Book Review: Found

Souvankham Thammavongsa begins her small, blue book of poetry with this: “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.” Quite an intriguing epigraph and possibly the reason I chose to review the book. Inside, I found short, sparse poems, each no more than 50 words. The most effective of these interpret her family’s refugee life through the notebook, while others suffer from being a simple inventory list of its contents. One poem about her mother (“Her/ real name/ looks/ like her/ Quiet/ and reaching/ for/ my father’s) reveals the entrenched inequality between her parents. Another, entitled “Tables of Weights and Measures, Equivalents,” is exactly that. Call my sense of poetry limited, but I wasn’t particularly moved by “1 chain/ is 22 yards.” Another oversight is the book’s homogenous structure (“Word/ Word Word”). This rhythm seems to mimic Thammavongsa’s discovery of her parents’ world, like a trickle of building understanding. But in some poems this structure only jarrs the reader, breaking up the natural cadence of a line. Perhaps this review sounds overly critical, but these are nit-picky things. Despite some missteps, Thammavongsa weaves together the thrown-away remnants of her parents’ life into a story of disillusionment and hope. (Laura Trethewey)

by Souvankham Thammavongsa, $20, 60 pgs., Pedlar Press, PO Box 26, Station P, Toronto, ON, M5S 2S6

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