Christopher Soto’s Diaries of a Terrorist (Copper Canyon Press) is a powerful collection from an already established poet and activist. As someone who read his work for the first time, this collection was the perfect explanation of the reason why he’s so recognized.
Soto’s poems are meant to be rough, triggering at times, and cut straight to the point. Readers can’t help but understand the message, empathize, and feel like we’re supposed to fix things ourselves.
The author’s use of spacing and repetition are particularly remarkable, changing just so slightly, connecting words to each other in such original ways that they open up to the readers a new world of images. This is especially well-expressed in poems like the incredibly well-titled, “The Children in Their Little Bullet-Proof Vests”. The whole poem makes great use of form and of an interesting combination of variations and repetitions to express the right ideas, but my favourite stanza, where this is displayed so well, is towards the end. It goes from Not // Him // Changed to Nothing, stopping by Knot // Hymn // Chain. The assonance among words with such different meanings and connotations, and how Soto uses it to get their point across, is nothing short of spectacular.
The poems are also very visual, striking us with imagery that represents incredibly well the hurt and disdain that the author wants to convey. Different poems express this really well, but among these ones “In Support of Violence” definitely stands out.
“Gored & gorge are words to describe a wound Gorgeous // The opening Of a blade inside his chest Gorgeous // Black galaxies growing
Across his skin // We threw rocks // & Chili pepper
Arrest us all”
Many of us think that our experiences are special and universal at the same time, and we often reflect these ideas in our writing. And yet some are horrifically unique, unbelievable from the outside, like the particular kind of violence that seems to infest everyday life in the USA. And I particularly appreciated that Soto paid attention to this, writing It’s so American in A Beautiful Day in the Psychiatric//Garden. Because as common as violence and injustice are, there are some particular brands of those only specific to the USA, and which horrify people–not only those who live them, but also those who watch in from the outside and can’t believe that this is someone’s daily life, someone’s “normal”.
Among all these strong topics and harsh words though, it shouldn’t be ignored that Soto can also be soft and emotional, like in Concerning the Necropolitical Landscape.
Dear Mother, they write, //Please Teach us how to hold the sorrow // Without losing our arms.