Souvankham Thammavongsa, Zevart. Toronto: Junction Books, 26 copies, 2016.
I like single-poem chapbooks; they slow down my reading, make me savour what’s on the page. The physical object itself is usually a little flimsy, even fragile, and seems to want to be handled with care. Junction Books used to publish substantial chapbooks (I have a copy of Karen Solie’s The Shooter’s Bible from 2004) but has lately been dedicating itself to broadsides as well as this “poem pamphlet” series. Their design is crisp, geometrical, clean: a speckled cardstock cover, a single matching folded sheet within.
Souvankham Thammavongsa’s Zevart is presumably named after the subject of the poem. Here the poet is remembering the intensity and devotion of a school friendship:
Every day at lunchtime, you gave me half
your sandwich. I never went hungry because
These two inseparables saved money for candy, wrote letters, and above all talked about love. It isn’t hard to imagine the pair lingering in some park or lying head-to-toe on a sofa while Zevart solemnly offered her (his?) youthful wisdom:
how it can’t be hurried, how there can only be one,
and today could be the day that changes everything.
There is something simple and yet stately about the two line stanzas, with their little hesitation and then rush at the end of the unfinished second line (except for the last above). The language is ordinary and fresh, as are the emotions, and when I reached the end I felt myself give a little sigh of nostalgia for feelings that were so easy to recognize, and for the distance that the years had put between them and myself.