Poetry as essay, as a way of hovering over the uncanny, sci-fi orientalism, Antigone, cyborgs, Borges, disobedience.
Sun Yung Shin moves ideas around like building blocks, forming and reforming new constructions of what it means to be guest, to be host. How to be at home.
Sun Yung Shin is the author of poetry collections Rough, and Savage and Skirt Full of Black, which won an Asian American Literary Award. She coedited the anthology Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption, and is the author of Cooper’s Lesson, a bilingual Korean/English illustrated book for children. She’s received grants and fellowships from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Bush Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, and elsewhere. She lives in Minneapolis.
“The splendor on display in Shin’s book consists of an incredibly compact use of commanding and vibrant language which coheres into work that feels restless and deft, as cerebral as it is emotional.”—Los Angeles Review of Books
“Like a lean, mean, efficient literary machine, Sun Yung Shin’s Unbearable Splendor uses its hybrid nature to arrive on bookshelves as something very true, heartbreaking, and, ultimately, unbearably human.”—Chicago Review of Books
“These constant reminders of surreal wonderment do their work like little ice picks, chipping away at the grand event of colonized hurt. The results are small, perceptible feelings you could almost hold in your hand.”—Waxwing
“As a book, Unbearable Splendor works on multiple levels. On perhaps its most obvious, superficial level, it’s a text full of beautiful, haunting, lyrical language and interconnected themes that wind in and out of each other to weave a coherent fabric of many strands. Under that surface, though, lives a veritable dissertation (with plenty of angles that the reader can research) on otherness and transgression, and in turn, on how what or who that is other, or what or who that transgresses, problematizes the existence of the one who observes.” —Drunken Boat
“In poems traversing that canny valley between verse and prose, Shin draws on cinema, technology, mythology, sci fi, autobiography and folklore to unlock the titular emotion: the unbearableness of the labyrinth, the splendor of being a machine—a hybrid, a replicant, an orphan.” —The Rumpus
“From this investigation of cloning, cyborgs, surrogacy, and adoption, Shin weaves a narrative of language and history that represents a striking new way of understanding identity.”—Lantern Review
“In a striking interweaving of poetry and essay, etymologies brush up against adoption certificates, and quotations jostle with myths… Shin’s resistance to offering a definitive answer allows her to make connections that are sometimes dizzying, often lyrical, and always thought provoking.”—The Missing Slate
“While unabashedly scholarly, Unbearable Splendor is heartbreaking.”—Star Tribune
“Shin’s poetry is as cerebral as it is beautiful, exploring the personal experiences of race, immigration, and gender alongside academic investigations of religion and science, philosophy and art.”—Bustle
“Unlike your more ‘vanilla’ essay collections, this work uses poetic building blocks to slowly reveal the existentialist heart, a very impressive result as the personal connection is palpable.”—Messenger’s Booker
“I’ve long thought that Sun Yung Shin is writing some of the most powerful poetry around.”—Eileen Verbs Books
“To graph the immigrant, the exile and ‘pseudo-exile,’ as ‘a kind of star.’ To perform childhood. ‘Descent upon descent.’ To write on ‘[p]aper soaked in milk.’ Unbearable Splendor is a book like this, that is this: the opposite or near-far of home. What is the difference between a guest and a ghost? What will you feed them in turn? I was profoundly moved by the questions and deep bits of feeling in this gorgeous, sensing work, and am honored to write in support of its extraordinary and brilliant writer, Sun Yung Shin.” —Bhanu Kapil
“In Unbearable Splendor, Sun Yung Shin sticks a pin directly into the heart of who we are to reveal that a person is a mystery without beginning or end, borders or documents, complicated by robotics and astrophysics, arrivals and departures, myth and rewriting. A person is divided into multiple, complicated selves, as various and complex as the forms and approaches she employs in these poetic essays. To read Shin’s work is to marvel at a rosebud’s concealed and silent core and to slowly witness its elegant blooming. It is a delicate and majestic show.”—Jenny Boully
“Unbearable Splendor is a dazzling collage of biophysical metamorphoses, wherein the ‘I’ atomizes into multiple and self-replicating new mythologies of what constitutes an authentic being. ‘I didn’t know I wasn’t human. My past was invented, implanted, and accepted. I’m more real than you are because I know I’m not real.’ In our vast expanse, where ‘every species is transitional,’ Shin’s lyricism, erudition, and tonal command of loss and indignation harmonize into a singular nucleus that hums and pulsates through each of these wondrous poetic meditations.” —Ed Bok Lee
“Into the fertile and ever-growing landscape of essay-poem hybrids comes Sun Yung Shin’s striking exploration of identity, imitation, and home. From the uncanny valley to the minotaur’s labyrinth, Shin brings an unflagging intelligence and tremendous formal dexterity to bear on what makes us human and what makes us monstrous—we so often fall somewhere in between.”—Mairead Small Staid, Literati Bookstore
“In examining her own search of identity, Shin masterfully uses the likes of Antigone, Korean history, cyborgs, black holes, clones to bridge this “Uncanny Valley.” This is brilliantly done and is often as mind-bending as it is heart-wrenching.”—Unabridged Bookstore