Meet Franny Choi, your new favorite poet

By PHILIP EIL  |  April 3, 2014

"THE BEST POETRY that I've heard makes me feel a little bit more alive," Choi says.

Let’s talk about poetry.

Remember poetry? That dry, old, chalky stuff your high school English teacher used to serve you with a side of terms like “quatrains,” “dactyls,” “syntax” and “caesura”?

Let’s not talk about that kind of poetry.

No, in honor of National Poetry Month — which began April 1, as I’m sure you already know – let’s talk about a young, local, living poet named Franny Choi who a) at age 25, already has amassed an impressive shelf of honors (she’s been a finalist at the National Poetry Slam, the Women of the World Poetry Slam, and the Individual World Poetry Slam, plus champion of the 2010 Seoul Poetry Slam); b) has a new, debut book titled Floating, Brilliant, Gone; and c) has written and performed the best response to a catcall we’ve ever seen. Go to YouTube, search “Franny Choi Pork Fried Rice,” and behold how she snatches a fleeting vulgarity from the air, then twists and tweaks it into an immortally brutal/beautiful word sculpture.

“To the Man Who Shouted ‘I Like Pork Fried Rice’ At Me on the Street” is one of many poems featured in Floating, Brilliant, Gone — a thin, muscular book that crackles with energy. It’s here where you’ll find Choi rearranging the lyrics of Lil’ Wayne’s song “Pussy Monster” by order of frequency. When you see that he says “pussy” 40 times, it’s as if she’s slapped an “Ingredients” label on the side of the song, alerting listeners to exactly what they’re consuming. In Floating, you’ll also find show stopping phrases like “a script clear as rooftops set alight by a sun’s dying roar,” “God is a distracted hedonist,” and “four years after he left, he is still spoon-feeding my heart back into my quivering mouth.” Rhode Island — Choi’s adopted home after graduating from Brown — is here, too, in snapshots of a bike ride to Narragansett or of gentrification on Providence’s West End. (Choi, never sparing herself, admits in that poem that she “feel[s] safest within two miles of an espresso machine.”)

The book is impossible to summarize, of course. But, if pressed, we might submit one more line, from “The Mantis Shrimp Speaks”: “Can’t you see? This moment is all colors imaginable.”

Our conversation with Choi has been edited and condensed.

THE MANTIS SHRIMP POEM BEGINS WITH A NOTE: “THE MANTIS SHRIMP IS A SMALL CRUSTACEAN THAT CAN SEE MORE COLORS THAN ANY OTHER ANIMAL. IT CAN ALSO DELIVER A BLOW EQUIVALENT TO THE FORCE OF A BULLET AND HAS BEEN KNOWN TO CRACK AQUARIUM GLASS.” DO YOU RELATE TO THAT? Oh man, I wish I was badass enough for mantis shrimp to be my spirit animal. But I’m not. If I could wield my words and my work like [that] . . . if my work could do whatever the equivalent of that is, for being a human, I would be happy.

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