The poems in Souvankham Thammavongsa’s fourth collection, Cluster, warrant multiple readings. Though drawn in simple language, these are not gentle or delicate poems, but blunt, and Thammavongsa is not interested in bringing the reader to places of refuge or comfort. Rather, she quietly shakes the reader out of their privilege with her incisive voice.
In the foreword What the Poets Are Doing: Canadian Poets in Conversation, editor Rob Taylor gives his inspiration for the collection: 2002’s Where the Words Come From: Canadian Poets in Conversation (Nightwood Editions) edited by Tim Bowling. Where Bowling’s editorial vision encompassed an homage to Al Purdy (who died in 2000), Taylor’s honours the work of deceased poet and Tragically Hip singer Gord Downey. The title, What the Poets Are Doing, echoes a lyric from the Tragically Hip song “Poets.”