Poet & Author



May 2014



Why Everyone Should Write Poetry

EJ Single Portrait copyportrait by Angela Hardy


In my own Utopia, every man and woman would write a poem. They would write it with intent and care, re-write it several times, read it in a whisper, place it under the pillow before bed, and then tear it up.

For me, I became a grown-up with zero exposure to poetry. I felt love without having to write it down, or pain without trying to find a measure. Now, I write couplets to feel love, entire poems to remember pain. It’s all backwards ever since I have decided to let poetry into the center of my life.

The truth is I want to stop. Not only stop writing, but also, speaking. I want language to end for me because I’m sick of saying the same thing about my mother, about my grandmother, about my inconsiderate childhood—for years. When I’m sick of hearing myself, I turn to the craft of the poem, and even then, the rhythms sound like me. I become sick of me. No one is sick of me more than me.

Despite the lows between manuscripts, rejections, and joblessness, it’s an honor to be a poet. That’s my unpopular opinion—that a poet must remain humble, changing, and sincere. In exchange, I will opt for the shorter life, and potentially destructive, because few things in occupation depend on sincerity.

I recall this piece of information I had tucked away: There is an ancient Chinese belief that if a carp swims up a waterfall, the carp will turn into a dragon. To me, the waterfall is the life that I watched from a distance. When I read poetry, I am standing under that waterfall. I am experiencing the brunt of every droplet—of incident, memory, and dialogue. So what is it like to write poetry? There is a shift much like swimming upwards and reaching wisdom outside of my normal self.

Somehow, the image of a carp swimming up a waterfall sums up poetry for me. Standing under the water, you live more than your share of one life. Sometimes it’s hard because the things that are painful are amplified, but so are the things that are beautiful. Going up the water, you become more than you could in one life. And that is worth something to every man and woman—enough to write a poem, to re-write it, to read it, to sleep against it, and to shred it into pieces again and again.


appeared on NPM Daily for National Poetry Month


Other News:

Published poem “Kaleidoscope” in Phantom Limb Issue 10

Published Korean translations “Cried,” “Dabi” in Hayden’s Ferry Review

Published Korean translations “49th Day,” “On the Road” in Blue Lyra Review

Featured in Mipoesias for 4 poems — My first cover, a portrait by Angela H.



February 2014



Great Love of a Poet

EJ Koh Lakeph. by LT


Oftentimes, the worst thing to ask a poet is: “Can you write about love?”

Death is a preferable subject, or disease, suicide, war, religion, but never quite love. Why?  Because Shakespeare wrote all the love poems. Love turns good writing into hallmark cards. Love is never as powerful as pain. And other tepid warnings were drilled into me since I could remember.

The truth is I’d been having a hard time in Seattle. Resurrecting myself after what I felt was the failure of a first novel, an MFA with surmounting debt, the wreckage of reuniting with my parents, and an end to a defining relationship, I could not bring myself to write. I’d lost all confidence, and with it, my creativity.

Worse than unhappy, I became indifferent.

Then a friend of mine, Sean, said we only recall times of pain, never reflecting on times we feel loved. It allows us to adapt from our mistakes, sure, but when we feel loved, we are not processing. Rather, we are alive. What if, Sean asked me, if we created such environments for others and inside the work we love to do? Would it affect our project, health, family, friendships — would we then come alive?

For the sake of the exercise, I summoned a single moment I felt loved. I must have been twelve, sitting on the floor of my grandma’s apartment, looking past her screen door at the morning sun that came shining through her home like an effervescent tunnel, and hearing my grandma fidget with the garden hose beyond the screen. Her shadow came in and out of the light. I was wrapped in the glow of what I believed, and now know, was love. After years, I still miss her and the world she created for me.

In my career, I avoided the subject of love. I look at my mother praying, and though I’m not religious, I see love welling up inside her small body. I wonder if I could be a vessel for what is selfless, patient, exuberant. Would it make me more of a writer, a woman, a human being?

I started a manuscript titled, “The Great Love of a Poet.” I’m 30K words in, and though it took me 6 months, I’ll need at least another year. Perhaps the manuscript may not be as powerful as one that devastates, but I like how I am writing while writing about love. Love neither necessitates pain nor expectation; love can be just as it is, and in it, one can live. Knowing that I risk failure, again, I am also trying to change.


Other News:

Published “My Father in His Old Age” in No, Dear

Featured on Jackfroot: Who is EJ Koh?

Reading “You’re in Good Hands” at Da Poetry Lounge, LA

Instagram @ThisisEJKoh




August 2013



With My Father in Seattle

 photo(2)Just got these contraptions that act as standing desks, saving me the neck pain.


In Korea, there is a saying: you are born the parent of the one you’re most indebted to from your previous life. This is why parents must give endlessly – as a form of repayment. Spending the week with my father, I picked up this little gem of an idea. I learned that his father started the first insurance company of Korea. His father was like Geico and drunk, busy, unloved. But his father treasured him, the youngest son. My father said to me, But I was resentful towards him for losing our inheritance, for leaving us vulnerable and poor. My father said that’s the first thing you regret as you get older: all the times you’ve felt anger, especially towards your parents. After chatting, we went to the gym where we tried the weights. My father is getting old. I’m getting sorry. While sitting side-by-side, I looked at my father and asked him if he thought, maybe my brother or I might be the reincarnation of his father. Maybe that we’re here to receive from our father what he couldn’t give to his father? It seemed to soothe him, as if it were the perfect answer. My father wanted so much for the opportunity to pay his father’s soul back with the love that he may or may not have earned, but deserved.


I never wholeheartedly believed in the after life. Recently, after speaking with my father, the after life provides for me hope then steals it away by taunting the subtle, trouble-free life that I’ve created for myself. You see, I’m afraid that I have discovered a wonderful relationship with my father in Seattle, and because of this, I’ll never meet him again. Perhaps there is no need for him to be born as my child, or for me to be born as his, again. After life or not, I’m afraid that what I see of him now is really it.


Other News:

Reading my poem “Ingredients For Memories”

My first podcast with Asian American host Brenda Wong

In-depth review of my novel Red by writer/critic Arthur Seefahrt

Poem “The Blurb” published in Berfrois

Candid Interview with Gumship, NY

2 Poems “To My Mother Kneeling” and “Good Hands” in Nostrovia Press




April 2013



RED Week 1: 1550+ Downloads. Thanks, Guys


Blog Post


This week, I seesawed between bliss and self-doubt. I’m told this is normal because for the first time I’m vulnerable. It makes me think back to every book I’ve ever criticized and I feel shitty about it. When you put out a book, it’s like breaking a leg: everyone has a cast on, even Stephenie Meyer.

I expected the toughest responses, especially since Red is so syntactically and organizationally experimental. Why should anyone accept something as indulgent as Red (a 6-month project)? But readers are more informed than before, and maybe that makes them more critical, but it also opens them to love the prosaically different, formally unacceptable. Then this happened: 600+ downloads in the first two days and 1,550+ downloads in the first week. Red is currently listed as #4 in all of Fantasy/Epic, right next to A Game of Thrones. Red is #1 in Hot New Releases of its genre.


EJ Blog


This Sunday, I met the first wave of readers (200+) at Central Park for a giant round of Assassins. Except it was called Red War and the sides were Spirits vs. Wakes. We “killed” the other side by ripping energy off each other’s backs until we had a victor. The novel came to life with Red War and no one wanted to leave. A woman named Lisa even recited one of my poems from the book. And good thing I had sunglasses on because I thought I’d cry before the game started. Then I pretended to be a “player” until the end of the game when I awkwardly revealed myself as the author of the novel. The reaction was life-changing. Everyone was enthralled, excited, supportive.

Just want to say thank you for this first week. I couldn’t have done it without the readers who caught my fall. I feel like I’m moshing in the digital world. I feel like I’m a part of history by releasing Red amongst the cutthroat publishing arena. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s available in all formats: Ipad, laptop, smartphone. And also, it supports me directly. Your purchase helps me continue writing, create events, and hopefully, touch others to take charge of their novel and pursue their own shining careers in writing.




Check out Jen Chung’s cover of Stay by Rihanna – inspired by RED
Check out the trailer for Red and the Jackie Chan sponsor for Red
Check out ISA TV’s profile on EJ Koh and Untapped Cities style column on EJ Koh
Purchase the book here and leave a review (only if you want to)!




April 2013





January 2013



Blog You Write After Turning In Your Novel


My dad told me: If you have to be anything, (1) be humble and (2) funny.

It wasn’t the pitch, or that agent, or whatever they tell you at panels that got me through this novel. It was what my dad said. My dad, your typical immigrant-with-$4-worth-of-change-in-his-pocket, who’s had every job from shoe shining to dry cleaning. Yes, that guy.

When I thought I’d run out of loans, or pissed after trashing months of writing, or sat in meetings with editors, I stuck to humility and humor. That’s really it. Being humble, even if I didn’t want to, forced me into the habit of listening. And being funny, well, that kept me thinking in creative ways. I even had the nerve to ask for the exposition or format of the novel to be just the way I wanted. I asked for more time, and despite my publisher’s warnings, I’d ask for more, more, more. And I got it all. Because when I talked to anyone, I became my dad. My dad kept it lighthearted and trusted people to trust him. It gave people confidence in him, me.

The Impossible Project provided Polaroids and film for the tour. Mostly I’m either sleeping or preparing to sleep.


You see, writing was hard. Harder than the sort of hard that I’d imagined. But the worst part was keeping myself together. I didn’t want to lose the excitement of sharing these characters, or the after-feeling of reading a unique passage, or the new things I dared to do as a poet writing fiction. Once again, laughing and being gracious reminded me that I didn’t write anyone else’s novel but mine.

When I finished, I was in California. I just hugged my parents. That was the end. I wasn’t jumping up and down. I took a bath and slept right after. But when I came back to New York, my director at Columbia glimpsed at a few experimental snippets of the novel. He wrote to me, “I’m so impressed with you.” Of all the times, I don’t know why, but I cried a little then. I think I remembered that even if I didn’t ask for it, everyone around me accepted me and my hopes a long time ago.






October 2012



Going On A Book Tour With A Bladder Issue

Something weird has happened. It was after the open mics in California back in July, and now, I’m nervous about this book tour. It starts Nov. 4th and we’re stopping by 6 cities. Cambridge (Out of the Blue Gallery), Princeton (Taplin Gallery), Philadelphia (Arts Garage), Baltimore (EMP Collective), Washington (Busboys & Poets), and New York (The Players Club). Driving down the East Coast in a van to read poems and a novel excerpt. But I’ve got a problem.

I can’t hold my bladder. I sit in the aisle seat in planes and movie theaters because I get up every hour and a half. But that time frame cuts down when I’m nervous. And I get really nervous before I’m up to read. Every step is a step into pee-trigger-territory. Then what. I’ll get on stage, read two lines of something, and then I need a bathroom break. I just need to pee. I’m reading my poem. And I need to pee. Not during one poem. All the poems. That means while everyone’s experiencing this reading, I am not. I’m not present. I’m meditating under a bright yellow waterfall and someone is whispering shhhh.

 Book tour sponsored by Moleskine. Tickets here

After a month, it triggered a Pavlovian response. Now every time I read out loud at my desk, on the train, in a shop anywhere, I have to pee. I could’ve just gone to the bathroom as a preemptive strike. Doesn’t matter. Reading my work out loud triggers an immediate pee response. Almost like I’ve been conditioned so I can’t experience my own pieces anymore. I just think: full bladder. And when I’m really old and they ask me how it’s like to look back at my work, I’ll probably say something stupid like, My poems make me want to pee.



August 2012



Road to Red

To be honest, I’m not done with the book. When I say not done, I mean my edits are in another window beside this one on my laptop right now. Not done. Not there yet, but might be good to collect my thoughts halfway for the curious.

Red? There’s fantasy. There’s a satirical bent. Energy, weapons, fieldwork, deserts, training prisons. A seed of an idea started during my undergrad in Irvine where I studied Dante. Dante thesis. Dante dreams. Even further back, as a baby, my mom played old cassette tapes of Korean folktales. Any tale coming from the East is messed up. I’m talking: a village that can’t pay the forest tiger, so the tiger rapes the youngest girl. She gets pregnant with the tiger’s son who becomes Venus and shits and those become countries. That messed up. My teens consisted of Toriyama’s fight sequences, Park Chan-wook’s incest, Miyazaki’s gods and children. Later, poets and thinkers: Dazai, Parra, Alberti, Boethius, and yes, Beyoncé. Just watching B at Revel made me light up across the board, the set up, the movement, the volume, that sweat and performance. I thought of spirit, body, space, society.

Otherwise, it’d be a different sort of novel. Not as violent and gory. Not making a point of excess in fights and how it bares itself. Then making fun of that point.


Sera, an attention-seeking outcast, sets free a demonic criminal in this energy-enhanced otherworld. Punished with the death of her mother and exiled from a systematic society, Sera seeks refuge on Earth and trains for vengeance under her new OCD-conscious teacher and ill-fated love, the criminal.

In this Murakami-meets-Kill-Bill tale, Sera is stuck between righteousness and carnage and learns the limits of her body while she ventures through worlds of diamonds, jade, and perpetual sunset. Her goal: to obtain the animalistic and all-consuming level of red. Sera’s fight is a fight that ignores the inner voice of dogged fear that she must learn most—her own desperation for forgiveness.

How did this happen? Nothing else was going for me. Not talent nor background. But something strange happens when you cut the crap. Stop hyping yourself with I can do this, I’m smart too. Instead I started where I was honest: I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t have experience or taste. And a lot of people want me to stop. I started there. That’s when I began to grow, very recently.

I’d been rejected from agents, at least 90, for a year before I started Red. I’d score a call back here and there, but things never got going. It was over for me. I did what ghosts do. I wandered saying fuck it, fuck it, fuck it. I don’t have money. I’m across the country from anyone I know. Haven’t been to a hospital in years. Just keep going, just keep going. I was so scared my hands shook on the train from Harlem to downtown where I worked. I was so scared all the time.

So how? Before I started, I told myself no one would read Red but me. I’d finish it, cry a little, put it under the shelf, go swimming, and float in someone else’s pool. Then this happened: I wrote the first draft in 3 months. Took all the hardships behind me to brave that. When I used to dance, that endurance. When I lived without parents in high school, that courage. When my relationship failed, that wisdom. In the scope of things, it all contributed at once.

This is that book. I read a section at Word Bookstore in Brooklyn last night. Guess what? 10 people. But 10 people stayed. 10 people wanted the book. The pre-orders were in. A little crowd of surprised people including myself. What, me? Did you say you wanted to not only read but purchase my book? My eyeballs get all red thinking about it.

I’ve worked for a nice agency, nicer agents, editors, and memorized contracts, templates at you-name-them publishing houses. Worked for journals and critics, worked for free. But the Collective was the first to whoop my ass. They got in my space, read the novel, said How dare you keep this to yourself, you selfish girl, and signed me on. Probably the most sound and reliable and radical contract for writers I’ve read. I was skeptical. But you know me. When I want something, I seize it with the iron grip of my balls.




May 2012



60K Writing Challenge

The thermometer chart was a tool that encouraged me to keep a schedule.

Last week, I reached my goal of 60K words in 3 months. Above is the second half of my progress thermometer (you’ve seen the first half). The blocks of color show however much I wrote in one sitting. Towards the middle, you can see my desperation. I’m forcing myself. All the short spurts. I feel like I just got out alive.

  plot maps

Plot maps are something new to me. I drew out the settings in my novel: the rivers, the forest, the town, the underground water system, animals, plants, etc. It felt natural and along the lines of the storyboards and visual charts I’ve become obsessed with. I have between 15-20 pages of maps.  It’s something I want to continue. It’s fun and I don’t know when I’ve become so playful with the process. But I recommend plot maps.



April 2012



My Interview with Dr. Deutsch

WizIQ, an international online education project, invited me for a conversation with Dr. Nellie Deutsch. I found Dr. Deutsch, based in Toronto, has interviewed luminaries like Pam Allyn (TEDTalks). How could I say no? —So I didn’t.

My favorite part of the recording is the first two minutes when I’m not there. It’s what happens off-screen. That morning, I was so nervous my mouth got dry. I remembered a friend advising me to eat something before I go on. I grabbed the nearest thing, which were some saltine crackers. It took 10 minutes to chew the corner of one. I was supposed to be on, and I’m digging chunks of not-in-the-least-broken-down crackers from the crown of my molars. Those two ungodly minutes.

I’ve pulled some parts from the transcript here. You can also go (here) and click “View Recording” for the entire, delightfully awkward experience. I believe this requires you to sign up, but I’ve heard it does no e-mail spamming harm.

Question of Blogging

The first few years, it was really embarrassing for me. You really have to be vulnerable in terms of, let’s say, my projects aren’t really working out or I have these concerns. At first, I never went back to read my posts. I hated looking at my own blog. To me, it felt horrible, abject, and wretched. More than once, I had the inclination to delete my older posts. But I’ve come to understand that readers like to see where you came from. The journey. I don’t have my best moments on the blog, but people can certainly see all of me.

It’s just one blog. That’s an interesting question because I’ve had an issue with this before. To answer it, I update once a month. I’ve gotten feedback because a month is a long time to wait for a blog post. It’s hard to maintain a readership with that. But I kept it a month because it works for me because I don’t have to sacrifice the quality of my post. Really, that’s my focus. That every single post I put out is meaningful and special and is moving in a way that I’m learning something valuable. And I think people notice that and appreciate it.

Question of Spam

The counterpoint to that, there’s also a lot of comments that come in that go into the spam folder or might be under the category of spam or that are anonymous comments that I really love to respond to. I think one of the things you’ll see is that I’m very responsive to my comments and e-mails. I try to respond within the day if not within the week. I just try to make the comments section a forum. Where people don’t only respond to questions, but they can share their own experiences. 

How to increase Comments

I don’t think it’s necessarily a secret, but it really comes down to what I said before. Just the act of providing a sincere post. Making yourself vulnerable. Somehow, in this really vast world of the Internet, there are countless blogs like you said. Content after content. Even now, there’s this constant struggle to be the next blog, extra innovative, high quality images, the best graphics which are all great things and that I enjoy. But there is value in being candid and allowing yourself to be vulnerable in a way that draws people in. You want them to say, I’ve had a situation like that too and to hear someone say that out loud is not only surprising but it’s refreshing. And when I get e-mails like that, it reassures me that that is the way to go. It’s to allow people to see through you. I’m not trying to put up a character or be extra smart. I’m bluntly speaking about the issues I’m having and people respond to that. People aren’t as blind as you think. People can recognize when you’re truthful. People recognize when they’ve stumbled across something meaningful.