Desperately Attentive to Life: an Interview with Jason Koo

Updated: Apr 30, 2020

Desperately Attentive to Life: an interview with Jason Koo - poet, teacher, founder of Brooklyn Poets, creator of The Bridge, and lover of Cleveland sports.

By Kari Ann Ebert

Named one of the “100 Most Influential People in Brooklyn Culture” by Brooklyn Magazine, Jason Koo adds connective energy to his city with his work, professionally as well as personally. The work he does is poetry, though he wouldn’t call it work. Whether teaching undergrads at Quinnipiac University; directing the non-profit he founded; designing and organizing workshops; establishing a mentoring network; or (oh yeah) writing poetry, Koo is not driven to produce but leans in to notice the details of living. It is this patient intention that serves to quicken his poetry, fully engaging his readers, colleagues, and community. Koo is a force majeure, and he has the team jersey to prove it.

Broadkill Review: To begin, can you talk a little bit about how you divide your time between writing poetry, directing Brooklyn Poets, organizing events & retreats, teaching, mentoring, and finding a spare moment to enjoy life as a human being? Do you have a consistent practice when it comes to writing?

Jason Koo: The answer to this question has changed since the pandemic began, of course, as I have more time at my disposal than I did before, which is my privilege, though I’m certainly not “enjoying” this time. But I hear the question asking about busy-ness, so I’ll try to speak to that—how one manages different hats as a writer, something that most writers, especially poets, have to do if they want to subsist in this world. I would say that there’s always more time to do things than you think. Which is to say, we waste a lot of time, even when we’re busy, and if you can get into the practice of converting wasted time into useful time, even just a little bit, you’re going to get a lot done—so much so that you’ll look back and wonder just how the f you had time for all that. So, for example, to answer the last question, I don’t have a “consistent” writing practice in the sense of writing every day, or a certain number of times a week, or something like that. I don’t realistically have time to do that when things get really busy at school or with Brooklyn Poets; there are days when I’d be exhausting myself if I tried to make time to write, too, as just an hour or two doesn’t work for me—I need at least a three- or four-hour stretch to get my mind moving in the way that I like. I do write in my notebook every day, but that doesn’t count—because a lot of days that’s just a to-do list or something. But I still get the writing done, incrementally, over time, and quite a bit of it; I mean, the majority of the year I’m not actually writing poems, but here I’ve gone and put together a new manuscript of long poems over the past four years that’s 202 pages long. So how the hell did I get all that writing done? In windows of time here and there, usually during my winter and summer breaks from teaching, when I have weeks in a row that I can devote to working on something every day. So I suppose I could say my writing practice is “consistent” in the sense that when I set my mind to working on something, I work on that every day, or close to every day, for about the same amount of time every day (at least three or four hours), usually in the morning; and also in the sense that, over the long haul, looked at by the year, I’m always working on something, whether it be poems or prose; and also in the sense that I know what my practice is, how I go about reading, letting things come to me, generating ideas, drafting, revising, editing, how much time I’ll need every day to do good work, etc. I feel like my answer to the last question is pushing me away from the question overall, which is typical. But I suppose what I should say, finally, to get us back on track, is that you have to be organized and flexible and patient to manage all these different hats the world is asking you to wear as a poet. I maybe wear a few more hats than other folks, but that doesn’t mean I’m superhuman; it just means I attack every day with organization and gusto, and I’m also flexible and patient in letting certain things take priority at certain times that I might not want to let take priority. And perhaps the most important thing: you have to love the work. I enjoy wearing all these different hats; there’s no separation between doing these things and “enjoying life as a human being”—writing and teaching and mentoring and running Brooklyn Poets are all part of my enjoyment of life. When I first started Brooklyn Poets, I worried that I was taking advantage of myself, as people like to say, because I was doing tons of unpaid labor—I wasn’t able to pay myself a wage for the first four years of our existence. But soon enough I realized that not only did I like the work of putting on events and meeting people; it was making me happier. Much happier. And I was growing as a person because of it.