Franny Choi is a Korean-American writer, performer, and teaching artist. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of Floating, Brilliant, Gone (Write Bloody Publishing, 2014). She has been a finalist at the three largest adult poetry slams in the nation, and her work has appeared in Poetry, PANK, Solstice, Fringe, and others. Her play Mask Dances has been staged at Brown University’s Writing is Life Festival. As a Project VOICE teaching artist and Providence Poetry Slam coordinator, she is dedicated to supporting young writers, both in her local community and in classrooms across the country.
TCJWW: How does slam poetry and performance impact your writing of poems? Have you felt these are two separate ends of the spectrum or have you found a way to reconcile the two as into one entity?
Choi: All of the above! I do feel that writing & performance occupy opposite ends of a spectrum, and as with most spectra, I usually find myself moving fluidly somewhere within it. I think because of my experience in the world of performance, all of my poems are rhythmically and sonically driven; there’s usually some element in them that comes alive when read aloud. But probably the most important impact that performance poetry has had on my writing is a sense of empathy. To perform a poem is to take on the responsibility of caring for an audience. Though I’ve always had experimental impulses in my work, I think having a background in performance communities has helped me stay grounded; to keep my work from becoming offensive, boring, pointless, or masturbatory for the sake of experimentation.
TCJWW: You’re also a seasoned facilitator; what are some key points you stress when speaking professionally on the connections between poetry, identity, and power?
Choi: If there’s one thing I want students and participants to walk away with, it’s that our stories are important. The erasure of narratives has always been one of the greatest weapons of the oppressors. So many of us have felt isolated and powerless because we haven’t seen our own stories being told in the dominant discourse. It’s a powerful and incendiary thing to finally speak after all that silence.
TCJWW: Your poem “Pussy Monster” is simply the lyrics of a Lil’ Wayne song, rearranged. I find it a fascinating word study, which also speaks volumes of the importance of certain terms used in song lyrics. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea to create a poem like this and why you chose this particular song?
Choi: I chose that song because I was obsessed with it. (If you’re interested in listening, look for the live performance, not the album version.) I was really into Lil Wayne at the time and had written a few poems borrowing language from Tha Carter III. I had sort of a love-hate relationship with “Pussy Monster” — I couldn’t stop listening to it, and I couldn’t figure out why. So I rearranged the lyrics to see what it would look like, and then decided that it would be fun to read out loud. Because if Lil Wayne can say “pussy” forty times, I can too, right?
TCJWW: The presence of ghosts throughout your work is profound: ghosts of people, memories, and interactions. How does that speak to the way you personally navigate—and makes sense of—life? Do the ghosts ever evolve, remain, or move on?
Choi: There are so many ways I could answer this, but I’ll just say this for now: I’ve been trying to honor every person I’ve been, every heartbreaking or triumphant experience I’ve had, every mistake, every trauma passed down through the generations of my family. I carry those ghosts with me and look to them for guidance.
TCJWW: Can you tell us a bit about how you explore the body in your poetry (body of self, body of work, body of others)? How do your poems remap, reclaim, or otherwise rewire the meaning of body?
Choi: This body I am has been called other, alien, ugly, sexy, worthless, and fascinating. Much of my work is an attempt to write myself into those names, to speak to and with and about them. To say yes to this body that’s been a beacon for hatred, that’s been called “model minority” and used to oppress others, that’s let me down and given me everything I’ve ever needed.
TCJWW: Where can fans of your poetry collection find you online if they want to watch your live performances?
Choi: There are videos, links to poems, and other goodies at www.frannychoi.com!