Richard Scott’s ‘Soho’ Will Make You Sob and Want to Do Better

Bright pink cover of 'Soho' by Richard Scott on a yellow background with colourful garlands in the background

TW/CW: Mentions of homophobia

A vividly written and heart-wrenching poetry debut, Richard Scott’s Soho hits home, painting a sickening picture of the internalised (and very much externalised) homophobia still present in society. While condemning the discrimination he has had to face, the male, gay voice of the book shares sob-worthy experiences of love, lust, parenthood, and friendship, in the painful context of alienation for something he cannot control.

The book starts with Public Library, 1998, a poem about the lack of representation in any kind of media — here disguised under the metaphor of library books, as an encapsulation of widely available entertainment — of gay experiences and narratives. The poem ends with an observation about people’s ignorance or choice to overlook the existing representation, hidden and scarce as it may be, with the lyrical voice borderline defacing public books in an act of rebellion against the fact that he himself is never seen or willfully ignored.

my pen becomes an indigo highlighter inking/up what /the editor could not, would not — the violet hour of /these /men hidden deep within verse. I underline those that nature,/ not the printer, had prick’d out; rimming each delicate/ stanza in cerulean, illuminating the readers-to-come …

Richard Scott. Soho (p. 8). Faber & Faber. Kindle Edition.

The book becomes more and more intense as it continues to condemn discrimination, culminating with a final ode addressed to Soho, where the lyrical voice has lived his entire life. The entire collection is, sometimes subtly, and sometimes overtly, an act of protest, rubbing ‘obscenities’ in the faces of those who refuse to accept others’ sexualities.

The most emotional poem for me was [people say shit like it gets better], a powerful and heartbreaking account of the never-ending discrimination gay men (in this context, a metaphor for any marginalised group) have to face for the rest of their lives. The title in itself is a spiteful sarcastic comment dismissing the hollow and useless attempts at comforting victims of discrimination with empty words like “it gets better”, when in fact, it never does.

you are twenty-seven when your father says/ gay people die of terrible diseases/ you are twenty-eight when a poet says/ makes for uncomfortable reading/ you are thirty-one when your father says/ don’t tell anyone you’re my son

Richard Scott. Soho (p. 60). Faber & Faber. Kindle Edition.

A particularly difficult-to-digest poem is crocodile, a harrowing image of our society, where the majority who fits the stereotypical mold is a predator, while the minority is the prey. The poem opens with the lyrical voice visualising being eaten alive by crocodiles, a graphic and gruesome scene that ends on a twist, as he survives the attack and carries on living in expectancy of future attacks. The eating-alive scene is a tragic account of being judged, rejected, and discriminated against, a slow and cruel fate that just keeps repeating itself. The second half of the poem shows how, although he never heals, the victim takes pride in his wounds and wears them arrogantly, almost trying to provoke the ‘crocodile’ and prove it hasn’t won.

I have died already and somehow/ survived/ and didn’t I wear those wounds/ well pity me the boy who cried/ crocodile I have these moments when I/ know I wanted it asked for it even/ nothing ever really heals he can/ smell the red meat of me/ bait lighting up the river

Richard Scott. Soho (pp. 11–12). Faber & Faber. Kindle Edition.

A recurring theme is ‘shame’, a feeling Scott describes in vivid, original, and unexpected ways, ranging from revolting against it, to owning it, to being one with it, to being embarrassed by it. Shame, it appears, has been projected upon the lyrical voice from a young age, as throughout the book there are numerous descriptions of subtle homophobia and toxic masculinity displayed by the father figure, who simply cannot accept his son. From dismissing his son’s sexuality to rejecting him entirely, the father figure gains the weight of betrayal and discrimination his son has been facing from the entire world. A lot of blame is placed on the father, who becomes almost the desired recipient of the book — the ultimate promoter and pioneer of discrimination.

The collection ends with a long ode to Soho, described as a two-sided space, that on the one hand perpetuates hetero-normative standards while having secretly embraced a queer culture that thrives in secret in the same place. The author’s voice is pejorative, but the poem is rich in details of the queer life going on almost behind Soho’s back, as the neighbourhood becomes a live character condemned for its choice to turn its head away. The poem includes Roman mythology and history motives, weaving the present with the past in an attempt to condemn history’s ignorance of queer narratives and bring them back to life.

To better experience the beauty, sadness, and impact of Oh my Soho! here’s a video of Richard Scott reciting it:

Soho is a rich, heartbreaking, vivid poetry collection about representation, discrimination, sexuality, and what society can do to fix its repeated attacks on marginalised groups. In my commitment to research and understand how I can do better by anyone who has ever faced discrimination, Soho was an essential and eye-opening read, and I recommend it to everyone with all my heart. I promise it will make you reconsider everything you’ve ever said, done, or witnessed, and you will be left with a sense of frustration and guilt, and a desire to do better.

Did you enjoy this book review? Read more about what books inspired and moved us on our Book Reviews page. And if you want to support independent journalism, please consider doing so through our Donations page. Thank you for reading!

Published by Eliza Lita

Founder and editor-in-chief: Coffee Time Reviews. Freelance writer and Higher Ed comms person.

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