Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Souvankham Thammavongsa

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Souvankham Thammavongsa

Souvankham Thammavongsa's first poetry collection, Small Arguments, and its follow up, Found, received widespread praise for their sparse, evocative pieces.

This year, Souvankham returns with Light (Pedlar Press), a collection that examines its title subject in the poet's signature, elegant language. Poet and editor Kevin Connolly has praised the book, saying "Each Souvankham Thammavongsa poem feels like an event, which makes a new collection akin to a small riot. In Light, she does what only very good poets do: sees the things others miss. "

Today we speak with Souvankham as part of our Poets in Profile series, where we seek to find out what inspires, confounds and delights Canadian poets. Souvankham tells us about the word that first made her explore language, how a commute can become an inspiration and the best thing about being a poet.

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Souvankham Thammavongsa:

I don’t know. Maybe it was this:

That’s my dad on the left. That’s me in the middle there. The carvings behind us are things he made in the refugee camp. Maybe it was watching him make those things all day.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


It wasn’t a poem. It was something smaller. A word. The word knife. When I first learned to read it, I pronounced the k. I had to learn some letters are silent even though they are there.


What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?


Wallace Stevens’s “Gubbinal.”


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


Stouffville. I work in Toronto and I take the train. I get a lot of time to think and to look at things. The land, especially.


What do you do when a poem is not working?


I don’t admit it isn’t working until it does.


What was the last book of poetry that really knocked your socks off?


1996 by Sara Peters. I also really like NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names. It’s a novel but her descriptions of snow and everything else work the way good poems do.


What is the best thing about being a poet….and what is the worst?


When someone writes something like this to me:

That’s the best thing ever!

And the worst? Well…let me just enjoy this a little bit longer.

Souvankham Thammavongsa was born in Nong Khai, Thailand, in 1978 and was raised and educated in Toronto. She won the 2004 ReLit prize for her first poetry book, Small Arguments. She is also the author of a second poetry book, Found, which was made into a short film and screened at film festivals worldwide, including Toronto International Film Festival and Dok Leipzig. The poem “The Sun in Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away” appeared in the anthology Troubling Borders: Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora published by the University of Washington Press in the United States. The poem “Perfect” was nominated for a National Magazine award. Thammavongsa was named one of “Best Under 35” writers in Canada in a special issue of The Windsor Review.

For more information about Light please visit the Pedlar Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Amazon.

Check out all the Poets in Profile interviews in our archives.

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