About the Author
Souvankham Thammavongsa’s first story collection, How to Pronounce Knife, was published in April 2020, to critical acclaim, by Little, Brown (US), McClelland & Stewart/Penguin Random House (Canada), and Bloomsbury (UK). The collection has won the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s most prestigious literary award. Thammavongsa’s stories have won an O. Henry Award and appeared in Harper’s Magazine, The Paris Review, The Atlantic, Granta, NOON, The Believer, Best American Nonrequired Reading 2018, and O. Henry Prize Stories 2019. She is the author of four books of poetry, Cluster (2019); Light (Pedlar, 2013), winner of the Trillium Book Award for Poetry; Found (Pedlar, 2007), now a short film; and Small Arguments (Pedlar, 2003), winner of the ReLit prize. She has been called “one of the most striking voices to emerge in Canadian poetry in a generation” (The Walrus). She is working on her first novel.
Small Arguments (2003)
Reminiscent of Pablo Neruda’s Elemental Odes, Small Arguments is a stunningly original debut by a gifted young poet. The language of Small Arguments is simple yet there is nothing simple in its ideas. The work touches on the structures of argument, orchestrating material around repetition, variation and contrast. Thammavongsa’s approach is like that of a scientist/philosopher, delicately probing material for meaning and understanding. The poet collects small lives, and argues for a larger belonging: a grain of dirt, a crushed cockroach, the eyes of a dead dragonfly. It is a work that suggests we can create with what we know and with that alone. || “This is the voice of a pilgrim, the one who bends to see, leans to hear. . . Thammavongsa has distilled her meaning from her details so masterfully and with such confident wisdom that she seems to be reading nature. Through her eyes, we can believe we see the true meaning in things.” – Anne Michaels
“A formidable work.” – George Elliot Clarke
“In 1978, my parents lived in building #48. Nongkai, 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.” – Souvankham Thammavongsa
The poems of Found, with their blank spaces and small print, their language so unforgiving in detail that every letter, gesture, break, line and shape becomes for us a place of real meaning, were built out of doodles, diagrams, drawings into a work characterized by the elegance and power of its bareness—to let us see and to hold back much of what we see.
Souvankham Thammavongsa’s third book of poetry, Light, examines the word that gives the collection its name. There are poems about a sparkle, about how to say light, about a scarecrow, a dung beetle, a fish without eyes. Known for her precision and elegance, for her small clear voice, for distilling meaning from details, for not wasting words, Thammavongsa confirms her gifts with these new poems. Light is a work that shines with rigour, humour, courage and grit.
Winner of the 2014 Trillium Award for Poetry