The first time I heard one of Franny Choi’s poems was a beautiful accident. It was senior year and I was driving home from my last day of Spoken Word Club. In my sentimentality and premature nostalgia I made a YouTube queue of recent popular poems. When Franny Choi’s “Pussy Monster” came on, I was fully caught off guard.

This feeling hasn’t subsided. Both on and off the page she is capable of the same absolute shock. Her work stitches– cuts the thread with its teeth, breaks the needle in half. Through her poems she explores identities, bodies, and now: robots.

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Portrait of the artist tired of mansplaining sonnets

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KATIE: What compelled you to write this forthcoming chapbook, Death by Sex Machine?

FRANNY: The easiest answer is that I watched the movie Ex Machina and couldn’t stop thinking about the character Kyoko, who is the silent, android servant of one of the film’s main characters.

I absolutely loved the film and was also deeply affected by the presence of this language-less, Asian machine woman — both disturbed and sort of shot through with recognition.  It didn’t take much research for me to realize that so many of the themes I was working with (sexual objectification, constructed identity, violent revenge, language and its relationship to personhood) were already closely entwined in the fembot archetype.

At the same time, I was having trouble writing lots of poems in this one character’s voice, so I started to draw connections with other characters, as well as poems that were in my own voice. That’s how I came to writing about Chi (another language-less fembot from the manga Chobits) and how the overall project started to take shape.

KATIE: How was the process of writing this chapbook different from Floating, Brilliant, Gone? 

FRANNY: Floating, Brilliant, Gone was my first book, and at the time, I really wanted it to be representative of the range of my work. I was thinking of the book as not just a cohesive project, but also as an introduction to who I was as a writer.

In other words, the biggest difference was that for FBG, I started by making a big list of every poem I had ever written and looking for the common themes.  And then spent a year obsessively editing.

By contrast, about two-thirds of the poems in the chapbook were written specifically with the overall project in mind. Other than that, you know, I think I gave myself permission to be weirder. Taking on the robot voice was very freeing in that sense.

Like a greatest hits, like, “NOW That’s What I Call a Franny Poem.”

KATIE: Wow “NOW That’s What I Call a Franny Poem,” I think you really have an opportunity for a great album there. Speaking of being weirder, has this chapbook changed the choices you might make in a poem? Do you think your style has changed?

FRANNY: I think writing with a project in mind allowed me make poems somewhat more open-ended, in that I knew that each poem only had to answer a piece of the overall question.

I think that alleviated some of the pressure on each poem to have a really defined argument and allowed me to spend more energy on the level of language. Or to have a poem in there whose function was just to continue or establish a certain mood.

And I think I’ve been operating somewhat further from narrative than I have in the past. But I don’t think I’m such a different poet than I was a few years ago, more that I’m leaning into certain techniques more than others at the moment (sound play, associative jumps, a speculative bent, impressionistic nastiness).

KATIE: Finally, what’s next for you, Franny Choi?

FRANNY: I’ve just started my first year at the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. It’s funny to be back in school but mostly really nice to have some time to turn my attention fully to writing and reading. I’m excited to be working with InsideOut Detroit this school year, to be consistently in a classroom.

On the creative end of things, I’m hoping to be working more closely with programmer friends to make weird stuff. And I’ve got a project idea in the very early stages of its development, so I won’t jinx it by saying too much — but it’s an idea for a kind of online platform for poetry. That’s all I’ll say for now!

About Franny Choi

Franny Choi is a writer, performer, and teaching artist. She is the author of Floating, Brilliant, Gone (Write Bloody, 2014) and the forthcoming chapbook Death by Sex Machine (Sibling Rivalry Press). She has been a finalist for multiple national poetry slams and has received fellowships from Kundiman and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.

Her work has been featured by the Huffington Post and PBS NewsHour, and her poems have appeared in Poetry Magazine, The Poetry Review, the Indiana Review, and elsewhere. She is a Project VOICE teaching artist and a member of the Dark Noise Collective.

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, prose, reviews, and interviews from marginalized creators.