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What We’re Reading: Floating, Brilliant, Gone

2014 October 16
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What We're Reading

Floating_Brilliant_Gone_final3Floating, Brilliant, Gone by Franny Choi (Write Bloody Publishing, 2014)

Franny Choi’s debut collection of poems, Floating, Brilliant, Gone, is haunted. There are ghosts everywhere, from the opening poem “Notes on the Existence of Ghosts” to the “dead lover” in “My Lovers” to the ghosts of old neighborhoods in “Gentrifier.” However, it would be wrong to imply that these poems aren’t based in the realm of the living. On the contrary, ghosts and living bodies occupy these poems in equal measure. Living bodies, in Choi’s poems, are political; ghosts are lucky enough to escape the politics of the living.

One of the most memorable—but nearly impossible to memorize—poems in the collection is “Pussy Monster,” which takes the lyrics from Lil’ Wayne’s song of the same name and rearranges the words in ascending order of frequency, ending with the word “pussy” repeated a whopping 40 times. Similarly, “Second Mouth” focuses on the female anatomy and the ways womanhood has been made political.

Other-lips   whispering   between her legs

What they called black hole    not-thing

is really packed full of secrets     A rebel mouth


testifying from the underside […]

from “Second Mouth”

The political poems showcase Choi at her most focused, and that intensity keeps the poems afloat. The strongest poems in Floating, Brilliant, Gone cleave to the page in some way, while still begging to be read out loud, to be performed. However, other poems are bound to performances that the reader can’t access on the page. Lines fall flat, even in the strongest poems. In one poem, “Metamorphosis,” which takes butterflies as its central metaphor, stanzas are scattered on the page like a cloud of butterflies. It’s a striking poem, and yet, even here the page muffles the poem:

he held the last raspberry

of the season to my lips.

the sun was shining. everything

was dying & we

laughed hand in hand

over the graves of
tiny kings.

The final sentence of this stanza contains wonderful music (“the graves of / tiny kings”) and a surprising juxtaposition in “everything / was dying & we / laughed […]” Unfortunately, the uninspired image of the sun simply “shining” weighs the stanza down, though, read out loud, it’s easy enough to ignore the line.

The best poems here are moving, surprising, and big. They speak to loss and love in real and wonderful ways. The second poem in the book, “Halloween, 2009,” begins:

When my boyfriend’s mother

called to tell me


he was dead

I called her a liar


and took the day off.

These lines are spare, but the hurt and denial are huge. In “Kimchi,” Choi plays on her heritage, both familial and, more broadly, as a Korean-Amereican woman, writing, “My parents’ love for each other / was pickled in the brine of 1980 […]” The metaphor of a relationship as kimchi is unexpected and acute. It’s in these poems that the ghosts begin to speak more clearly.

The shortest poem in this collection, “Heaven is a Fairy Tale (& Vice Versa)” reads in full:

We are all

dutifully practicing

our deaths.

In the pages of Floating, Brilliant, Gone the exploration of bodies and how they become ghosts—the “practice” of dying—dominates. The collection suffers slightly from a lack of focus, both in poems individually and overall, but Choi’s voice is strong and at their best these poems ring clear and true. It’s a good bet that Choi’s poems will appear in pages and on stages across the country for some time to come.

What other new poets are you looking forward to reading as their careers grow?