The Symmetry of Fish (Penguin Poets) (Paperback)
On Our Shelves Now.
“All hits no skips. I was incredibly moved by these poems.” —Roxane Gay, via Goodreads
From National Poetry Series winner Su Cho, chosen by Paige Lewis, a debut poetry collection about immigration, memory, and a family’s lexicon
Language and lore are at the core of The Symmetry of Fish, a moving debut about coming-of-age in the middle of nowhere. With striking and tender insight, it seeks to give voice to those who have been denied their stories, and examines the way phrases and narratives are passed down through immigrant families—not diluted over time, but distilled into potency over generations. In this way, a family's language is not lost but continuously remade, hitched to new associations, and capable of blooming anew, with the power to cut across space and time to unearth buried memories. The poems in The Symmetry of Fish insist that language is first and foremost a bodily act; even if our minds can't recall a word or a definition, if we trust our mouths, expression will find us—though never quite in the forms we expect.
About the Author
Su Cho is a poet and essayist born in South Korea and raised in Indiana. She has an MFA in Poetry from Indiana University and a PhD from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has served as the editor-in-chief of Indiana Review, Cream City Review and has served as guest editor for Poetry magazine. Her work has been featured in Poetry, New England Review, Gulf Coast, and Orion; the 2021 Best American Poetry and Best New Poets anthologies; and elsewhere. A finalist for the 2020 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Poetry Fellowship, recipient of a National Society of Arts and Letters Award, and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she is currently a visiting assistant professor at Franklin & Marshall College.
Praise for The Symmetry of Fish:
“Beautifully evocative . . . captures small, meaningful moments in life.” —NPR, “Books We Love”
“This poetry is quite marvelous. All hits no skips. I was incredibly moved by these poems about family and immigration and the relationship we have to languages. I particularly loved the poem about translating for parents. I look forward to more from Su Cho.” —Roxane Gay, via Goodreads
“[Cho's] constructions and powerful content will surely appeal to all those who love poetry. Beyond the investigation of cultural and national languages is [the] family lexicon: how do we express ourselves to each other, what do we hold onto, what must we release as we make our way into a new life, a new world?” —Chicago Review of Books
“Cho treats her material with a light, magical touch . . . [The Symmetry of Fish is] a portrait of family and immigration that is tender without ever becoming maudlin.” —California Review of Books
“Cho’s debut collection is a mesmerizing mélange of wondrous imagery and sharp irony. So much of the book’s beauty comes from its thoughtful treatment of language . . . The Symmetry of Fish captures the poignancy of the mundane.” —Book Riot
“Rich with a lyric detail and precision.” —Periodicities
“[The Symmetry of Fish] is a collection abundant with emotion and a wonderful tenderness, giving readers the opportunity to hear the stories of [Cho's] Korean ancestors and her experiences as a child of immigrant parents . . . There are often elements of humor here . . . These resonant poems of heritage and self are recommended for all collections.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“A vivid, folkloric debut . . . stamped with striking imagery . . . Cho captures the complexity of being an immigrant child . . . The lessons and culinary efforts of women—mothers, grandmothers, ancestors—is a running theme . . . Infused with bittersweet nostalgia, Cho’s arresting work captures the full emotional spectrum in poems that are sometimes charming, sometimes haunting, but always memorable.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Su Cho’s The Symmetry of Fish introduces a poet with the intuition of a musician and the vividness of a painter. This gorgeous debut is suffused with the kind of visceral, lyrical poetry that fills the air with song as it reimagines Korean myth through a more personal history. Her poetic vision is as generous as it is clear, and the title’s symmetry also applies to the colorful opportunities Cho discovers in Midwestern dioramas, tangerine trees, and fish heads in the sink. She finds comfort in spaces most of us don't want to linger. Her poems are celebrations of the world even as they question what we’ve done to deserve our place in it. What a gift from a truly gifted poet.” —Adrian Matejka, Editor of Poetry magazine and author of Somebody Else Sold the World
“In her debut collection, The Symmetry of Fish, Su Cho presents us with a speaker who attempts to separate seemingly unlike things: the religious and flippant, the fishbone from the flesh, herself from her memories. In one poem Cho writes of a desire ‘to isolate these moments / pipette them into test tubes / whirl them in a centrifuge.’ Lucky for us, this turns out to be an impossible endeavor. Instead, we are graced with a glorious combination of the incompatible—Slim Jim crosses are treated with same reverence befitting any sacred relic. The speaker manages to be both an objective observer—recording the stories of family, friends, ghosts—and an unintentional catalyst—dropping an armful of fruit or choking on a fishbone and disrupting the silence of a moment, putting her own mark on the memory. ‘This is a collection of accidents,’ Su Cho writes in The Symmetry of Fish. I wouldn’t want it any other way.” —Paige Lewis, author of Space Struck
“Su Cho’s debut collection, The Symmetry of Fish, is a moving and convincing meditation on longing, and yearning, and reaching. Longing across language and generation and tradition and family and bodies, these poems reach and reach toward who they love—or who they wish they could love more. When she writes, 'All we did was open ourselves / like peonies reaching for the light,' I think not only what a stunning line in a book made of stunning lines inside of stunning poems, but I think, yes, that’s what the best poems, these poems, are: they are like peonies, reaching for the light.” —Ross Gay, author of The Book of Delights
“Su Cho’s The Symmetry of Fish casts such corpuscles of light to the Korean and Korean American imagination. Cho’s poems invoke the tongue’s memory to give language to the unnamable: 가시, 밤, 쌀, 살, 사랑니, 봉숭아. Lightness and stillness expand with each word—and from every malady emerges a cure.” —E. J. Koh, author of The Magical Language of Others and A Lesser Love