Awful Interview: Jason Koo

6 Nov

Yup, it’s time for another post about how stoked we are for The Letters Festival! Next up to bat? The formidable and dashing poet Jason Koo, who’s trekking all the way from New York City to share his words with us. His most recent book of poetry, America’s Favorite Poem, was released by C&R press. As a patriot, I adore it. (More on that later.) Jason’s going to be reading alongside Lindsay Hunter, Morgan Parker and Jamie Iredell on Saturday, November 8th at the Rodriguez Room at the Goatfarm Arts Center. It’s definitely a “Don’t Miss” in our book. You can get yourself a ticket to that here.

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Vouched: Hey Jason! So, your most recent collection of poetry was “America’s Favorite Poem.” As a xenophobe, I’m really stoked about that. When did you realize that you had America’s Favorite Poem in you? Did Bruce Springsteen really like it too?  

The moment came a long time ago at a diner in Houston when I looked at a Heinz ketchup bottle. The label said “America’s Favorite Ketchup.” I thought that was absurd. Just calling your ketchup America’s favorite. Maybe they had the stats to back it up, but how would anyone know? So I decided to write America’s favorite poem. How would anyone know it wasn’t? I was thinking a lot about consumerism at the time and wrote a poem about all the shopping being done in Houston and beyond and called it “America’s Favorite Poem.” I published it, then didn’t like it anymore, so I kept it out of my first book. It may have been America’s favorite, but it wasn’t mine.  Later I wrote another poem about shopping in Target and becoming obsessed with brands almost against my will as I flipped through magazines like GQ. I was searching for a title–and thought, Fuck it, why not call this “America’s Favorite Poem” too? It’s not like anyone read the first one. Even though it was published–and America’s favorite! The new poem is also not my favorite, though it did make the second book–and became the title poem. Now, of course, I have to write America’s Worst Poem. Some people may already think the two America’s Favorite Poems are already America’s Worst Poems. All I know is I’m always introduced now as the “author of America’s Favorite Poem” and can take that shit to my grave (i.e. on my tombstone).

Bruce, of course, has always been a huge fan of my work.

Vouched: I really like that it all started with a bottle of ketchup. What’s your favorite condiment?

Salsa. Or barbecue sauce. Barbecue sauce seems to go well with everything. Salsa not so much.

Vouched:  Any specific kind of BBQ?

I guess Kansas City style? Or St. Louis style? Missouri style? Texas style, too. Perhaps because I did all my graduate work in Texas and Missouri. I wrote poems and ate a lot of barbecue. Poems, too, taste better with barbecue sauce.

Vouched: I eat a lot of BBQ when I’m writing too! Was it The Phantom Tollbooth where they eat word sandwiches or something like that? If your poetry were a sandwich, would it be BBQ or something else?

I actually have a poem in my first book called “I’m Charlie Tuna” that details my sad obsession with–or overreliance on–a particular lunch plate while living in Missouri: tuna salad sandwich, barbecue chips, pickle. So I guess I’d have to say that my poetry would be a tuna salad sandwich with a side of barbecue chips. And a pickle. Or to put it another way, my poetry is written with fingers covered in “barbecue pollen.”

Vouched: Why are BBQ chips so great? I mean – they’re REALLY great. Oh, and not to change the subject, but who’s your all-time favorite athlete ?

I don’t know, but as most athletes like to do at the start of post-game interviews, unlike almost all poets, I’d just like to thank God at this moment for BBQ chips, because clearly all the credit goes to him.

My all-time favorite athlete is a difficult question because there have been many favorites–and many of those have gone on to become enemies when they left one of my Cleveland teams through free agency. Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez were my favorite players on consecutive Cleveland Indians’ teams from 1994-96 (Belle) and 97-2000 (Ramirez), but I hated both of them after they left Cleveland for more $$$$. (Manny a little less so, because he was, after all, Manny.) LeBron James is an interesting case because he was by far my favorite Cleveland athlete while he was with the Cavs the first time around, then quickly become my most hated athlete of all time after The Decision, and now he’s quickly become one of my favorites again after The Letter and The Return. Perhaps if he leads us to a title this year he will be my favorite of all time. But I don’t know if my love for LeBron will ever be quite the same again after our initial breakup.

My favorite Indians’ player right now is Michael Brantley, simply because of how he plays the game: always calm, in control, clutch. Just seems effortless. And he’s got this swag to his step, real style to his movement. He’s also got the best game glare I’ve ever seen from an Indians’ player, even better than Belle’s famous snarl.

But my favorite Indians’ player of all time is Victor Martinez, who played catcher for us from 2002-09. I like Brantley because he reminds me so much of Victor: our best clutch hitter, our most consistent hitter, just a joy to watch play on a daily basis. Victor had this great way of clapping his hands together in an upward stroke (as if he were high-fiving himself) as he popped up from a slide into second base after an RBI double. And he loved the Indians, crying when they traded him to the Red Sox. I will never forgive the Indians for trading Victor to the Red Sox. We got Justin Masterson in return, who for a while was our ace and made that deal look respectable, even necessary; but now that Masterson has gone from being our ace to sucking so much that we had to trade him, the Victor deal looks even worse, especially because every time he’s faced us in a Tigers’ uniform the last few years he’s deposited a back-breaking three-run homer somewhere. I know my love for Victor is everlasting because I never hate him, even when he’s killing us with those three-run homers. I just get angry at the Indians’ front office.

My hope, now that LeBron has given Cleveland one miracle through his return, is that Victor will somehow sign a four-year deal with the Indians for like $20 (pretty much the max they can offer him) and take us to the World Series. Because I’m pretty sure if we can sign just one hitter like Victor this off-season we’ll go all the way next year with our badass starting front four of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer. Our #5 starter, T. J. House, is no slouch either. I’ll just keep dreaming here while you ask me your next question.

Vouched: I mean, that is pretty much a dream team. If that miraculous turn of events were to happen, how much do you think you’d spend in tickets during the season? Be honest.

Well, seeing as how I don’t live in Cleveland anymore, probably not that much. But if the team looked World Series–bound, I’d go home to watch as many games as I could during the summer. And if the team were on the cusp of winning the World Series at home, I’d pay pretty much whatever price to be there. Like, up to $500 for a ticket, probably. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and when you’re talking about Cleveland, that “lifetime” is longer than most.

Vouched: What are you most excited about for the Letters Festival?

Meeting writers I haven’t met before and hearing them read, and reading with peeps from my own hood like the badass Morgan Parker. Always a pleasure to be invited to read in another city–especially when you get flown out and put up in a hotel room!

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