Loma, "Rip
away all the bullshit-- that is a Loma poem. And that is glorious to behold. And Loma
wants not everyone to just consume sadness of queer youth of color in the poems, but to
donate to shelters and to queers in prison. Loma is the poet giving us the day, as we have
awaited, a poet, a real poet, to do for a very long time.”
Avren: Thank you Loma for joining me on Waves Breaking. It's so nice to have you.
Loma: Thanks for having me.
Avren: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your tour to end queer youth
homelessness, and how that's been for you so far.
Loma: So the tour just started. I had a pre-launch reading with Eileen Myles and C.A.
Conrad in New York. And then I had the launch with Yusef Komunyakaa and Nicole
Silee, in New York also. And then I went to Chicago, and I read with a whole bunch of
poets I liked out there, too. Yeah. And now I'm in Los Angeles, speaking to you. And I
have another reading in Long Beach in two days, and then I'll be back on the road, or on
planes. So far the tour has been going pretty well. I've met a lot of people, a lot of voices.
I think one of the concerns I had on this tour was like, "Holy shit. Who's going to be in
the audience? Who's reading the poems and the work?" And, I've been really happy to see
in crowds and in the audiences that there's trans and gender non-conforming people of
color. To hear the stories and experiences of people who are either currently experiencing
queer youth homelessness, or have been through it, and hearing them saying that my
work has resonated with them. Also, meeting prison abolitionists on the road too. And
these demographics and these pockets of people who I...have affiliated with my whole
life, and who...or communities which I very much identify with—seeing them at readings
has been extremely special to me—to know that it's not just cis white literary dudes from
academia who are picking up my poems.
Avren: Yeah. I noticed it's a mode of taking poetry outside of the gatekeeping. I think you
had this one essay called, "Poetry is a Class Privilege." And you talk about all of the
accumulation of fees just in order to send your poetry to get published somewhere. And,
your activism in the literary community has been absolutely inspiring. And I just wanted
to thank you for that effort.
Loma: Thank you, thank you. Yeah, I think class and finances specifically for me have
always been a hindrance to participating with the literary community. Whether it's the
reading fees for journals or just the inability to produce because I need to find money to
live, this last seven months I was unemployed. I didn't get an unemployment check. So I
was doing a lot of freelance work and readings, and trying to find ways to keep a roof
over my head and to keep food in the fridge. And that's part of the reason why I organized
this tour, is yes because I needed to promote the chapbook and yes, because I care about

the cause. But also I wasn't being hired. Trans and gender non-conforming people of
color have unemployment rates which are four times the national average, and my social
media presence...and if you Google my name and my articles and my politics, employers
look at that, and employers see that. And, the economic reality...there are economic
repercussions for my articles and my poetry and my visibility. And I suffered from them
for the last four or five months, probably longer. I mean amongst other things. And
because of the economic standing, I wasn't able to produce the way I had to, because I
had to do other things in order to survive. And poems were not the forefront. So yeah,
that article still holds very true to me. (laughs)
Avren: I feel like poetry and the government are just so entangled and enmeshed.
Through just it's history itself. Do you have any dreams or visions of ways—obviously
this tour to end queer homelessness is one. And Nepantla is another way, to create this
room outside of these government institutional poetic spaces—these really cis white
Loma: Yeah.
Avren: Do you have any other ideas for how we can create our own literary community?
Are there efforts that we could take in that respect?
Loma: Yeah. I think that's a great comment that you brought up. It brought to mind
Juliana Spahr's essay, I think it's called “US Poetry and Its Nationalism”—that talks about
the government funding of certain poetry resources. So if we're thinking about the NEA, I
think I wrote about this in another article. If the government is funding the NEA, and
you’re a poet writing anti-government poems, you may not be prioritized in winning that
grant. So I think that's great that you talked about the relationship between the
government and funding for literary projects. Alternatives I see are Nepantla and the
Undocupoets campaign. In the future, I also want to launch a campaign against classist
reading fees in the poetry community. And what I try to do with my journals and my
project is always to have affirmative action in who I publish; paying attention to race,
gender, sexual orientation, class, physical ability—to publishing the voices with the least
access—to publishing opportunities at the forefront of my magazines. I also try to pay all
of my readers and poets who I publish for their work. The goal that I'm striving for is to
pay artists a living wage for their poems, and not just a small stipend. Because I think that
there's a way that we...financially, and not just verbally, delegitimize the work of poetry
creators and artists. So that's another thing I think it's important to think about when
publishing and producing. But yeah, I think the continual creation of intentional spaces
within the literary community and the continual payment of artists in the literary
community is important for subverting the ways that particular people and populations
have been excluded. And for allowing stories and poems which otherwise may not be
published or exported, to become visible.
Avren: I've asked this question from a couple of different people, and I'm really
interested to hear your response: Could you talk about the relationship between poetry
and activism? Do you think poetry is a type of activism or is it more of a support for the
activism we take?
Loma: All of the above. (laughs)
Avren: It can be many things. (laughs)

Loma: That's how I feel. I am thinking right now about...I went to Poetry Foundation
when I was in Chicago and they had this exhibit that was scent-based poetry. And I've
seen other multimedia projects with poems, and poems with other forms of art. Whether
we're talking ekphrastic poetry or anything. And so when I first heard your question, I
paused because I was like, "What are the boundaries of a poem? And what are the
boundaries of a poem in relationships to other objects in being?” And so now I'm thinking
of people like Dark Matter who blend performance, and fashion and poetry and activism,
all into one. So I think there's a way by which they embody all of these different genres
or mediums. Yes, it is poetry. And yes, it is activism. And yes, they are functioning as
separate entities, but they are also functioning as one. I think that poetry is capable of
being activism and also supplementing different forms of activism.
Avren: Yes, Dark Matter is fantastic. I just have to give credit to Dark Matter for being
amazing. (laughs)
Loma: Yeah, yeah. They were actually some of the first people that I met in New York.
We moved...I don't think I've talked about this before. We moved to New York from
California, both at the same time. I think during the same week. And Janani and I...they
had just moved from—they were doing undergrad at Stanford, and I was living on some
commune in San Francisco. And both of us had moved to New York to pursue our arts
and...Janani and I ran into each other, actually, at a Kundiman event. And we were both
signed up for the open mic portion, before the event. (laughs) And so, no one was even
inviting us to shit. (both laugh) And I read my poems, and then Janani read their poems,
and I came up to them afterwards and was like, "Oh. I've seen your work. I'm new to the
city." And they were like, "Me too. I just moved this week." I was like, "Great, neither
one of us has friends." And we went on a friend date and we went to go get pupusas in
Brooklyn. And then, they introduced me to Alok, and Alok and I didn't get along for a
little while. And then now, Alok is my roommate in Brooklyn. But I'm moving out of that
house, to a new house. And now Alok is one of my best friend,s too. So...I love their
work, I love their politics. If you look, I like their political background. I think they're
fairly intertwined—they've always been a big inspiration for my work. But I also think
that we have very different interests as far as the work that we are producing, or how we
want to produce it.
[sounds of ocean waves breaking]
Avren: In your work, it seems like it's a catharsis. It's like you're getting the pain out.
Getting the sadness out. As someone who has also been through domestic abuse, it
resonates deeply, in ways where you want to talk about the pain but you don't know how.
You keep hitting a wall and you interrupt yourself, and your brain goes somewhere else.
And I was wondering if you could talk about your relationship to poetry in terms of—
what does poetry do for you? How do you speak through poetry?
Loma: So the first zine that I did was a direct translation of my experiences with
domestic violence, in growing up Latino in Southern California. And I did not break from
the capital narrative "I." And that was called How to Eat Glass. It's out of print now, but
there's a couple of hundred floating around somewhere. And then the chapbook I did with
Sibling Rivalry Press, sad girl poems, is...was me trying to learn how to produce art, and
not just to narrate my stories. And so, I kept on recalling images, and recalling memories
and trying to break them, and trying to figure out how to make a poem. And I think

during this chapbook, I became a bit frustrated with what narrative meant. And what was
a true story, and what wasn't a true story. Because in the chapbook, I use my relationship
to domestic violence as I think the through line. And then the characters, and interacting
moments I think became distorted and falsified, in order to make one cohesive story line.
Instead of having multiple characters that were undeveloped, I think in this chapbook I
was trying to overcome a lot histories that I didn't feel were completely discussed in the
first zine. And I think I was struggling with how to produce art and trying to be truthful. I
think right now, this chapbook and this tour, and this narrative feels so untruthful, and it
feels so past tense—because there's stories and realities which had occurred ten years in
the past now. And it's me just being like, "I'm fucking tired of this violence which has
occurred to me, defining my whole life, and my whole art." You know, the art that is
supposed to be refuge for me. I'm just crying and tossing my computer across the room
when producing these poems, and I was just like, "I'm tired of it." (laughs) So I think now
my writing is shifting away from all of that.
Avren: It seems like poetry when we're first accessing it—I'm thinking about when I was
a teenager—it seems very much like it's out of desperation. You have to write this
because there's no other way to speak about the shit that's happening to you.
Loma: Yeah.
Avren: So in a way, you're trained to sort of use poetry as that kind of narrative in order
to sort of tell your own story to yourself to be like, "Look what's happening. This is
fucked up. But I can take agency over it through art."
Loma: Yeah.
Avren: And then, as we've grown older, we start to try and see what is the truth in this
fiction? What does that mean in dealing with real life shit, in a fiction?
Loma: Yeah. I think that's what—the—a lot of this poetry was. It was a transitional point
in my writing from just being that adolescent narrative poem that is trying to make sense
of the world. And, me coming into myself as a writer, as a political organizer and shifting
into this first manuscript, which I feel is my developed poetic voice. You know, it's not
scared of sentimentality. It's not scared of politics. It understands what it's doing with line
and rhythm and word choice, and where it's pulling its reference from. And I think that
was something I was trying to understand in this chapbook, but didn't really have a grasp
on yet.
Avren: Could you talk more about the role of sentimentality in poetry? I feel historically
it's been relegated to “bad” poetry, or coded "women's poetry” or “femme poetry."
Loma: I feel like one of the poetic movements that comes to the forefront in relationship
to sentimentality is the conceptual poets, a lot of sad white girls. You know, Sylvia Plath.
I feel like aside from that, it's a bit disregarded. Or like the place of sentimentality within
poetry. I remember reading a James Baldwin quote, which I'll try not to butcher. But I
think it's: "Sentimentality is the ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion
which is always the mark of dishonesty." Yeah. So I remember reading that quote, and
being like, "Holy shit! I'm not allowed to be sentimental." And I think that's when I went
writing about things such as domestic violence. I was like, how do I not...You know,
sometimes I am sentimental. Sometimes my emotions are falsity and a plea for attention.
And I think that's equally as valid, because what is that performance? What is the reason

for that performance do? And so I think I wanted to write into that, I wanted to be
melodramatic and false and performative because I was told I was not allowed to be.
[sounds of waves breaking]
Avren: I was wondering if you feel like your poetics somehow mirrors or reflects the
way you feel about your gender.
Loma: Yeah, I think for me...the only correlation I can see between my gender and my
poetry, is the fearlessness. Because, you know, the last seven months, the only times I
present outside the binary have been in my room, on my laptop because I've been too
scared to go outside in a dress or heels or a wig—because you know, transphobia, and
violence against trans and gender non-conforming, specifically femmes of color, is real.
And...right now, I'm not at a capacity where I can be brave on the streets. Right now, I'm
at a place where I just want to be left alone and heal—(laughs)—after a couple of hard
months. And I think that's also a narrative that has been told so much of transness—is in
relationship to presentation. And part of me is like, oh when I go outside looking like I do
now, really scruffy and you know, in my sweater and my jeans, people don't read my
relationship to my gender. Which you know, is complicated. But I think that as a gender
non-conforming person in New York City, and having faced so much violence in different
capacities for that, has really made me be able to be fearless. And to write poems about
prison abolition and police violence and not care about other people's approval, or if I
think that it's right for me and if I think that's my truth. So I think that's the biggest link
between my gender and my poetry that I can think of now.
Avren: Would you like to read some of your work?
Loma: Yeah, maybe I'll read one old one, one new one, if that's okay with you?
Avren: That'd be great.
Loma: So I'll start with something from the chapbook sad girl poems. I actually kind of
want to read from the introduction if that's okay?
Avren: That'd be great.
Loma: Okay.
write narrative poems for white people. I won't write narrative
poems for white people. I won't write narrative poems for
white people. I won't write narrative poems for white people...

CONSUMED, & SHAT OUT (& never actually addressed). I
won't allow it!
(I'm such a hypocrite).
Loma: And that's from the introduction. I was contemplating what it meant to produce
and sell my work to a white publisher. And I (laughs), I'm glad that Bryan Borland let me
keep it. (laughs)
Avren: Yeah, it's seems—it's sort of—I have made this pain and my narrative and my
context a commodity for people to buy. Almost. Is that the sort of tension you are
struggling with that in that?
Loma: Yes. And also, like who controls that commodity and who controls that pain?
Avren: Mm-hmm.
Loma: So this is new work. I'll start with a poem called, "Reasons Why Brown People
Get Arrested." It's a list poem. I'm going to ignore the numbers and just read the listings.
Reasons Why Brown People Get Arrested
The tulips died.
Saturn lost her rings.
Something about driving // or moving at all.
We crossed the border.
[On the land you stole].
God is poor, trans, & being evicted.
When you go to church // I call it gentrification.
The moon was hole-punched sky.

Shooting stars on Myrtle Ave.
[She drowned in white tears].
When I crumple a note it beats, like a heart, in my hands.
What is an impound lot?
If not a place to crush memory.
He was running down the block.
& you expected to see police following.
[Can’t a brown boy exercise in peace]?
I’m always running.
I’m always running.
I’m always running.
She drank from the wrong fountain.
She spat [loogies] the size of mangos.
Her hair choked the sink.
The light bulbs burst out in pain.
The wind whipped his back.

A shout punctured the sky.
[I only write about pain].
But sometimes // this world is so gorgeous
& I want to live forever.
I read the etymology of arrest.
Arrest (v.) — from Old French arester "to stay, to stop."
When he kissed me, I was arrested.
[My heart in handcuffs].
Pockets searched for contraband.
You know what he wanted to call you.
Brown as the dirt.
Brown as the bark.
[White is the color of nothingness].
Blank white stare.

Blank white face.
Blank white apology.
I see nothing in you.
Avren: Thank you. The first time I heard you read, it was at that Radar Reading in the
San Francisco Public Library with C.A. Conrad and Maggie Nelson, which was great.
And then I saw you at the Trans Planet reading with Jos Charles. And what I think is
interesting is, there's so much pain and sadness and beauty in your poetry. But your stage
presence, you use a lot of humor. I notice there's a lot of laughter in the room. You said
once, “Make abuelita part of the revolution!” Which was like—
Loma: (laughs)
Avren: Which was fantastic, and you're like, “I'm lighting these Mexican-ass candles and
I'm not even Mexican.” Do you feel when you get up to read poetry an impulse to
entertain as well? Or is that naturally part of your own goofiness?
Loma: (laughs) I think it's naturally part of my goofiness. (both laugh)
Avren: It was wonderful. It's so refreshing to see someone who gets up and reads and is
passionate about something—
Loma: Thank you. I think also I just get—there's so many boring poetry readings.
(laughs) And there's so many boring poets—
Avren: Yeah.
Loma: And so I'm—when I had a reading last week and people asked me if I was
preparing for it. I was like, “No, today I feel like getting drunk.” (laughs)
Avren: (laughs)
Loma: I feel like the role of the reader is to be the most true, honest self on the stage and
also not to bore the audience. And I wait for—in my readings I kind of just wait to see
myself and to listen to my emotions, and to listen to the audience. I try not to bore them
but I also try and just be…as present and let the spirit of the poem carry me. And to
remember why the hell I wrote that poem and to attach myself to that emotional energy of
when the poem was created.
Avren: Do you have any gender non-conforming or trans poets that you would like to
give a shout out to, for us all to read?
Loma: Yeah. I think—well, we already mentioned a couple, a handful of really great
ones during this interview. Joshua Jennifer Espinoza is always a go-to of mine, same with
Dark Matter; Alok and Janani. Also, Stephanie Burt is a little more well known within the

literary circles but they're also a great trans poet producing right now. TC Tolbert, Julian
Talamantez Brolaski... There's a lot of us.
Avren: Great. And usually I have people give shout outs to events and things that they're
doing, but you do so much already that I feel it would be kind of repetitive. But Tour to
End Queer Homelessness, The Undocupoets and Nepantla. Is there anything else that I've
Loma: I think everything else is on my website: I update that
as far as events and essays and projects that are going on.
Avren: All right, thank you so much for taking time out of your incredibly busy schedule
for this. I really appreciate it.
Loma: Thanks for having me. It was a lot of fun.
[Jazz music plays]
Avren: Be sure to check out all of Loma's adventures, essays and poetry on their website,
which will be linked in today's show notes, along with all of the info for the rest of the
poets mentioned in today's episode.
Music was by Bahati Kiro.
And transcripts are by Amir Rabiyah.
Thank you for listening, and until next time, this is the sound of waves breaking.
[sounds of birds chirping]

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