Interview with Frankie A. Soto
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: We’re intrigued by the animalistic language in the poem, how the child is compared to a snake and the parent’s “roar.” What was the inspiration for this kind of imagery?
Frankie A. Soto: The part of the poem that ties in the language & imagery of a snake, “back curl in surrender, bend & slithering,” was just a way to tie in a child’s innocence. No backbone yet, no true defense to a parent’s anger, or “roar,” as I used to represent the symbolism of the king of the jungle, an Alpha presence in the room. Both my parents were Leos as well but I don’t think that played an integral part in this poem. This was really about me examining my tone, my words, my “roar” as a dad with my son.
RR: We love how stanza length works in “the closets we keep.” How do you approach balancing style and structure in a poem?
FAS: I wish I had a complex answer for how I become inspired with stanza length and structure. I honestly stop thinking about how I want the poem to look before or while I am writing it. I perform a lot on stage for high school or college shows and orally delivering a poem comes out natural, so with the closets we keep I spoke every line as I wrote it. I wanted a patient cadence and soft delivery. I wrote it as a love poem to forgiveness. Forgiving the mistakes we make as parents. The things we carry from our past relationships with our parents that sneak out. I will then send the poem to trusted poets, friends to receive any editorial feedback. Each poem has a different balance with stanza, structure and creativity.
RR: We’ve seen in your work that you dive deep into serious emotional territory, such as past abuse, mental health, and toxic masculinity. What does your writing process look like when approaching these topics?
FAS: Vulnerability. First and foremost. I want to be authentic and flawed and human. I want the reader to know there is bravery in emotional connection, in redemption, in honesty within yourself. Men have this instinctual knack for letting our egos steer our bodies. We lie to ourselves to carry this façade that nothing can truly keep us down or hurt us. I want to destroy those ideals that strong men can’t also be in tune with their innermost insecurities, feelings, doubts, emotions. Beautiful things come in all shapes, sizes, packages, and origins. The past can not be defeated. It has happened and will eat you alive if you continue to live there.
RR: We see in your website that you’ve visited high schools and colleges to workshop with students. What have you gained from these experiences?
FAS: I’ve gained so much from those shows. Walking into a classroom of strangers, a campus of people who see your face on a flyer but have no idea who you are, and then creating an atmosphere where everyone feels open and connected, sets my soul on fire. I can’t explain it precisely other than to say that. The ability to have people let go of the heaviness they’ve been carrying, to see what people write after my workshops. To see how people react, feel after hearing my poems. It’s an incredible feeling. The emotional conversations after I walk off stage from a set. True human authenticity is wild.
These students, faculty, teachers, professors are people I keep in contact with forever after visiting. I have students who reach out to me when they graduate, get married, have children, get jobs, promotions. It’s incredible how they remember that one day I came to their school, campus and the relationship that is built when it’s authentic.
RR: Do you have any advice you’d like to give young authors like the students you’ve worked with?
FAS: Advice I always give students, young writers, anyone. Know yourself and when I say that, don’t accentuate the good parts of yourself. Your writing is not a dating site, or a work resume. Know yourself, your habits, your traumas, your highs, your lows. As a writer, if you are not truly authentic and honest with your voice, then the reader will never truly know you in your poem or writing. It’s scary being transparent on the page. Be dope, be insecure. You are not writing for the reader to understand you. You are writing for you to better understand you.
Frankie A. Soto’s work appears in Issue 9.2 here.