Jose Soto is a Venezuelan immigrant living and loving in Salt Lake City. His poetry has taken him to the National Poetry Slam in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. In 2018 he was part of the Salt City Unified Slam team, which took fourth out of 78 teams. Jose has been a local celebrity for his passionate work about the Venezuelan experience. His work has been featured on platforms like Button Poetry and Write About Now. A former University of Utah student, Jose graduated in 2018. This year, fresh off his success at the National Poetry Slam, Jose will be representing Utah at the Individual World Poetry Slam in San Diego. Her Campus sat down with Jose to learn about his development as an artist, where he’s from, and where he’s going.
HC: What was the moment you decided you wanted to be a poet, and what was the moment you realized you really were a poet?
SOTO: Senior year of High School I was sitting in my philosophy class (this is also my edgy-self origin story) and my teacher put on a Ted Talk from the Canadian poet laureate Shane Koyczan. Once it was over I was like, “I’m not sure what I wanna do with my life, but I want to do that.” After that, I spent a year writing, helped create the Poetry Slam Club at Copper Hills High School, but it wasn’t until my first national poetry tournament that I felt like a poet. I walked on to the VCU campus and a big banner read, “Welcome Poets” and I felt like it was meant for me.
What has been the greatest success of your career?
I have two large successes. The first was February of 2018—I was invited to speak at the Organization of American States in front of an organization for Venezuelan in the United States as well as the General Secretary for the OAS. My second was a few weeks ago at the 2018 National Poetry Slam. My team and I made it to finals and ranked fourth in the largest poetry tournament in North America (including Australia).
You’ve been to the National Poetry Slam four years in a row now. What keeps you going back?
Two things, the work, and the competition. Being a participant in the National Poetry Slam means you’re also an audience member, so if I get to watch work that pushes the art forward then I’ll keep going back. It’s the same reason why people watch the YouTube videos on Button [Button Poetry] or WAN [Write About Now], because some poems are just great and deserve a crowd. I’m also a highly competitive person and (until recently) Salt Lake has never been seen as a big threat, and I wanted to show that we are.
Have you had a favorite NPS? What stood out about it?
My first nationals is absolutely memorable because of the amount of unique work I got to see—also it was my first and that’s always special. But if you strip the “First time” rose-colored glasses, then my favorite NPS was 2018, because I loved my team.
What’s your favorite poem you’ve ever written?
I don’t think I have one. Each poem I’ve taken the time to put together has at one point been my favorite and least favorite poem. Most of my poems are written while I’m showering so it’s not like the process has been much different. I will say this though, my poem about the Cowardly Lion has a special place in my heart. I wrote a poem about a very broken character, and it really breaks my heart because all they want is the courage to live comfortably. So I like to think that once the poem is over, Lion’s wish is granted and he lives comfortably somewhere safe.
Where do you see your career going?
Ideally, where I can make a living doing workshops and performances at Universities nationwide, while my book sales carry me to retirement. For now, I hope to write a book and I hope that book is accepted by a publisher and I hope to give the first copy to my parents. Tell me a bit about the local SLC poetry community (and if you have any upcoming shows)!
Salt Lake City has the privilege of having one of the most caring poetry communities nationwide—along with growing youth poetry scene. People like Dorothy McGinnis, Jesse Parent, Chris Atkin, and RJ Walker truly care about the art, but more importantly about the people attached to that art. That being said, let’s make this about me. I AM FEATURING on September 13th, at Watchtower Cafe. [Facebook event page with more info here]
Any social media pages people should follow you at?
Yeah, follow me on my Facebook artist page, Jose Soto Slam Poetry. Twitter if you actually want to talk to me @brown_bear07. I also have an Insta @brownbear07 and I recently started a page about my adventures learning to cook @brownboyswhocook.
All images credit of Whitney Alyson. @whitneyalyson.jpg