Friday Fabulous Finds: Jason Koo’s poems

I read one poem of Jason Koo and fell in love with him. His poems are lengthy and contain big texts of words without stanza breaks, so at first, I resisted reading them. After I killed my ADD and focused on the words, I find such genuine pleasure in them. I am glad I persisted in reading. See for yourself. Here is one poem I particularly enjoy. (Taken from Missouri Review).

WORK

by Jason Koo

Everyday Django goes to work at the same time.
Takes breakfast at eight, runs a quick shower-paw over the ears, then hits the office
By 8:25. And by office I mean
Bed. This is work he excels at, stretching and accepting
Petting when he’s looking particularly cute. I find the word “particularly”
Particularly hard to say, but Anna has no such problems;
Everyday she goes to work putting people into yoga poses, making them say “particularly”
With their bodies. In yoga, you learn to release yourself
By resisting yourself. What a beautiful idea.
Even more beautiful is how one almost always feels this actually to be happening while doing it,
Unlike poetry, which is governed by a similar idea
Yet rarely provides this feeling while one is doing it.
Of course, one never really feels oneself
To be “doing” it. Anna leaves a mat on the kitchen floor
That serves as a runway for spontaneous headstands
As I’m “writing.” I’ll be walking back and forth between Django’s office and the kitchen
And think, Hell, let’s get inverted.
Already today I’ve done three headstands.
Anna recommends this as a good way to get the blood
Pumping through the brain in the morning
And hence the poetry, but so far I have yet to see Rilkean results.
Django loves his work, he never tires of being tired.
It is a particularly human quality to grow tired of being tired.
Look at him using the whole country of the bed,
First camping out in Florida, Maine, Alaska, Mississippi, now Idaho, Oregon, Nebraska, Arizona.
He likes to spread the good work of his body around, as does
Anna, what a service she gives her students.
She makes them feel better about their bodies and themselves.
Importantly, her students want to be there.
I go to work in the Bronx and most often my students do not want to be there.
What a strange thing, to be required to be somewhere
You don’t want to be, submitting yourself to the particularly painful torture
Of writing. They put up with it because the College demands it
And listening to the College will help get them a job.
I talk and they listen and don’t listen and more and more
I wonder what I am doing. I am not making them feel better about themselves or their bodies
Like Anna, and I am certainly not making myself feel better
Like Django. Who wins? English Composition?
Django has moved to Pennsylvania, which is a big state but he covers almost all of it.
He’s got his left rear white paw sticking out like a golf putter
Over the Warhol museum in Pittsburgh, where there’s a wonderful room
Full of silver balloon pillows blowing around
Called “Silver Clouds.” That is one way to work.
You know you’re making people happy when you’re making clouds.
Warhol told Lou Reed he wasn’t working hard enough,
But maybe Lou Reed just wanted to be making clouds and couldn’t
Because ol’ Factory Warhol had already smelled that idea out.
Warhol would also tell me I’m not working hard enough, to which I’d say,
You look like you have a cat on your head.
Does your cat think your head is his office? Do his paws give you all your ideas?
A little scratch or two and presto, Clouds. Many thanks, Fluffy.
Django provides no such service.
Amazing we’ve been together all these years and still he speaks no English.
I speak a little cat but he can’t even say “Hi.”
Since Anna moved in, Django no longer sleeps on the bed at night.
He sleeps in my office and I sleep in his office; in the morning, we change places to go to work.
Django had to cede position to Anna, the superior speaker of English and petter.
The problem with Django is he accepts all this petting
And never gives any back. That’s just not part of his line of work.
Neither is playing the guitar without a full assortment
Of fingers, as his namesake Django Reinhardt could beautifully do.
Just once I’d like to feel him rub me on my belly.
Who speaks better English, Django or my students?
On some days, it’s a toss-up. At least Django harbors no pretensions
He’s good at English, unlike those students I have to strain
To give a C who storm into my office wondering why they haven’t gotten an A.
I do feel bad for them, they accept all this torture,
No petting whatsoever. But they give the torture back.
I don’t grade their papers so much as continually cry for help in a quicksand of sentences.
I’m trying to teach them how to write critical papers
So they can potentially write papers for any college course.
And so I prepare them for college but not for life.
If I were preparing them for life, I’d teach them how to write
Thoughtful, anger-alleviating break-up letters,
Sweet but sexy Valentine’s Day cards,
Witty but grave toasts and eulogies that make everyone in the room want to sleep with you,
Tasteful, unburdensome thank-you notes,
And gracious but subtly snarky emails to hopelessly idiotic but higher-ranking co-workers.
I’m a writer. When have I actually used a thesis statement
In my adult life? Sometimes I think thesis statements were invented
To make reading student papers less onerous for teachers
Because they helped them identify the student’s heretofore M.I.A. main point.
But ironically students in search of a thesis statement
Have come to write particularly gruesome English.
Sometimes when I have trouble with the word “particularly”
I can hear a vestige of how my parents struggle with r and l sounds in English.
What a nightmare for a Korean speaker, all those r/l sounds
Jammed together in such a fast, polysyllabic word.
I remember how my mom used to pronounce the word “film”
Fihdum. I thought this was kind of cute actually.
But when my students make mistakes with the language
I go insane, and Anna has to hear about it as we de-tox after work at night
By intoxicating ourselves with beer or wine.
What a mystery, how one person learns and another doesn’t.
Or maybe not a mystery. Everyday my dad woke up early to work at the hospital.
We moved from Minneapolis to St. Paul to New York to Toledo to Cleveland
As he kept getting better and better jobs.
He worked hard to get better jobs so he could get paid enough
To send me to better schools, where I learned the particularly particular craft of English,
So someday I could release myself like this.

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2 Responses to Friday Fabulous Finds: Jason Koo’s poems

  1. Lois Budd says:

    Been reading all poems for several hours this sunday nite, wishing after all the obscureness and deft references to secrets I won’t ever know, and now at 2:55 am, this WORK had me laughing out loud, and smiling and as content as the poet’s cat. Wonderful rhythms, words, easiness, brilliant. Thank you.

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