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Poet Franny Choi Reads From Her New Book 'Soft Science'


Poet Franny Choi didn't grow up reading writers who looked like her.

FRANNY CHOI: You know, I was telling somebody yesterday that I don't think I read an Asian American writer until I was, like, 20 or something.


As we continue celebrating National Poetry Month, Franny Choi thinks there's a lot to celebrate right now in publishing.


CHOI: Artists of color have been taught that there's a limited number of spaces for us in the realm of success, and so anybody else who seems to tick off the same boxes as you and is doing a sort of similar thing as you is a competitor for that space. And what I see happening around me is a lot of amazing artists who are kind of refusing to think with this, like, scarcity model when it comes to shine and love and to really try to, like, bring all of us up together and, you know, reach new readers who have felt alienated from poetry for so long who are able to now be part of this big party that we're starting (laughter).


CORNISH: Choi's poem "Turing Test" plays with the question raised by computer scientist Alan Turing. How well can computers actually imitate human speech?

CHOI: (Reading) This is a test to determine if you have consciousness. Do you understand what I am saying? In a bright room on a bright screen, I watched every mouth duck, duck, roll. I learned to speak from puppets and smoke, orange worms twisted into the army's alphabet. I caught the letters as they fell from my mother's lips - whirlpool, sword, wolf. I circled countable nouns in my father's papers - sodium bicarbonate, NBCn1, hippocampus. We stayed up practicing girl, girl, girl, girl, girl until our gums softened. Yes, I can speak your language.


CHOI: So essentially, if you don't realize that you're talking to a computer and not a real person, then that program is said to have passed the Turing test. As someone who is a child of immigrants, as a queer person of color, we're always trying to pass the Turing test, always trying to use language in order to convince others that we should be treated as human.


CHOI: If I just keep writing about my own life and my own, like, weird robot obsession, why would anybody want to listen to me? But I have to trust in the advice that I give to students that it's the things that are unique to you that you just can't get out of your brain that are actually going to allow somebody else an inroad into feeling like they've made a connection with another human being.


SHAPIRO: That was Franny Choi. Her new poetry collection is called "Soft Science."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.