Holly Amos in Conversation with Su Cho

November 2, 2021


Su Cho:

(READS EXCERPT FROM “Here Are Some Thorns, Splinters, Fishbones”)

what about the nights where my mouth

           drips with SunGold kiwi, looking over

at my love, my lips smacking unabashedly.

Holly Amos: Welcome to the Poetry Magazine Podcast. I’m Holly Amos. Today on the podcast, I talk with poet Su Cho. Su guest edited the magazine and hosted the podcast for the last few months. Su and I talk about loneliness, anger as a secret weapon, and food! It’s basically all about food. Su also reveals her love of Cool Whip on white bread, and she makes me cry. Those two things are not related. We’ll hear several poems from her first book, The Symmetry of Fish, which is forthcoming from Penguin in 2022. A recurring figure in the book is a ghost from Korean folklore. Here’s Su setting us up to hear the poem, “A Little Cheonyeo Gwishin Appears in My Kitchen.”

Su Cho: I grew up very superstitious in the sense that if you grow up in a church, you are superstitious of ghosts and weary of all things bad. And so, when I first wrote this poem, it stemmed out of a deep fear of when I lived alone for the first time. I just kept imagining all the scary things you’re not supposed to. And I would be like, you know, let’s get rid of these thoughts, amen. But then I thought, you know, if you’re scared of something, I just have to look at it up close. And that’s kind of what I did with all the scary apparitions I had in my mind. I was like, let’s concretize this. Let me obsess over thinking about ghosts. And I was like, what is a ghost I know about? And it was the Cheonyeo Gwishin. The Cheonyeo Gwishin is a Korean folktale ghost from folklore. And she exists because she has died, you know, before she got married, aka virgin, right? And so, she’s roaming and terrorizing where she was murdered, because she’s very upset and indignant that she didn’t have a chance to serve like the masters of her life, right? So all the men. And the future men, like a future son, a husband, etcetera. And so, I think my mind drifted toward her or them because this story has been around for centuries. And I’m like, where do they all go? I imagined them in a utopia of sorts, living together, eating together, and trying to recreate the bodily memories they were robbed of, because they died so soon. Yeah, so I guess I imagined a kind of familial relationship with them. One, to make myself less afraid. And two, to just, you know, imagine such a lovely space for such tragedy.



“A Little Cheonyeo Gwishin Appears in My Kitchen”

She snaps the heads
off dried anchovies,
their eyes a black
ant hill burying my toes.

I’m breaking doenjang
with the flat head
of a metal spoon,
stirring the boomerang
silver bodies she drops.

Whenever she feels
like showing up, we cook
together. She opens
the tofu, smashes
the watery curd with her
foot, and soaks

a package of dried kelp
in the trash. The brittle
pieces like unspooling
magnetic tape.

Today, she sticks her white face
through this seaweed curtain,
red lips smearing,
whispering look

look this is just like my hair.
Why don’t you ever
brush it? She disappears.

Now she chatters about
how much salt I’ll ingest
by putting that much
doenjang in, scooping
the anchovy eyes and
dumping them in the stew.

Aren’t you supposed
to be bothering men?
You’re from paradise—
why are you here?

She rises up. Her arms
hang like wet ropes,
head tilting until
her chin points
to the ceiling.

She cries, Why am I
here? None of my mothers
will tell me why I am here

Holly Amos: I feel like some of your poems are sort of creating this armor. This one feels like that. But it also touches on something else that I think happens in a lot of your poems, which is that, it’s sort of like this protection or armor, like, for the speaker, but also for other people, right? And so it makes so much sense. You’re basically talking about like, creating this sanctuary for the Cheonyeo Gwishin, and then also, like, this safe place where they can come and visit, even if, like, you don’t exactly want them there. And also, they don’t exactly want to be there. And can you talk actually about the end of the poem, where the Cheonyeo Gwishin cries, “Why am I/here? None of my mothers/will tell me why I am here.”

Su Cho: That was my way of landing on a tone of loneliness. And, you know, when we’re lonely, we’re not just sad. But there’s sometimes an anger around it, or a frustration around it. There’s always something with that loneliness. I just thought it was an accurate representation of the original story. If she’s young, and she’s there, that means that she was murdered when she was young. And the violence and I imagine this—I love the word you used, Holly, sanctuary—of these ghosts, wanting to nurture each other, the younger ones and the older ones. And wanting to protect her from what has really happened to her. And I think that protection is lovely, but it’s also frustrating, because then you have to discover it for yourself.

Holly Amos: Yeah, that’s so beautiful, Su. I’m getting, like, really emotional.

Su Cho: (LAUGHS) Yay.

Holly Amos: You know, I mean, it’s like, we’re talking about this during the pandemic. And as somebody who is like, a single woman, like I’ve, you know, been living alone with my dog during the pandemic. And I think it is like, I totally, I have never put—(GETS CHOKED UP) oh my god, I’m getting like, really emotional, this is ridiculous, but, yeah I’d never put that like, when you were talking about sadness, that there can be like an underlying anger with that. And that feels, like, really true to me. And it’s also making me think about something else that’s like a big thread in your book, too, but, you know, you’re also talking—like all of the ghosts that you’re talking about and then the sanctuary, right, it’s all women. And so like, women protecting other women and creating this, like, sanctuary, or like teaching other women, which comes up a lot in your book, that like, very gendered sort of like responsibility for like taking care of one another. Can you talk about, like, how that feels to you, like, if that rings true? Or is that something, like, intentional in your work, or just part of your, like, life experience?

Su Cho: Wow. I’m just, I’m also touched, because it’s been a while since anyone’s read my work with such care. So I feel very special right now. And I think, speaking of loneliness and anger, and the domestic sphere of the kitchen, I love eating food, but I don’t like to cook it or clean up after myself. I think that stems from a kind of anger that, you know, while I love this space, and what the kitchen represents, I’m also angry at its connotations. I’m angered by its relationship to, you know, men and expectations and whatnot. And so, I think, the way I reckon with myself is that, you know, there’s so much memory, there’s so much knowledge to be passed down. But there’s always a hint of anger. And, you know, food can be dangerous, food can be abrasive. I wanted to preserve that annoyance. And that anger. I always say, when someone—well actually, I guess no one asked me this, I never answered it this way. But if someone were to ask me, “How would you describe yourself?” My true answer is, I’m always hungry. And I’m always angry. I know my disposition is very jolly, and I love joking around, but I’m angry all the time. (LAUGHS) So I am actually angry all the time. And I just, I think the way it interacts with food is very interesting on the page. In real life, not so much. Because if I have a bad meal or something, it ruins my life. (LAUGHS) And that’s a very privileged thing to say. But yeah, does that answer your question?

Holly Amos: Yeah, totally. This comes through in your work so much. And what I hear you talking about is like this burden, right? And even just like the burden of cleaning up after like, cooking something for yourself, like you can’t just nourish yourself, you also then have to like clean up and do all that caretaking. Yeah, like food is very active in your work. So it’s interesting hearing you talk about it, because, in your work that comes through, like it’s often this catalyst or this hinge, like for action or for interactions. And so I think I’d love to hear you read, “Here Are Some Thorns, Splinters, Fishbones.”

Su Cho: Yes, I would love to read that one. And this poem is not one that I read aloud often. So, thank you for asking, and I’m also very nervous.


“Here Are Some Thorns, Splinters, Fishbones”

Home for a pan-fried mackerel dinner,

           my mother watches my chopsticks stumble

around the 가시. Full after a few bites,

           I remember a story. When I was a baby

I choked on a fishbone at my grandparents’ house. My dad

           wasn’t there. They yelled at my mother

for not inspecting each flaky bit of fish I put

           in my clumsy mouth, not teaching me

the maneuvering of spiky slivers with my tongue,

           how to place the needles next to my plate,

extract white meat clean. Ever since, she peels and holds

           skeletons above our meal—fossils before me.

Still, I am bad at pulling bone from fish, cutting

           skin from pears, which means I’ll never

get married. But what about the nights where my mouth

           drips with SunGold kiwi, looking over

at my love, my lips smacking unabashedly.

           Me cupping the furry layer in my palm, and you

standing over the sink eating it whole.

           What would our mothers say? We laugh while I tell you

the story of how once, a splinter burrowed

           into the meat of my thumb, and I kept it there for weeks.

Told my parents the splinter came out on its own

           while I hoped my body would absorb the slender spear

and disappear the가시 painlessly.


Holly Amos: Thank you so much, Su. I feel like this poem embodies like everything that we were talking about. Inherited gender roles and expectations. But I think you also just literally said, like, food can also be dangerous. And this poem is about like, yeah, the mother is, like, yeah, gets yelled at for not properly teaching the daughter how to like, navigate the like, little fish bones. That tension is like, so—it’s so tight.

Su Cho: Yeah, that tension, I was thinking about it while I was reading this, because I recently went home to my parents’ place. My dad is working mostly at home. And for lunch, he just grills fish. I don’t know what kind of fish. It all looks the same to me. It looks a little ugly and very gray, right? And very good. So, I love fish. I love eating fish. But I don’t appreciate the amount of labor it takes. And I guess with this one, it’s a secret that I don’t say in the poem, but I just avoid foods that are annoying to eat, even to the point, I mean, it’s embarrassing for my parents. When I got home—oh gosh, well, nobody of consequence will be listening to this maybe except for my parents. But, you know, when we eat fish, and there’s like this delicious spicy monkfish soup that is so good. But the bones are very big. They’re like, you know, little knives. My parents will see me like, start to eat it, and then I’ll stop and I’ll just drink the broth. And, you know, if they feel, in my opinion, very loving toward me, like a baby, they will literally parse it out for me, and like, put it on my plate. And I’m the oldest of three. And I think I demand that the most. That’s just one thing I like to keep for myself. But I’m realizing, I mean, realistically, that I should get on board. But, you know, now you can ask someone at the store to take out the bones. I have too much pride to ask for that publicly, but, one day. (LAUGHS)


Holly Amos: This makes so much sense, Su. You just said like, you want to keep that for yourself, not learning how to do this thing well, because you don’t actually care about it. You’re like, “I’ll just not eat it. That’s fine for me. I love food. There’s plenty of other things.” But yeah, it feels like rebellion. That comes through in your work a lot. But yeah, I wanna talk about the end of this poem a little bit too, where the speaker has this splinter, like of the fish bone in her finger and is like, wants to just leave it there, and hopes that it will absolve. Like, hopes that the pain will also absolve, which I thought was a really incredible and powerful line. You know, like not just the physical pain, but like, the pain of these expectations. And so I think there’s like a lot of tenderness there. But, like so much weight on this, like this tiny splinter holds so much.

Su Cho: Yeah. Gosh, I keep trying to be too honest. But then it won’t be too poetic. So, I’m gonna give you my serious answer first. No, I can’t do that. I’m gonna give you my funny answer first. I am very scared of splinters, till now. I think that is the most terrifying and disgusting thing that can happen to somebody. And my dad would do this thing maybe—I don’t remember having tweezers in the house, but there was like a needle. And he’d be like, “Okay, here it is!” And like, put it over the flame on the stovetop. I think that’s also why I fear the splinter. Because I just have this image that one day, I’ll just have to like, stab around the tiny splinter, right, and tear through my flesh to get this tiny thing out. It’s so silly. It’s just like wood. (LAUGHS)

Holly Amos: Because they’re so small. But that’s kind of why they’re so scary, right?

Su Cho: And like, if you don’t touch it, where it went in or around it, I mean, it’s okay. But if you do, you’re like, “Oh my god, something’s in there.” And I remember, as a kid, I think I had like a very small splinter in the meat of my thumb, and I knew what had to happen, but I didn’t want the bad part to happen. So I just kept it to myself. And I think, isn’t that what we all do as people? We ignore the things that put off the pain. In this poem, at the end, I “told my parents the splinter came out on its own,” right, while I hoped my body would expel it for me. And I love ending on that limbo. Not only because I can’t quite remember what happened, right? (LAUGHS) Truthfully speaking. But I feel like it’s just so representative of, you know, the things you forget on purpose, the things you learn to forget. And for me, yeah, I’m also known for forgetting things, anything unpleasant in my life, like actually forgetting it. Anyway, that’s another story. (LAUGHS)

Holly Amos: (LAUGHS) Yeah, actually, so now I’m gonna make you read “Through the Fissures,” the last poem in the book, which is very directly related to the poem that you just read.

Su Cho: Yes. Oh gosh, I avoid reading this poem. I don’t know why, but maybe we’ll find out right now. (LAUGHS)

(READS “Through the Fissures”)

“Through the Fissures”

The goats are on their sides
skinned and draped across

a wooden table with uneven
legs. The butcheress slices

through bone with a blade
that never glints red.

Their heads are lined up,
white fur and eyes sharp.

I look at the meat on 
display and think—how

tender. I know even 
the smallest bones hide themselves

in the plush cuts of meat.
There is a collection 

of accidents jagged along the
lining of my throat cluttered

with pin bones and pebbles.
These splinters buried under

such pleasure clatter and knock
through my teeth, desperate to get out.


Holly Amos: That ending Su, that ending! I mean, the way meat is described in this poem, like “plush,” you describe the meat as “plush,” which is wild. The speaker feels sort of like a hunter, almost with “accidents jagged along the lining of my throat.” Like this poem feels very dangerous to me, like a little bit of like a warning. So yeah, I would love to hear about the genesis of this poem. And I’m actually super curious, like when you wrote it in relation to the rest of the book, because it feels like such an ending poem.

Su Cho: Wow. Holly, you’re very good at picking out the poems and the turns where I was writing, and it was a very like, “Oh, what the hell. Let me say that thing I want to say even though it might be a little weird,” right. And so, I don’t know how you’re doing it. I feel flattered and scared. (LAUGHS)

Holly Amos: Well, I’ll just say Su, I don’t think I’m doing it, I think your poems are doing it! Like it just means you wrote the poems so well!

Su Cho: Oh, thank you! So, the plush cuts of meat. I know you’re a vegan, Holly. (LAUGHS)

Holly Amos: It’s okay. The poem is stunning. Yeah, it’s super stunning. Listen, it’s a poem. There’s no dead animals in the room, we’re good.

Su Cho: (LAUGHS) Okay, excellent. No, I love meat. Like, the mmm—I’m just like gonna salivate on a podcast. But when you bite into something so soft, and like, meaty, but tender, that’s like, I hope that’s what heaven is like, that’s for sure. The genesis of this poem came … it was the time I was, I went to India and Nepal. And just, of course, the only thing that I remember vividly, because I’m very easily jet lagged, is the food. And I was just so entranced by like, how everything was just there, right? They’ll be like, “Oh, you want a good cut of meat, or a good fish? Here. Watch me. Watch me show it to you and like, clean it, kill it,” you know? “And here you go.” And so I just love watching that whole process. And so I think there’s like a magical element to that. And I had like the best goat stew of my life. And I’ve never had goat until then. It was so pleasurable, but the only thing in the way of true pleasure was that, they have tiny bones. In all the (LAUGHS) all the delicious bites. I was like, damn, okay, like, anything you want to enjoy, I guess they’re tiny bones everywhere. I think I was, ironically, looking for joy in this poem. I wanted to end on something joyful. But I don’t think this is full of joy. And I don’t know, the question of joy is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Like, I always love to ask people, like, “What is joy? And are you supposed to feel it all the time?” For me, joy would be completely losing myself and forgetting myself. When everyone’s young, you know how you just play outside till the sun goes down? You’re like, “What happened?” Right? And you, like, forget where you are and who you are. And I think that is so embarrassing and so joyful. That feeling is embarrassing, because I’m like, “Oh my gosh, like, what did I do or say?” Right? And so I guess for me, joy is impossible. Oh, gosh, I have problems.

Holly Amos: No!

Holly Amos and Su Cho: (LAUGH)

Holly Amos: I think like the way I’m understanding it is like the embarrassment of not being self-aware. I feel like I’ve had that experience. Like, if I did some drugs, or like talked a lot and was like, “Oh, no,” the next day. Like, I was having a great time, and I was talking about Cool Whip for like, 20 straight minutes.

Su Cho: (LAUGHS) I love Cool Whip. I love Cool Whip on white bread. It’s so good.

Holly Amos: That feels super Midwestern to me. (LAUGHS)

Su Cho: (LAUGHING) Yeah.

Holly Amos: But yeah, like, the embarrassment, I don’t know, yeah, the embarrassment of forgetting yourself.

Su Cho: I don’t know. And I think I’m coming to terms with the fact that joy isn’t real. But perhaps just remembering something significant is joy.

Holly Amos: Yeah. So you basically just said, I think that joy is not an active experience. It’s a memory. Like, that there’s not joy in the experience itself, but you can get joy from the memory. And then for you, you know, you were talking about how memory is like, basically just comes from food.

Su Cho: Yeah. (LAUGHS)

Holly Amos: There’s like this little triangle. And it also then makes sense why you love food so much. And think about it so much. So, I’m curious. Like, I’m wondering if poetry helps you get at those memories more and at the joy or like, what exactly does, like, the writing of the poems—like where does that figure into the food/memory mixture?

Su Cho: Yeah. There’s a satisfaction to getting these out of my system. Like, I’ll hold onto an image or a memory. I’ll literally do nothing with it, except to hold it. But there’s a part of me that knows something will happen as soon as I let the poem exist on the page. And I never want that to happen. Isn’t that so weird? I know I have a poem in my head, but I’m so reluctant to put it on the page. Even though I know, my job is ironically to be a poet. But there is like, a sick sense of pleasure for when I allow myself to finally enjoy that release. Yeah, so I think it’s not a painful process. I mean, this poem sure makes it sound like it’s a painful process. But there’s like a restraint that I hold for myself. And that’s just my process. Wow, I sound very interesting, to say the least. (LAUGHS)

Holly Amos: It’s reminding me of the splinter conversation—

Su Cho: Oh my gosh.

Holly Amos: Like I feel like the writing of the poem is where the like hot needle over the fire is going in to, like, extract this thing. And yeah, so it makes sense, right, that pressure that you’re talking about and how like, you don’t want it. Yeah, I don’t know. That’s like, I love that.

Su Cho: When I try to write poems about joy, they’re the poems I don’t send out into the world, because they’re not ready, and I can’t, I can’t figure it out. So, there’s another hot needle poem in here—hot needle poems—called, I think, “Purlicues” and it’s about Anthony. And that was supposed to be like my joyful love poem. I was like, “I’m gonna write a love poem.” And I’m like, “This is not a love poem.” But I want it to be, and so I’m still wrestling with it. But yeah, I don’t know. Now I’m just wondering like, “Oh my gosh, who am I?” (LAUGHS)


Su Cho:

(READS “Purlicues”)


For Anthony

          I pinch the space between my Love’s thumb and forefinger
knowing he will jerk his hand away in pain. This is his fourth time 
indigested, and this is my fourth time hopeful. Again I speak 
of miraculous healings—my blood oozing black, swelling 
into dark spheres, then red again.

                                               I pinch him again and promise to hold 
the needle above a flame instead of scratching the bent tip against my scalp
like my mother. I tell him stories of the retractable needle 
in a glossy mahogany tube whenever I have indigestion.

          I offer my rare supply of Korean pills that smell through
my gallon Ziploc, which turns out are just charcoal pills. 
I offer more nameless antibiotics, digestives, and cure-alls. 
I offer this and perhaps the tiny pinch after. 
My hope has turned 

                                    into faith while my Love maintains grounded
in the body. He walks to the computer to tell himself 
that my technique seems to be rooted in acupuncture. So I always
bite his shoulder, his fingers, since I know he will never let me prick 
his thumb to prove I am right. 

           But I am nervous that when he finally 
lets me, his blood will remain red. By the end of this poem, I am always 
surprised when he says, I let you do it once. This time, I will ask if he remembers
that purlicue means the end of discourse, the place between your thumb
and forefinger—where I hold you to see if you are finally ready. 

Weird poem. (LAUGHS)

Holly Amos: (LAUGHS) I love that you just said that about your own work!

Su Cho: (LAUGHING) Yeah.

Holly Amos: Yeah, that poem—well, it’s funny, right, because it’s a love poem, but it starts out with pain. You’re like, doing something painful.

Su Cho: Mm-hmm.

Holly Amos: But also, it feels a little, like a little, like there’s some sadness in that poem, maybe? I don’t know. Su, tell me what’s going on? How do you feel having read that poem? Does it feel weird?

Su Cho: Yeah, it does feel weird. Because, just from our conversation, the same things are popping up. I mean, the needle above the flame. And this idea of like, food, the idea of food is here, because I mean, second to finding tiny bones in my meats, I also hate being indigested. I don’t know, I remember writing this and being like, indigestion and love, I don’t know, that makes sense to me. Because the way my family like quote-unquote cures indigestion is to literally prick the corner of your thumb with a needle, and just keep letting the black blood out. And the blood will, I don’t know, for me, the blood has always been black when I’ve been indigested until it runs red, right? And then you feel better. And I love Anthony so much that I was like, “Come on. This works. Like, why don’t you believe me? Like, you are in pain. Let me do this for you.” And, you know, I have like a very smelly, literal Ziploc bag of random pills that are not marked—but I know they all do something—which my parents gave me. I was like, “I’m pretty sure this little black one, you can also take this to cure yourself.” And later, like in the poem, I say, I was so angry when I found out they were just charcoal pills. I was like, really? I thought this is like some fancy stuff. (LAUGHS) Right? And I don’t know, it’s, I guess when you’re in love with somebody and in a relationship, you always want to show them something and hope they see it the same way you do. Which is perhaps why I like poetry, because I want to not just find people who also think like me, but for everyone to understand why I can’t shut up about food. Right? And my digestion. (LAUGHS) And pain. I can’t even remember your question. I got really hung up on getting mad about the needle. (LAUGHS)

Holly Amos: No, I, yes. Well, now I’m gonna make us steer back toward anger. Yeah, you know, earlier when we were talking, like you said, like, “I’m angry, like all the time.” And so, here, I’ll also confess, Su, that, like, I go to therapy, and I talk about in therapy a lot, like anger is a deeply uncomfortable emotion for me. I don’t like it at all. To me, personally, it feels useless within me. And that’s because like, I think I have learned from relationships that like, my anger is like unhelpful, because I’m always trying to like, instead get people to see where I’m right in a disagreement. So like, anger for me is like, not useful in like convincing them of my—right? Like I’ve like learned to maintain my composure and like, rational—so I don’t know.

Su Cho: (LAUGHS)

Holly Amos: That’s my confession about anger is that I’m also deeply uncomfortable being angry, and I really hate it. I would much rather like, cry in front of a roomful of people than get mad.

Su Cho: Mm-hmm.

Holly Amos: I’ll even just say like, in your poems, right, it’s been surprising to me to hear you read them, because they—the way you read them is a little more tender. And I think I have been, like, on the page reading a little bit more, like, anger or irritation in them.

Su Cho: Yeah. I say I’m angry all the time, but in a way that I like to keep it so tightly held, and to myself. I am uncomfortable with other people’s anger, to the point where, in any friendships or relationships, if I even sense a glimmer of anger—and by anger, I mean, like, not even raising their voice. But I just can see it, maybe eventually, right, becoming an angry thought. Like, I feel very repulsed, and I can’t stand it. And so, maybe it’s like my sick little secret that I’m angry all the time. But I think it’s because, especially with my poems, too, I think the restraint is so powerful. And maybe it’s like a secret power that I like flexing on other people, and it doesn’t even count, because nobody knows. Well, until now. And there are just parts of my life that I feel free sharing, right? I’m a very open person. Like, I don’t have secrets, but maybe except for that one, right? Because you’ll never know how I’m angry, right? Or what I’m upset about or angry about. But yeah, I think it’s an uncomfortable emotion. But it’s incredibly productive, ‘cause, I mean, there’s that cliché saying something that anger brings you clarity, like you see straight when you’re angry? Oh gosh, what is that one?

Holly Amos: I don’t know. Yeah.

Su Cho: Did I just make it up? (LAUGHS)

Holly Amos: Maybe.

Su Cho: I never think sharper or, like, more precise than when I’m angry.

Holly Amos: Well, that makes sense to me then why—you said anger is like your secret, but I almost feel like maybe it’s like a secret weapon, in a way.

Su Cho: Mm-hmm.

Holly Amos: And also you were talking earlier about, like, tension in your work. It sounds like you need to, like, let things kind of like process inside you under tension and pressure, so that then they can eventually come out. Right? Like that’s like, that’s how like, espresso is made, and like—

Su Cho: (LAUGHS)

Holly Amos: That’s like a very—that’s how diamonds are made, right? That’s like an actual, like, physical thing that we know to be true, that like, things under pressure, creation happens out of that. So yeah, it kind of makes a lot of sense in a way, and now I’m almost thinking that maybe, for sure, there’s like a lot of gendered stuff, right, with like, holding your anger in and like only letting it out in this like refined way. But I also kind of wonder if maybe—like the way I’m thinking about it now is like, well, maybe just like letting your anger out in a way that’s messy and unuseful is almost like wasteful.

Su Cho: Hmm.

Holly Amos: That anger is powerful. Like, you gotta use it to its full potential and not just like let it out when it’s not helping you, which is actually a really cool way to think about anger.

Su Cho: Yeah, I love that. Yeah, I do see it as like, my precious like, you know, rare chemical material. Anger. Oh my god.

Holly Amos: I love it.

Su Cho: Yeah. (LAUGHS)

Holly Amos: I’m taking this anger lesson forward with me, because I for sure need it.

Su Cho: Yeah, no, I never get angry at people. Like, I’m that—oh god, this is is so Midwestern, but when I’m so angry, I’ll just be so nice. Like, I can’t, I just like, aggressive kindness.

Holly Amos: It’s very Midwestern. For sure. Very Midwestern.

Su Cho: Gosh, the Midwest. I love it.


(READS “A Cheonyeo Gwishin Tells Me A Story”)

“A Cheonyeo Gwishin Tells Me a Story”

A dokkaebi with a magic club in the woods comes across an old woman and man tending their garden overgrown with sesame leaves, pumpkins, and cherry tomatoes. There’s a pear-shaped growth off the old man’s chin. The pouch sags with each step. One night, the dokkaebi wonders if this man is hiding gold in this flesh pouch, of how clever it is to hide treasures inside your body forever. Say the dokkaebi approaches and the man is laughing so hard he can’t even call to his wife to see what wonder they will finally witness living up here all alone. The creature demands the gold, pointing to the sack of skin and he seems inexperienced so the old man insists that this is indeed a sack of skin and invites him to touch. The dokkaebi swings his club toward the man’s face and with only a cold breeze, the lump is gone and hangs from the dokkaebi’s hip. The old woman comes out of the house and demands it give back in equal measure. She points to the chestnuts on the ground and challenges him to turn these into ginseng and emeralds. With a theatrical twirl, he lifts the club and thwacks each chestnut in the dark and runs. Say the old man and woman laugh together, him nuzzling his lump free chin against hers, walking back to their bed. Say they didn’t even bother looking back to the green glittering in the moonlight, ginseng roots sprawling across the clearing.


Holly Amos: A big thanks to Su Cho for her poems and for her incredible work as a guest editor of Poetry. Su Cho is a poet and essayist. Her poems will be anthologized in the Best American Poetry 2021, and in They Rise Like A Wave: An Anthology of Asian American Women Poets. Her debut book, which you heard from today, will be out in 2022. You can read the first two poems you heard today in Poetry, in print and online. If you’re not yet a subscriber to the magazine, there’s a special rate for podcast listeners. For a limited time, you can get a full year of the magazine for $20. That’s 11 book-length issues for just $20. Visit to subscribe. That’s This show is produced by Rachel James. The music in this episode came from Resavoir, Alabaster DePlume, John McCowen, Rob Mazurek, and Irreversible Entanglements. Okay, that’s it. Until next time, be well, stay safe, and thanks for listening.


This week, Holly Amos speaks with poet Su Cho. Cho guest edited the magazine and hosted the podcast for the last few months. They talk about loneliness, anger as a secret weapon, and food! It’s all about food really. Cho reveals her love of Cool Whip on white bread, and she makes Amos cry—though those two things are totally unrelated. We hear several poems from The Symmetry of Fish, Cho’s first book, forthcoming from Penguin in 2022.

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