More Than Mere Light
More Than Mere Light
Signed first-edition softcover
Prelude Books, 2018
No one has written a finer, stranger, more enjoyably various and intelligent long poem than Jason’s Koo’s “No Longer See,” the central poem in his splendid new book, More Than Mere Light. Schuyler and Knausgaard, Proust and Ashbery, to name just a few, meld into a poetic performance that is joyfully bent, and as gloriously funny as it is self-castigating. Underscoring all this is a sorrowing sense of self that can’t shake free of time—time as it drags or stops or flies during romance and sex and the passage from domestic happiness to failure, and as it marks off the progress of a poetry and a life coming into its full, vital strength. With a cool-eyed detachment from his own drama, Koo has written a book that is unforgettable in its candor, its disabused self-knowledge, and its generosity of spirit.
This book is about falling, a lot. There are good falls and uncomfortable falls and quiet falls and in-between falls and falling in and out of love with other people and yourself—as Koo aptly writes, “That was a falling.” Koo is brilliant at mastering the often anxious way we talk to ourselves in our heads, as a way to recall moments and construct memories, justify behavior to oneself, and explore the roles of gender dynamics and sexuality within a world full of distractions in an often strange modern technological landscape. Throughout the collection, Koo is wonderfully narrative, bringing us into the speaker’s world, full of jazz and biking and Brooklyn and girlfriends and students and conversations with both an overload of self-consciousness and a lack of it all at the same time (“What’s okay, okay?”). The speaker’s unabashed ability to be excessive while also having the reader rely on silence, on what isn’t told, creates a captivating world for the reader to explore—and most importantly, see themselves fully immersed in as they navigate their own bizarre lives and landscapes. Read it over and over and over again, so you can, as Koo says, drop back “against the light.”
—Joanna C. Valente
There is an incredible musicality and witty humor in Jason Koo’s More Than Mere Light, that of a Brooklyn the poet has made his own, invoking in his lines fellow borough luminaries Hart Crane and Walt Whitman. Romantic love is linked to his love for the city, and often the two test each other, create doubt, and still forge an unlikely bond through conflict. In one of the collection’s earliest poems, “Break of Day, the Great City,” the speaker contemplates “The brown historic signs, the royal walks, the cobblestones, / Now yours, now yours, now simply who you are”—and how he could “throw it all away.” And while Koo questions what it takes to survive his ever-gentrifying landscape as much as being a poet today—”How many more writers could live in these brownstones? / How many more ampersands could live in contemporary poetry?”—he doesn’t “throw it all away.” Rather, Koo creates memorable and often hilarious responses to whatever would destroy us, leaving no stone unturned—indeed, fighting for those very stones of that “great city” and beyond, even “the distance toward the huge / unknown cemetery, / The millions of mysteries, the small, unending graves.”