Jason Koo is the author of Man on Extremely Small Island, winner of the 2008 De Novo Poetry Prize (C&R Press, 2009) and a Finalist for the National Poetry Series, the Kathryn A. Morton Prize and the Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry. He was born in New York City and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned his BA in English from Yale, his MFA in creative writing from the University of Houston, and his PhD in English and creative writing from the University of Missouri-Columbia. The winner of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Vermont Studio Center, he has published his poetry and prose in numerous journals, including The Yale Review, North American Review and The Missouri Review. He teaches at NYU and Lehman College and serves as Poetry Editor of Low Rent. He lives in Brooklyn with his cat, Django.
In our Process Profiles series, young contemporary Asian American poets discuss their craft, focusing on their process for a single poem from inception to publication. Here, Jason discusses the eponymous poem from his first collection, Man on Extremely Small Island.
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I originally wrote this poem for a workshop on ekphrastic poetry led by Scott Cairns at the University of Missouri-Columbia. I’d written the first poem for that workshop on a Hopper painting, which was predictable—so many poets have written poems about Hopper paintings. I myself had already written three poems about Hopper paintings.
So I went to Acorn Books, one of the used bookstores near campus, and started browsing through art books, looking for something I hadn’t seen before. I wanted to get away from the high tradition of Western art and do something unorthodox. After looking through shelves and shelves of books, I stumbled across The Collected Cartoons of Mordillo, a book of black and white cartoon drawings by this Argentine artist I’d never heard of before. His cartoons were hilarious, featuring little men and women with huge noses in various island and urban situations; they read like parables about modern life and relationships. I was drawn by his ability to tell whole narratives in just a few frames with no words. His sensibility spoke to me immediately.