Christopher Soto is the living embodiment of the best poetry being written in Los Angeles right now: queer, punk, pro-migrant, irrepressibly rousing and political, with a peerless ability to turn the most subdued of literary affairs into a backyard party. Soto’s immediately infectious work pulses with the rhythm of the spoken-word and grindcore scenes that defined his earlier years growing up outside Los Angeles. I was initially drawn to Soto’s work via his activism. Alongside writers Javier Zamora and Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Soto co-founded the Undocupoets Campaign, which lobbied U.S. publishers to remove proof of citizenship requirements from first-book contests and helped a new generation of undocumented writers break into publishing.
Soto’s long-awaited debut collection, “Diaries of a Terrorist” (Copper Canyon Press), takes as its central mission the abolition of policing and human caging. Soto’s poetics of dissent is refreshingly unpretentious, and the book’s stylistically avant-garde yet highly relatable poems encompass several critical conversations within the abolitionist movement, such as youth detention, migrants at the border, trans people harassed by airport security and the incarceration of Palestinian activists. While it explicitly calls for the end of the police state, “Diaries of a Terrorist” also is fueled by a scarred personal history, which finds its voice in confessional poems where Soto pushes through the pain of experience to remind us that a more just world isn’t only possible but necessary — becoming a loving tribute to lives traumatized by domestic violence, for-profit incarceration and the grim realities of what it takes to get by in Los Angeles.
Soto and I spoke about how California’s carceral history has shaped and scarred the urban fabric of L.A., and what his ideal city might look like without the architecture of policing.