Franny Choi

regarding the yellowface poet

Posted by on Sep 09 2015, in poems

[ Poem in response to m.d.h., white poet who used a Chinese pseudonym to get published in Best American Poetry. ]


choi jeong min
for my parents, Choi Inyeong & Nam Songeun

in the first grade i asked my mother permission
to go by frances at school. at seven years old

i already knew the exhaustion of hearing my name
butchered by hammerhead tongues. already knew

to let my salty gook name drag behind me
in the sand, safely out of sight. in fourth grade

i wanted to be a writer & worried
about how to escape my surname – choi

is nothing if not korean, if not garlic breath,
if not seaweed & sesame & food stamps

during the lean years – could i go by f.j.c.? could i be
paper thin & raceless? dust jacket & coffee stain,

boneless rumor smoldering behind the curtain
& speaking through an ink-stained puppet?

my father ran through all his possible rechristenings –
ian, issac, ivan – and we laughed at each one,

knowing his accent would always give him away.
you can hear the pride in my mother’s voice

when she answers the phone this is grace, & it is
some kind of strange grace she’s spun herself,

some lightning made of chainmail. grace is not
her pseudonym, though everyone in my family is a poet.

these are the shields for the names we speak in the dark
to remember our darkness. savage death rites

we still practice in the new world. myths we whisper
to each other to keep warm. my korean name

is the star my mother cooks into the jjigae
to follow home when i am lost, which is always

in this gray country, this violent foster home
whose streets are paved with shame, this factory yard

riddled with bullies ready to steal your skin
& sell it back to your mother for profit,

land where they stuff our throats with soil
& accuse us of gluttony when we learn to swallow it.

i confess. i am greedy. i think i deserve to be seen
for what i am: a boundless, burning wick.

a stone house. i confess: if someone has looked
at my crooked spine and called it elmwood,

i’ve accepted. if someone has loved me more
for my gook name, for my saint name,

for my good vocabulary & bad joints,
i’ve welcomed them into this house.

i’ve cooked them each a meal with a star singing
at the bottom of the bowl, a secret ingredient

to follow home when we are lost:
sunflower oil, blood sausage, a name

given by your dead grandfather who eventually
forgot everything he’d touched. i promise:

i’ll never stop stealing back what’s mine.
i promise: i won’t forget again.


  • Moose Song

    Franny, I know you get a million of these a day (and rightfully so), but this (to the yellowface poet) is the best goddamn poem ever. It says so much that I’ve always wished I could say and so much more I never knew I wanted to and all in the most perfect way. You are an inspiration to me as a poet and as a Korean. I fucking love you.

    P.S. You were great at our school and I know that you made every single person there die hard fans that night with your performance and wonderful personality. You were all we could talk about for months after!

  • Tena

    Educational, profound, beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  • This is the most powerful and beautiful response I’ve read since the whole BAP mess began. Thank you for showing us what poetry is truly capable of conveying.

  • Beautiful – thank you!

  • Faustine

    Thank you for your (savage) courage. I have a similar problem with my name.

  • ross

    This is beautiful. I believe in this. Thank you.

  • Andy

    Thank you for this. Names are something I think on often—what I am called, what I am willing to respond to. Beautiful work as always.

  • Mankwe Ndosi

    Thank you so much for this piece. It struck me right through.


  • Michael Foland

    Found my way here somehow in rapid-fire clicking through pieces on the Hudson fracas. This is without a doubt the most humane response I’ve read.

  • Perfect. 감 사 합 니 다.

  • Thank you for writing what only you could write. The yellow-face poet cannot even write things with such meaning because they are devoid of it, don’t know it, no matter how they change their name or create a fake self. This poem is everything.

  • Almitra Clay

    That was so beautiful and tragic. I am in tears. Thank you.

  • Kanupriya

    This hit home for me. Thank You.

  • v nice poem, Franny…simply lovely reply to an ugly situation…

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