Poet Of The Week

Noah Arhm Choi

     August 7–13, 2023

Noah Arhm Choi is the author of Cut to Bloom, the winner of the 2019 Write Bloody Book Contest. They received an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College and their work appears in Apogee, the Rumpus, Split This Rock and elsewhere. Noah was nominated for the Best of the Net anthology in 2022, shortlisted for the Poetry International Prize and received the 2021 Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Prize. They have also received fellowships from Kundiman, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. A Lambda Literary Writer in Schools, Noah works as director of the Progressive Teaching Institute at a school in New York City. For more information, visit Noah’s website or @noah.arhm.choi on Instagram. On Friday, August 25, they will read for the Brooklyn Poets Reading Series along with Rio Cortez and Terrance Hayes.

Author photo by Savannah Lauren

It Is 6 p.m. on the 2 Train Downtown


and it smells like people too tired to stand standing anyways.

To say we are packed like sardines would be to lie

since sardines lie neatly next to each other while here, arms twist

under shoulders to hold a pole, armpits on heads

of the unfortunately short. It is the quiet of sensible shoes and glossy

eyes, almost everyone staring at a screen, when suddenly

I hear a voice so flecked with anger

I see his grimace even with my eyes closed

saying to someone, move your fucking bag, you’re too

fucking close to me. I wait for a response, hoping it too

will be steel or baritone, but there is only the silence of people

watching. Again I hear, I said fucking move, and a sound

like a taut leather bag being punched, and I open

my eyes but I can see only a man’s ambitious belly

and no one is saying anything, not the proud men

in snapbacks and gym shirts, not

the hulking people right next to the leather bag and still

I think, I won’t have to say anything, someone

will surely defend this woman who obviously can’t scoot over or find

another crevice to push her bag into because remember

it is 6 p.m. on a train downtown. I can hear him shoving her

and twist my neck around to see where they are or at least catch

an eye that too is thinking about how to stop this and I

am a child again, bare-footed in the kitchen watching my father’s fist make

a perfect arc, so when I say stop it, it is too quiet to weave

through the elbows and sneakers desperate to not

get stepped on so they don’t hear me anyways.

Sometimes I walk into the liquor store and the worker will say, what

can I help you with sir, and then stumble and apologize as if

they just decanted my favorite whiskey all over my new oxfords

or a person will stare at me too long in the mirror

in the bathroom before leaving with lipstick smeared

across teeth but no one thinks I’m a man

when I need them to, when I need the tenor or bulk to scare

someone away and all I can manage is a meek stop,

and I’m so angry that I have failed

as a survivor, failed as a child who wants to say I am nothing

like my father so when it’s time to get off the train and I see

the man is getting off the train too I shove him a little as we step

onto the platform and say, you shouldn’t have touched her

realizing I’m being a hypocrite which I also hate,

and he turns to me so quickly I already think I lost and shoves

me back into the train saying you stupid bitch

and I’m crying and hating that I am, hating

that there is no one to call me sir now,

that I haven’t been trained to fight back and I want

to say, you disgust me, you are why

I wear men’s clothes but never want

to be a man but all I do is turn back

towards the full car of people, still silent, still

pretending to look at their phones, and stare them down

until the door closes and the train pulls away.


—Originally published in Blackbird, May 2022.

Brooklyn Poets · Noah Arhm Choi, "It Is 6 p.m. on the 2 Train Downtown"

Tell us about the making of this poem.

Often, I think of poems as both receptacles for and alchemists of rage. I’m grateful that they can both be a place to unleash my anger so I don’t have to always carry it with me and a place where that anger can be shaped into something else, like perspective or fodder to keep fighting for the humanity and dignity of everyone. The moment this poem is about was a stone I carried with me for a long time. It was written when I was presenting more androgynously and trying to figure out what behaviors, clothes, speech patterns would make people gender me one way or another. This poem, too, is about the arbitrary nature in which people assume another’s gender, and how that assumption impacts the safety or respect a person is granted. I am also hoping to raise the question that if the person being shoved on the train was a man or presented more masculinely, what would have happened? How is the allocation of safety tied to gender identity and expression? In raising these questions, I hope to shine a light on the dangers of the gender binary, not just for trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming people, but for everyone.

What are you working on right now?

I am currently working on my second collection of poems and a nonfiction book about creating gender inclusivity in our relationships and organizations. The poems are mostly about transitioning and the consequences of either/or binaries that fail to hold the complexity of human experiences. I hope to show the beauty and creativity inherent in the gray areas and the freedom in dreaming outside of the box. Korean-American experiences also figure heavily in the poems, speaking to the ways that transitioning, undergoing gender-affirming care and changing my name are inextricably tied to cultural and linguistic notions of gender.

What’s a good day for you?

My perfect day is in the middle of summer break before thoughts of work and another school year come back up. I wake up without an alarm clock, journal and drink coffee without any rush, stretch and do some yoga, and then write for a few hours before heading out to swim or meet up with friends. Any day that doesn’t have time constraints is a great day.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

A breakup after grad school and wanting to be closer to friends in the post-breakup haze.

Tell us about your neighborhood in Brooklyn. How long did you live there? What did you like about it? How has it changed? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

I moved six times in the eight years I lived in Brooklyn, but Kensington was my favorite neighborhood by far. Far enough away from the more hopping neighborhoods to be quiet and affordable, but still easy to get to and, most importantly, walking distance from the park. That bit of nature was a lifesaver.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.

Seeing Brandi Carlile at Celebrate Brooklyn! with so many other queer people was definitely one of my favorite Brooklyn experiences.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Did you find that here? Have you found it where you live now? Why or why not?

I am so grateful for the homes I have found with Kundiman, the SupaDupaFresh reading series in Brooklyn, Hala Alyan’s Kan Yama Kan series and Jon Sands’s “Emotional Historians” writing workshop. The common thread amongst these communities is that they actively create permission: permission to say what I actually want to say and not the version that is more polite; permission to center my experiences and wellbeing as a queer, trans person of color; permission to be audacious, bold and more and more honest. I cannot imagine a world where we write without community. To me, being able to see people’s writing change and grow, share raw first drafts and try out new things in front of people you love and admire are essential parts of my writing practice.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

So many! Audre Lorde most definitely. Patrick Rosal and Aracelis Girmay have also influenced me greatly.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

Cathy Park Hong, who was my thesis advisor at Sarah Lawrence, asked me once why I was assuming that my readers wouldn’t understand what I meant when talking about hyphenate experiences such as being Asian-American. That question completely changed the way I thought about who I was writing to and amongst. It started an important investigation of where I felt I did and didn’t belong, and how that had been impacting the clarity and boldness of my work.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki was the first book in which I encountered another trans Asian-American. Not only is it beautifully written, but the representation and nuance of the main character were transformative for me.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson has been on my list for a long time! I think reading a memoir, especially one that could hit so close to home, can be a pretty vulnerable experience sometimes, so I think I’ve been waiting for the right time to read this one.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

I was an adamant physical-book person until I discovered that reading on my phone is a lot easier than holding a hardcover book while holding on to a subway pole while not getting squashed. For poetry books, I tend to dip in and out and read a few at a time. Most of what I read is fiction, and I keep a running list of books I want to read. I read fifty-four fiction books last year and am trying to break my record!

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I have this idea to switch up Konglish (Korean-English) words in a poem to try and demonstrate the effects of colonialism on the Korean language, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do this yet!

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I love to write at the coffeeshop or on the train. Something about being surrounded by people as I write feels very homey to me.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

I love the farmers market at Grand Army Plaza. Korean tacos at Kimchi Grill. Ode to Babel is also one of my favorites!

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the ode that ruins you

and what I know of survival that you will say is just love,

for every break that teaches me as good as any morning with you.