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Koon Woon

Koon Woon was born in a small village near Canton in 1949, immigrated to the United States in 1960, and presently resides in Seattle’s International District. His poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including The Poem and the World: An International Anthology and Premonitions: The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry. As the publisher of the literary zine, Chrysanthemum, and Goldfish Press, Woon is a vocal advocate for Seattle literature. The Truth in Rented Rooms is his first book, and Water Chasing Water was released by Kaya is 2013. 

books
Truth_in_Rented_Rooms

The Truth In Rented Rooms

Kaya Press 1998

Typed out in cramped tenement rooms or scrawled on bits of paper, Koon Woon’s impulsive, startling poetry, collected for the first time in The Truth in Rented Rooms, probes the lonely world of itinerants and the dispossessed that is found in the shadows of immigrant life in the United States. His beat is one of narrow Chinatown alleyways and Greek diners, damp hotel rooms and emptying city parks. It is also a place of chance encounters and lingering epiphanies, pieced together through ruminations on Eastern and Western philosophical traditions, love and modal logic, present and past. Ranging in style from classical lyricism to syllabic construction to street shouting, Woon’s poetry travels literally and figuratively beyond the constrained and finite world of the tenement poverty that is his subject to places distant – pre-Mao China, steel towns, a pastoral childhood. Woon’s poetry – penetrating yet playful, and attuned to the breaks and charges of his own economic displacement and mental illness – attest to the regenerating eddies and convergences at the heart of a fully realized imagination.

 
Kaya_WaterChasingWater_Cover

Water Chasing Water

Kaya Press 2013

Described by Bob Holman as “Li Po in drag, the voice of New America,” Koon Woon exploded onto the poetry scene in the late 1990s. Largely self-taught, and struggling with both mental illness and homelessness, Seattle-based Woon wrote about the back alleys and tenement rooms on the margins of immigrant culture. His first collection, The Truth in Rented Rooms (included in this volume), won a PEN poetry prize and earned praise from Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Garrison Keillor. Water Chasing Water is Woon’s second collection, and continues his exploration of loneliness and memory with poems and essays that seek out “This light / Without which existence is not detectable.”

 
praise

“Luckily it’s the world. Miraculously, Koon Woon is alive in it, reminding us joyful and brilliant, sad as salt, untranslatable – live! Li Po in modern drag, the voice of New America, samo scrabbling to pay rent – Your father is buried in the same cemetery as Bruce Lee, you karate chop Whitman’s block of wood, eat egg tarts to feel Chinese and buy a Japanese automatic rice cooker – perfect every time! The tradition of the wanderer is just a moment forever in the world’s longest alley, under the table, the bubblegum kiss of the Tang dynasty – what a mess! Luckily, it’s the world. Miraculously, Koon Woon has written The Truth. You read it!”
— Bob Holman, Author, In With the Out Crowd (Mouth Almighty/Mercury Records)

“Koon Woon, like Bob Kaufman, is a writer of solitudes. But like Walt Whitman, his solitudes contain multitudes. Join Koon Woon in his imaginings and enter into his room.”
— Steve Cannon, Director, A Gathering of the Tribes

“These poems set a thousand horses galloping in the Asian diaspora in which so many are caught.”
— Lawrence Ferlinghetti

[B]orn in a small village in 1949 China, [Koon Woon] listens to the edge of America, pours Cantonese nouns into a Stevens/Eliot/Whitman mixmaster and serves up dispatches from a borderland where expulsion is a state of grace.”

— The Village Voice

“Like the Angel Island poems carved on the walls of detention barracks by early Asian immigrants, like inner-city graffiti sprayed or chiseled on walls and buildings, Koon Woon’s poems possess a moral intention that is part of the consciousness of struggling peoples everywhere.”

— Russell Leong, Amerasia Journal

“Koon Woon, like Bob Kaufman, is a writer of solitudes. But like Walt Whitman, his solitudes contain multitudes. Join Koon Woon in his imaginings and enter into his room.”

— Steve Cannon, Director, A Gathering of the Tribes

“In these poems, I hear Koon Woon singing from his ‘crib’—a unique kind of blues that reverberates all the way from little village Canton to the homeless alleys of Seattle… These bent notes float out of his window, twist and ring out into the cold crisp air of a gray winter sky. ‘When the cooks go home in nights like bits/of shrimp in bitter melon soup…’  Drink it down, drink it down. The soup of this poet produces a bitter but satisfying warmth that needs to be experienced.”

— Alan Chong Lau, Author, Blues and Greens

“Luckily it’s the world. Miraculously, Koon Woon is alive in it, reminding us joyful and brilliant, sad as salt, untranslatable — live!.. Miraculously, Koon Woon has written The Truth. You read it!”

— Bob Holman, Author, In With the Out Crowd 

“These poems set a thousand horses galloping in the Asian diaspora in which so many are caught.”

— Lawrence Ferlinghetti

“We readers are lucky Koon Woon hid out in the Aberdeen, Washington walk-in freezer of the family restaurant to read Joyce and Kafka. It takes a cross-cultural rebel and sometime outsider like Koon Woon to show us the doors between worlds.”

— Sesshu Foster, Author, City Terrace: Field Manual and Atomic Aztex

“In Koon Woon’s Water Chasing Water, a river appears in one poem and flows into the next, appearing there as rain, turning up in one place as an ocean and in yet another as a damp and soggy sadness.”

— Jai Arun Ravine, Lantern Review

Koon Woon news

Koon Woon Reads at Under the Influence in San Francisco

Koon Woon will make a special visit to San Francisco on the occasion of his American Book Award win. The Emerald Tablet will be hosting him and other writers on October 24th at their Under the Influence event. Come to hear Woon channel the work of one of his major influences, the poet Donald Justice, […]

Kaya Press Poet Koon Woon Wins 2014 American Book Award

We are ecstatic to announce that Kaya Press poet Koon Woon has been awarded a 35th annual American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation for his collection Water Chasing Water. The American Book Award aims to recognize a set of books and people for outstanding literary achievement with a focus on multiculturalism and free expression. […]

Koon Woon on Survival through Poetry

Recently, the Poets & Writers blog featured a post by Kaya author Koon Woon, in which he writes about how poetry kept him afloat as he dealt with mental illness. You can read an excerpt from the post below: It might sound like a stretch, but poetry saved my life—along with the care of psychotherapists, […]

FISTS OF KAYA: Kaya Press Storms Seattle

Kaya authors read at the world-renowned Elliott Bay Bookstore in Seattle on Thursday April 18th, 5 – 6 p.m., but first, join Kaya for a picnic and historic walk at Lake View Cemetery, originating at Bruce Lee’s grave!

 
 
 

“The most consistent intelligent wide-ranging committed press I know – Kaya is an example of how to turn ‘small’ books into literary arrows that shoot straight and true into the heart of our culture and (of course) ourselves.”

— Junot Díaz