We’re honored to have had the chance to explore with Palette columnist Franny Choi the journey of her new second book, Soft Science (Alice James Books, June 2019). She’s invited us in to see the gritty aspects of publication: the passions and the doubts, the rejections and the (eventual) acceptance. Learn more about Soft Science here.
What were the most joyful moments of Soft Science‘s journey to publication?
Franny Choi: For me, the most exciting part of the process is slowly being able to see the book more and more clearly–watching it go from individual poems to a book. So the first time I put the poems into one Word document was probably the most joyful moment. Everything seems possible at that point. I also have fond memories of sitting at the Vermont Studio Center with the manuscript taped up on my wall–it was lovely to get to learn about the book by living in a space with it for those few weeks.
What were the toughest moments you faced while getting the collection to the world and what have you taken away from them?
I think (maybe luckily) that the hardest moments were those of self-doubt. So it was moments when I was convinced that no one would read it, that the order was all wrong, that it was too academic, that it was too accessible, etc. etc. At some point I had a panic attack about the cover art while I was on a long drive and frantically emailed my press saying we should change it. Luckily the folks at Alice James and the friends I had around me were there to remind me of the work and though and care they’d watched me put into it. It’s so important to have people who can be there to talk you off the ledge in those moments.
An author never really works alone—without whose support would Soft Science not have made it across the finish line?
Please, if you read my book, please read the acknowledgments section. This book was seriously raised by a whole village of geniuses. Teachers like Linda Gregerson and friends like Laura Brown-Lavoie, sam sax, Fatimah Asghar, Danez Smith. My partner, Cameron Awkward-Rich, of course, who read draft after draft and finally told me to stop tinkering. But today I’m thinking about Ilya Kaminsky, who looked at one of the poems and told me that I was making the speaker monstrous, when America was the real monster. It was a small observation that I carried into every poem after that.
What did you learn about writing over the journey of this book?
So many things, but what comes to mind at the moment are the many poems that didn’t make it into the book. I keep learning again and again that poems aren’t products of labor, but little rooms where labor (emotional, intellectual) happens. And so it doesn’t do the art any good to treat them like they’re precious commodities that will be “wasted” if they don’t get to live in a book. It’s more like–did I use this space to grow my understanding? To become myself more fully? Poems are resources, not products.
What was the favorite piece of media or art you consumed while writing these poems?
Oh, I watched Ex Machina over and over again, of course. Also the British television show Humans and the movie Under the Skin. And I think I might have watched about 8 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race during the course of working on this book. Maybe this is partly why I’m always confused when people ask what AI has to do with gender and queerness; it’s all part of one big question of strangeness and performance and mutability for me.
What’s your one sentence piece of advice for poets currently putting a collection together?
Prioritize care–for yourself and for your poems.