Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Poetry Canadian


by (author) Souvankham Thammavongsa

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Mar 2019
Canadian, Death, Women Authors
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2019
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


With unsettling beauty and a quiet magic, award-winning poet Souvankham Thammavongsa's Cluster will awe and amaze.


Acclaimed poet Souvankham Thammavongsa returns with her fourth collection, a book about meaning. Meaning can sometimes blow up, crack something we had not seen, or darken what had been seen so clear to us. Meaning can happen with so little and go on to take so much from us. Meaning can sometimes take a long time to arrive, years even, if ever. And it's possible meaning does not mean, and that in itself could be meaningful. Whatever happens to meaning, it is always there. It means even when you don't want it. Every poem in this book looks at meaning and the ways in which it arrives, if at all.

About the author

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. Some of her poems were written while she was a resident at Yaddo. Poems have appeared in many of Canada’s literary journals and magazines, including Canadian Literature, Contemporary Verse 2, dANDelion, Event, The Fiddlehead and The Windsor Review. 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. She lives in Stouffville, Ontario.

Souvankham Thammavongsa's profile page

Excerpt: Cluster (by (author) Souvankham Thammavongsa)


The story they told us was wide and lost and ever changing

And the words it came with were small

Sprawling and crawling for its end

The end, if something could be said of it

Tried to take shadow and shape but closed and collapsed at its centre

Wound around an end a different coloured string

There might have been an umbrella, shoe, or even jewellery

But who among us would know our way back, could climb over that mess again?

Cut a hole into this page and hold it up to the sky

Tell us if it is day and the stars that kick in if it is night

Fluff the clouds if they look flat or trim the moon if it is full

Tell yourself yesterday was not tomorrow and none of it will ever be today

Editorial Reviews

"[O]ne of the most striking voices to emerge in Canadian poetry in a generation." --The Walrus

“Souvankham Thammavongsa has established a reputation as one of Canada’s leading minimalists and technicians of negative space. Rather than being some index of repression, Thammavongsa’s pregnant silences in Cluster evoke the erasure of language and history, flagrant manipulations of the public record, and events that can only be approached obliquely. Her fragments provide a shelter for the reader to dream without fear or censure of what lies beyond the page.” --Quill & Quire

"A deep, searching dive into the ways we create meaning, personally and culturally—from how we see our relationships to how the financial sector operates—and an exploration of the values embedded in our perceptions. The poems often unfold as a series of quiet, simple observations that expand in import. This is particularly true of 'O,' a remarkable meditation that begins by contemplating the shape of the letter . . . and progresses through a series of associative leaps . . . to conclude by questioning the global political and economic order." --Toronto Star
“Here’s where poems become site/sight, where poems contract and expand the head-heart sense, that eighth sense alive in language: here’s another and another and another and another in Souvankham Thammavongsa’s Cluster. . . . her poems make fine work of the art of suggestion by rending, bolt by necessary bolt, the acute and the complex conditions in which language must do its work. Cluster hauls the detritus of years, offers us an otherwise of paths through family and loss and what is found in the eventides that flow from one time to another, in the thing that amounts to what we call ‘life.’” —Canisia Lubrin, Hamilton Review of Books

Other titles by Souvankham Thammavongsa

Related lists