Souvankham Thammavongsa's Found
has not yet
will not bend
must come in bent
Working an interesting combination of small moments and extended movements is Toronto Souvankham Thammavongsa's second poetry collection, Found (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2007). On the heels of her first poetry collection small arguments (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2003) [see also the interview with her posted at Poetics.ca], the poems in Found work almost as pointillistic constructions, echoing Paris, Ontario poet Nelson Ball for their brevity, and small, perfect moments across the page. As she writes at the beginning of the collection, "In 1978, my parents lived in building #48. Nong Khai, Thailand, a Lao refugee / camp. My father kept a scrapbook filled with doodles, addresses, postage stamps, / maps, measurements. He threw it out and when he did, I took it and found this." Referencing the dislocation of tens of thousands of people during the Indochina War and the after-shocks to the country (the war officially ended with the communist victory in 1975), affecting Laos and every one of its neighbours, including China to the North, Vietnam in the East, Cambodia to the South and Thailand and Burma to the West. The way Toronto poet Thammavongsa (born the same year as the journal, 1978) works this part of her own family history, there are even echoes of working a personal history in the same way American poet Tsering Wangmo Dhompa worked her own Tibetan landscapes in her first poetry collection Rules of the House (Berkeley CA: Apogee Press, 2002) [see my review of it here].
Still, this is more than history and even less than that; how does she get her moments this good, this right? These poems exist in the space between the points of history, in the way a body understands itself within those moments. These poems strike full force against the body like a blow; see for yourself, in the last poem in the collection.
My father took
its hard neck
and threw back