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Franny Choi on Body Language

"For some, discussing the body is an aesthetic choice," says Franny Choi, a poet, teaching artist, and author of Floating, Brilliant, Gone. "For those of us whose lives have been shaped by difference or violence, turning to the body is something closer to necessity, or responsibility."

Choi has earned awards from the Poetry Foundation and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. Her work has appeared in PoetryRattle, Indiana Review, and other literary journals. She lives in Rhode Island and is a VONA alumna, a Project Voice teaching artist, and a member of the Dark Noise Collective.

"I am most drawn to work that places me in my body, work that awakens me to the heartbeat, to breath, to muscle and bone," she says. "And I am most moved by writers who are able to transform the body from a site of violence into a site of contemplation, knowledge-making, and love. By 'body language' I mean not only speaking about the body, but asking how our (strange, ruined, rotting) bodies would speak if we let them."

The Well 

Franny Choi

One day, she wakes up
buried in a well.
The well is

her heart beat. It rings
the stones. The stones
are crumbling too slowly
for anyone to notice.

The sky is a distant moon,

a memory. She forgets

her own name. Her name

is Dark-Drinker. Bone-Wife.
She marries the dust.

The dust is a boy who fell.

A boy is like a memory

but heavier. Memories

crawl over her hands.

She has too many hands.

She is all open mouth

asking for night. The night
is asking her to stay.

She stays.

Franny Choi offers three good books on the topic of body language:

by Fatimah Asghar

I have always been in awe of the bravery with which Asghar speaks of the body, and in After, that bravery soars. Simply put, After is the story of a young woman learning and surviving violence, beginning as a child playing with her Barbies and ending as a woman picking through the debris of a sexual assault. But it is also the story of finding joy in the body, in both its honest messes ("microwaved pussy under sheets") and its glories ("I'm queen of the dignified clapback"). See, for example, this excerpt from the title poem, After:

It would be easy to say he ground my bones
to road kill, limbs splayed for show.

But this is the way I always sit. My spine
incongruent, a mountain road

I choose not to follow.

Asghar praises equally the bruise and the eyeliner "so crisp it could kill a bitch." Nothing is sacred, and so everything is. This is a story of a woman of color learning to love herself, and in this world, there are few things braver than to declare, as Asghar does in the final poem, "I am not afraid of the colors / my body dreams to produce."

by Cameron Awkward-Rich

Like its title, Transit is full of jokes, most of them tragic. "Get it?" prods the speaker early in the book, "Gender is a country, a field of signifying roses you can walk through, or wear tucked behind your ear."  In Awkward-Rich's book, the (black, transgender, boy) body is one in — or, better, of — perpetual motion. Like the essays that form the book's spine, Transit offers no easy answers, and any resting places that appear soon shift out of focus or vanish altogether. A girl disappears into language; reflections morph in the mirror; a bird (or is it a boy?) thrashes against the surface of a lake. Here, the body undergoes many shades of violence but finally resists, at least, the violence of categorization by giving itself a multitude of names. "& in the end, isn't that what we all want?" says Awkward-Rich in the The Child Formerly Known as ____, "... To carry an image of ourselves / inside ourselves & know exactly what we mean / when we say I --  I --  I -- ?"

This Sex Which Is Not One
by Luce Irigaray

I think some theorists are just poets who like to speak in complete sentences — or maybe some poets are theorists who don't seek out neat conclusions? In any case, I read 1970s feminist psycho-analyst Luce Irigaray's book when I was 19, and it continues to inform the way I think about the relationships between language, gender, and sexuality. While it's helpful to have at least a working understanding of Freud's theories of sexuality before diving into her more explicitly psychoanalytic work, I think everyone should read the title essay, This Sex Which Is Not One. By reframing female sexuality outside of patriarchal and heteronormative parameters (and, by extension, feminine speech outside of masculine logic), Irigaray opens new realms of possibility and pleasure. The female sex turns from one defined by lack into one defined by plurality and autoeroticism — and suddenly there is power in my "contradictory words, somewhat mad from the standpoint of reason.." Irigaray's work is a key to finding pleasure and strength in the body, especially in the body called Illogical, Unnameable, Other; in the questions and fragments it dreams to produce.


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