64 pages
ISBN 978-1-897141-14-4
DDC C811'.6





Reviewed by Douglas Barbour

Douglas Barbour is a professor of English at the University of Alberta.
He is the author of Lyric/anti-lyric : Essays on Contemporary Poetry,
Breath Takes, and Fragmenting Body Etc.


As Souvankham Thammavongsa says in her slight prefatory note, “In 1978, my parents lived in building #48, Non 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.” “This” is Found, a delicate, subtle, and profoundly moving series of verbal and visual takes on and of that original scrapbook.


Thammavongsa has already learned what many writers never do: that less is more, that commentary undermines the actual, and that when the simplest words are properly organized they can do wonders. Perhaps she has listened carefully to Miles Davis, as well, for, like him, she knows how silences contribute to the overall music of a piece. The poems in Found are full of spaces; they demand we slow down, take no word for granted, and listen as carefully as we can.


The book moves forward with clarity and purpose, beginning with poems that describe, then poems that are taken directly from, then visual representations of pages of that scrapbook. “Light” is a good example (note that the space between stanzas equals five lines): “Because glass / has not yet // learned / to bend // and because / even now // glass / will not bend // light / must come in bent.” So simple, just one word of more than one syllable, yet so beautifully modulated and carefully perceived.


Thammavongsa’s later use of drawn lines to take us right into the “original” scrapbook, the way she utilizes page space, and the care with which she treats her father’s desirous work in the refugee camp, all add up to a powerful rendition of what is necessarily lost in Found and so found, through art, again. Found demonstrates how far minimalism at its best can take us. It’s a beautiful tribute to what can be salvaged from a material memory.


Thammavongsa, Souvankham., “Found.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,