Theory of Writing

Souvankham Thammavongsa

We all know two plus two equals fourAnd we begin with that. We learn to addBefore we learn how to take away, to lose.It’s a great way to learn how to write. ToHave a formula, a line to follow. BeforeWe know what adding means, we have toKnow what two means. What two and twoMean together. There are many ways to get toFour. Five subtract one is equal to four.One times four is equal to four. The squareRoot of sixteen is four. A square rootIs a number that looks exactly like it, multipliedBy itself. Four divided by one also equalsFour. Four to the power of one is equal to four too.We can get there through a derivative, ifThat’s how you want it. The square of theHypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squaresOf the other two sides can also get you to four.There are so many ways to get to four.Once all these other ways of gettingTo four is understood, it’s not really fourYou’re after. Anyone can get to four. AndYou know this. Maybe it’s the certainty ofFour. That you can always get to it. That it willAlways turn out the same. Maybe that’s whatYou want. The certainty of four. Or maybeIt’s the ways in which you know howTo get to four that is the point of writing.What you had to learn and build, the time it tookTo hold open the possibility for yourself.

Feature Date


Selected By

Share This Poem

Print This Poem

Souvankham Thammavongsa is the author of three poetry books, Light (2013), winner of the Trillium Book Award for Poetry, Found (2007), and Small Arguments (2003), winner of the ReLit Award. Her writing has appeared in Harper’sGrantaBrickBest American Non-Required Reading, and other places. She has been in residence at Yaddo and has performed her work at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. She was born in the Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand, and was raised and educated in Toronto.

"[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

Poetry Daily Depends on You

With your support, we make reading the best contemporary poetry a treasured daily experience. Consider a contribution today.