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“I had a body and/ it refused to rise for work./ To sing for the new/old country, to sing/ so I could weep and feel/a little clean”
—“On the Night of the Election” from Soft Science
I was lucky enough to see Franny Choi read at AWP this year, on a panel of other Alice James authors. She read a few poems, and then shared a video project she’d been working on—a mashup of scenes from the 2014 movie Ex Machina, a futuristic film about a hubristic programmer who creates female robot companions in order to try human subjects for the Turing Test. One of the female robots is a voiceless Japanese companion named Kyoko. For her video project, Choi imagined the world if Kyoko’s lost audio files had been found.
Similarly, and in conjunction with the feminist messages of the film, Choi’s new book Soft Science explores the intersections of identity, race, sexuality, and real/not-realness. Throughout the collection, poems refereeing the Turing Test appear, reminding us and grounding us, the reader, in the reality of nonreality; this speaker is her own person, but she’s also a creation, made to be appealing, made to be whatever it is that is needed.
The collection stands on its own without the film; Choi’s video project only serves to further the experience of surreality and dystopia as you read through the pages. “I pick up the accent/of whomever I’m speaking to. Nobody wants/to fuck a sponge. Nobody wants to crush/on a ghost. O sure, we all do it anyway”. Even without the Ex Machina background, the collection is accessible for anyone wondering about identity, construction, destruction, and human connection in a digital world, in a world further disembodied by the Internet—and yet. The Internet is the modern gay bar. The Internet is how marginalized communities connect to one another. And Choi, as marvelously outlandish as it sounds, manages to both condemn and celebrate this most illustrious tool of society. She does so in language lyric and logical, befitting the behemoth task of taking on the world, and winning.
By Franny Choi
Alice James Books
Paperback, 9781948579551, 95 pp.