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Small Arguments

by Souvankham Thammavongsa

The short poems in Small Arguments are tender snapshots of nature’s often overlooked bounty. No verbal flab invades the images as the poetry magically explores the essence and personality of objects we rarely equate with human emotions. In Souvankham Thammavongsa’s poems, rain, earwigs, and seashells never feel accepted and a lemon “is an orange/that does not know/how to fill, to extend/to give up its skin.”

Dragonfruit, blood oranges ,and a potato bug receive the same treatment as the more popular trees and water, making those rarely profiled subjects dance off the page. Adding grace to a snail’s habits, which “quietly folds/its body/into a small cathedral,” is just one example of Thammavongsa’s apparent love for the beauty behind the obvious. Personification elevates the images to a philosophical level, where a firefly argues with darkness and snow impersonates rain.

The lyrical rhythms weave between measured pauses and are framed by ideas as original as they are thought-provoking. In “Poem For Trees” Thammavongsa writes: “Your hands/split and splayed, break and bend/from arguments/with gravity which were never won.” Bite-size scenarios mix with several stretches of the imagination to create new perspectives on literary staples. Thammavongsa honours Irving Layton’s “Bugs” with “There Is a Cockroach” and she challenges Gwendolyn MacEwen’s slant on water by writing “water will lie to you/make you believe/this/unmarked end/isn’t deep.”

As poignant as these short poems are (they rarely exceed 15 lines), further elaboration would have strengthened each piece’s core message. Some poems end in mid-breath, while others fade quietly; the arguments are indeed small but they could have benefited from more images to fully impart their potency. But Thammavongsa’s thin collection never wobbles on its delicate base, instead offering insights into a world alive with the overlooked and the undersized.