Poet Jason Koo Returns to Stuyvesant
Issue 8, Volume 113
Poet Jason Koo—an associate teaching professor of English at Quinnipiac University—visited Stuyvesant on December 2 to share his poetry and professional experience. In 2012, Koo founded Brooklyn Poets, an organization that celebrates Brooklyn as the origin of American poetry, a genre associated with famed poets like Walt Whitman.
Though the event, which took place in the library, was held primarily for English teacher Dr. Emily Moore’s Poetry Workshop students, other students were encouraged to sit in as well, placing the total attendance at over 100 students. Koo is one of the contemporary poets studied in Dr. Moore’s class.
Koo is no stranger to Stuyvesant, as he visited Ms. Thom’s Writing to Make a Change class earlier this year and Dr. Moore’s Poetry Workshop class twice in 2011. “I’ve actually met Jason Koo many times before because Dr. Moore has brought Jason Koo to Stuyvesant as a poetry reader a number of times over the years,” English teacher Annie Thoms said. “I had him come into my Writing to Make Change class last year to talk about being a Korean-American male poet and writing from his identity in order to make [a] change.”
Koo’s visit was much like his previous ones, in which he read a selection of poetry and answered students’ questions. As a Korean-American poet in a predominantly Caucasian field, Koo has repeatedly spoken to the Stuyvesant community due to its large presence of Asian students. Koo expresses that his struggles as an Asian-American are a major theme across his poetry. “I hope our students benefit from seeing Jason Koo, an Asian-American male poet, who is strong in his identity, and in many ways, bucks cultural norms. It is affirming for me, and I hope it is for many of our students,” English teacher Minkyu Kim said.
At the start of the event, Koo read half of his poem “The Rest is Silence,” a piece featured in the 2022 Best American Poetry Anthology. It was among 75 poems that Best American Poetry guest editor Matthew Zapruder felt best reflected the modern state of American poetry. As Koo discussed topics of workplace diversity, equitable education, and the concept of Asian-Americans being bystanders, the poem he read resonated with many attendees. “One thing that I could really relate to was being an Asian in a predominantly white neighborhood [and] environment and being secluded,” senior Benny Ye said.
Students felt that meeting Koo helped enhance their experience with poetry with a fresh perspective of the field. “There are not a lot of Asian poets, and the poets I study in class are mostly white,” senior Arshan Pervez said. “It’s great to have someone else share their perspective.”
In addition, students were able to learn from hearing Koo recite his poems in person. “He knows exactly where to pause, and [...] what words [to] emphasize to deliver [an effect] to his audience,” Ye said.
Beyond his Asian identity, Koo’s poetry also encapsulates the difficulties that lie in chasing dreams, a sentiment that resonated with many attendees. “Before hearing of Koo's struggles in pursuing poetry, I honestly had a shallow understanding of the types of troubles other people might face in our society,” junior Jayne Wong said. “After hearing his experience, it gave me a new view that poetry is not only about expressing yourself, but also about perseverance and not giving up, especially when trying to publish poems.”
The speaker event concluded with a Q&A session between Koo and the students. “Students asked amazing questions, ranging from ‘What factors went into discovering you were a poet?’ to ‘Do you watch anime?’” Dr. Moore said. Students were also able to purchase copies of Koo’s books as well as receive autographs from him.
For those who attended, the event offered new insights not only into the construction of poetry but also into the underlying meaning within poems. “Through this meeting, I have [gained a better] understanding about how poetry is not just a bunch of words structured uniquely on a piece of paper or computer screen [...] it’s also a collection of stories that the poet themselves may have wanted to convey,” Wong said.