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Keeping it Koo
Professor and author Jason Koo has a flare of creativity in everything he does
Professor Jason Koo’s journey with literature began while he was still in high school. The complexity of classic novels lured him into the compelling universe that is literature.
“When I was a senior (in high school), I read Hamlet in my English class,” Koo said. “That was the book that really changed how I thought of literature, like it just totally blew me away that here was a text that is talking to itself.”
Raised in a Korean household, Koo grew up with a focus on science and math. He entered college with a goal to graduate with a pre-medical degree.
“I was like most Asian kids,” Koo said. “My dad was a doctor, so I was raised to think that I was a science guy.”
During his first year of college, Koo found that he had just skimmed the surface of his intrigue with the realm of the written word, and that science and math were no longer his priority.
“They wanted me to be pre-med, but I was like ‘No, I’m really serious about this literature stuff,” Koo said. “So I took the science stuff less seriously and by the time I was a sophomore, I was just this full blown English major.”
His first tastes of poetry began with the young professor courting young women on the campus of Yale in 1994.
“I was writing not really that seriously as a freshman in college,” Koo said. “A lot of people were like ‘oh girls like poetry’ so I remember my first girlfriend. I was writing her poems all the time. They were terrible. I’m sure now if I looked at them, I’d be horrified. But she liked them.”
While being an absolute casanova with the ladies, he still had not fully delved into the wonders of poetry. Upon entering his sophomore year at Yale, he began to take more courses revolving around poetry. The first poet that he ever connected with was Hart Crane.
“He was one of the first poets I read when I got serious about poetry,” Koo said. “I loved his poetry first of all. It’s just this incredible lyrical, very ambitious poetry, it’s both very lyrical and epic at the same time.”
Koo felt a unique connection with Crane, as both have deep connections to the state of Ohio. Koo was born in New York, but grew up in Toledo and Cleveland. Crane was born in Garrettsville which is only an hour drive from Cleveland.
“I didn’t know any poets at all who were from Cleveland, so that was kind of amazing,” Koo said.
During that second year of college, Koo was no longer writing to woo his lady. He narrowed his focus on writing poems about himself. While his intentions for writing changed, Koo said he remembers the experience of “feeling changed.”
The first poem he ever wrote seriously was about a baseball game in 1995. The Cleveland Indians were down two games to zero in the World Series. A teenaged Koo was tense with anxiety as he hoped the Indians would win their first World Series of his lifetime. With all the built up emotions, he let them out into a poem titled “Saturday Night Baseball.”
“I was anxious about baseball back then and I still get anxious, but I was absurdly caught up in it, just thinking my life was going to end if they lost that game,” Koo said. “I wrote in anticipation but then ultimately the game became not about sports, like that’s where it started, but it ends up being about my childhood.”
Since arriving to Quinnipiac, he has been astounded by the willingness to break down misconceptions within the world of art. His students have been incredibly open to new ways of understanding poetry.
“I think you have to break down a lot of misconceptions that students have about poetry and about art in general but if you can do that with them, there is a hunger,” Koo said. “What’s great about teaching it is that there is an excitement and a hunger for it that is different from what I’ve seen from other schools. It’s a little bit more passionate and it’s a little bit more genuine than other schools.”
His easy-going vibe and laid-back personality makes it easy for him to relate to his students.
“He’s a chill guy who I would totally like to grab drinks with after I graduate,” senior PA major Kyle Liang said.
Koo is 40 years old, a statement he says would shock his students because they view him to be younger than he actually is.
Koo has provided his students with inspiration to reach for their full potential. By creating a comfortable classroom environment, he has constructed a sort of safe haven for his students.
“I’ve never been in a classroom in which I felt more comfortable sharing my voice, my experiences, both good and bad, and me and my family’s story, because I know that every week there is a group of people who are eager to read my poetry,” Liang said. “By creating that kind of atmosphere, fostering that level of comfortability, Professor Koo was able to transform us as poets.”
His refreshing honesty shows that he is fearless in speaking his mind and his version of truth.
“I’m just gonna say this and I hope you print this too,” Koo said. “I think the school can be more diverse…among students and also among the faculty.”
The English professor has developed close relationships with his fellow staff members, forming a deep appreciation for their commitment to the job.
“I really enjoy my fellow faculty here in the English department,” Koo said. “These are the most thoughtful and professional colleagues that I’ve had.”
Quinnipiac University has welcomed Professor Koo and his artics mindset well, and although he hails from the cities of Cleveland and Brooklyn, this metropolis poet has found a home in the Bobcat den.