The Symmetry of Fish



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.

Advance praise for The Symmetry of Fish:

“[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

“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