The Book Report: Christopher Soto aka Loma
The PEN Book Report is a weekly series that challenges the notion of “best of,” “top,” and “seasonal must read” lists and the default books and authors that regularly appear on them. We simply asked contributors to share with us a list of books they turn to over and over again, ones that both inspire and challenge how they engage with the world.
Founded by Hafizah Geter and Antonio Aiello, participants include Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Melissa Febos, Kelly Forsythe, Nathalie Handal, Abeer Hoque, Gene Luen Yang, Loma, Lisa Lucas, Joseph Mains, Colum McCann, Rick Moody, Darnell Moore, Celeste Ng, Gregory Pardlo, Khadijah Queen, Camille Rankine, Jeff Shotts, and many more.
The poets whose work is featured below are all part of what I consider to be the current center of the Contemporary American Avant-Garde in poetry. These feminist poets and thinkers range in subjects, form, tone, etc. The collections that I would like to share with you were largely produced within the last decade. Not all of these books were easy for me to enter. Yet, all of them have stayed with me and taught me something new about writing, existing in this world. The books recommended below are by Cathy Park Hong, Robin Coste Lewis, Hoa Nguyen, Bhanu Kapil, and Dawn Lundy Martin. I hope that these books may also bring knowledge and strength to you, dear reader. -Christopher Soto aka Loma
Dance Dance Revolution by Cathy Park Hong (W.W. Norton)
The code-switching in this book (from Standard American English to Creole dialects) is unflinching. The narrators and languages and geographies and politics spanned here are immense. “Revolutions happen all the time elsewhere, although we seem to think that revolutions exist in time capsules.” This book enacts what language and human connections look like in a globalized world.
This is one of the most intelligent and well-crafted poetry collections that I have ever encountered. Lewis spans hundreds of years of art history in this collection, meditating on beauty and black womanhood. “I am not supposed to be / beautiful. I am not / supposed to sit / before the observant eye / of a sunflower.” The poems here span form, from narrative lyric to conceptual ekphrastic descriptions.
Red Juice by Hoa Nguyen (Wave Books)
This book has the oddest word pairings. As a reader, I never know where I will land on the next word or line or thought or image. “From the fog of your window / you cry for moss covered fishes…” Nguyen has taught me about the possibilities for language to morph reality and perception. This works is simultaneously playful and serious.
The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers by Bhanu Kapil (Kelsey Street Press)
This book was created after a series of interviews with Indian women living in England, India, and America. The project was originally intended to be an anthology of voices of Indian women but it ultimately took a different turn. “Later, in her room, she burned the sage, match by match, until the book was gone.” This book made me take a deep adventure into the self and interrogate my own understanding of my histories.
Discipline by Dawn Lundy Martin (Nightboat Books)
Composed, largely of prose blocks and without title, this collection is grave, painful, resilient. “I want to say this plainly: it is only when I am in a woman’s arms that my body is not a threat.” This collection embodies the discipline and patience that it takes to endure, survive, live each day. Each page is a different obstacle, a different opportunity to learn, or battle that is constantly being overcome.
Christopher Soto (aka Loma) is a queer latinx punk poet & prison abolitionist. For more information, visit their website: christophersoto-poet.com.