Sun Yung Shin’s The Wet Hex, published in 2022 by Coffee House Press, is not an easy read. It was “dedicated to those cast away” and ambitiously, ambidextrously calls on canonical voices such as Ovid, Melville, and Columbus to play background to the orphaned child, the mother, the scapegoat, the confusion of one set with a task of radical authenticity, yet equipped with no more than a dictionary, government identification cards, and oneself.

For me, The Wet Hex is, in part, the intimidating signature of a shamanic search for wholeness of identity. It is unafraid to make colonizing principles incidental to the awareness of the power of transformation, the courage to face embodiment on its own mysterious terms. 

The Wet Hex underlines the possibility and merit of working in view of the constant rebirths that begin to inform one of the scale of creation, the functions of lives beyond their immediately perceived gratification. The mythological story of Princess Baridegi, the King’s seventh daughter and psychopomp, the rejected one, reveals the work’s theme of abandonment to purification and life beyond familiarity. After all, as Shin writes in part VII of that section, “The body of a child is both a debt and a time machine.”

There is a subtextual pressure throughout The Wet Hex to live out the consequences of a found life, one’s own, despite the pains of displacement, erasure, and stereotype. The trail of indebtedness to life awaits discovery. As Korean Canadian artist Jinny Yu’s drawings explore through the Baridegi sequence, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As Shin writes in the poem “Evolution in the Underworld:” You are what others have lost.      

I left the piece with a feeling predominated by respect for Shin’s freedom of expression, allusion, and refusal to be exploited — not only by agents of government, family, race, gender, identity, but by agents of thought, convention, secondary feeling.  What struck me most was the authoritative blending of subtexts, images, and poetic license. The combinations left an almost dizzying effect. Meanwhile, Shin seems as comfortable writing a formal abecedarian or playing with post-modern grammars as she is to evoke a lean, anglophile meter to cast irony on sensical boundaries. I wonder if, years down the line, she would question these densities of reference, displays of complexity. I am not so sure, because her poetic consciousness initiates the piece with the spell/ conjuration/ poem “Translate This Body into Everything,” an act that seems somehow underway even before the appendix. 

Sun Yung Shin’s fourth book of poetry is a recommended read that left me a sense of life as a palimpsest both impossible and mandatory to bear.        

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