Poets Online Talking About Coffee: EJ Koh

What would you rhyme with cappuccino?

Cappuccino, cappuccino. Need no pinot in Cupertino, would rather cappuccino in Reno. Yet we know, nothing beats Valentino. Maybe cheese, though.

Do you find that drinking coffee helps with your writing?

Coffee is a spiteful, vengeful thing. Coffee has given me the best passages as well as the worst. Coffee and I always start a chapter well, but within a few hours it’ll have the most abhorrent writing out of me. However, it’s difficult to forgo the advantages of spiked adrenaline just because of the disadvantages of the crash. Coffee has been proven to make people horny, excited and brave. And sometimes all three are necessary to complete a novel. Even at the cost of dehydration, bad skin, and a temper by 4pm, I haven’t left this relationship quite yet.

Which classic poems would have been better if only the poet had drunk more coffee?

Ha ha, good question! Edgar Allan Poe’s poems are great as they are. But scary content combined with hyper coffee would be interesting. That, or coffee and children’s books. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that coffee may actually be sobering compared to the amount of drugs I suspect are required to come up with such works.

How often do you write?

On a relaxed schedule, I’m writing six hours a day. The weeks where anxiety bites at my heels, I’m writing fifteen hours a day. I haven’t reached the point in my life where leisure is attractive. Leisure terrifies me. Writing is a long-term commitment, and I’ve surrendered to the fact that writing takes time, but I don’t mean to extend such time because I’m indolent or fearful. Like most things, writing is a fight of wills.

How often do you tend to re-write or edit your poems?

Up to the point of assembling a manuscript, I’m making adjustments. After writing a poem, I’m changing something every time I see it again. In fact, many of my published poems I’ve wanted to re-write. As I’m growing, my poems appear to grow with me.

Harper Lee has just announced a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. Would you ever consider writing sequels to your poems?

That’s interesting because Lee wrote her sequel before To Kill a Mockingbird. She’s publishing something she wrote as a novice. It’s bold, and to be honest, it cannot be bad for her. I don’t think I can do sequels unless urged on by my readers to do so. Otherwise, I don’t like to pass up a new idea, body or world stashed in my brain for the next project.

Do you ever write in Korean?

Unless I’m translating, not really. I’ll type in Korean to my parents when I’m on KaKaoTalk (the Korean version of WhatsApp). I think it’s funny to bother them with my Konglish.

 What are working on at the moment?

Thank you, Russell for the interview. I’m tinkering with a 60pp poetry book titled Child of Shame. I’ve largely focused on translating my mother’s letters from Korean to English. This creative non-fiction project is called My Mother’s Letters to my Younger Self. I’m also finishing up a 50,000-word literary fiction novel titled No, Noam. Here, a middle-aged biographer suspects murder in the case of her suicidal and beloved subject, Noam. Throughout my writing, I’ve begged for each following year to materialize with opportunities that would allow me to continue. But it wasn’t sincere for me to ask more of something from the world that I’d already experienced. Presently, I am able to write, and no matter if this is my last year doing so, I am happy for the moment.

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