Recent Puritan author Souvankham Thammavongsa answers a couple of questions about her poem “I Remember” from Issue XX.

1. What was “I Remember” influenced by?

Joe Brainard’s “I Remember.” I was sitting on some really private and personal memories that I wanted to write about. I didn’t want to use that material and show grief or anger or to rant. I wanted what was so personal and so private to come across as light—as in funny but also as in not weighing heavily in a person’s mind or heart. I like the sound of laughter and I wanted people to laugh. When I read The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard, I thought this was a good method to handle the material and at the same time we can laugh.

Joe Brainard

2. Tell us the best thing you’ve read lately, or a poet you’re jealous of, or a poem you wish you wrote.

I am not jealous of poets because the stakes in poetry are so low. What I am jealous of is the person who doesn’t write poetry. You have the freedom to believe that what you are doing matters to the world. I’m jealous of that freedom.

I have been reading Richard Ford’s short stories. The one that is in my mind these days is “Optimists.” It’s magnificent. When I am not reading it, I dream about his sentences. How clear and simple and stark. He is able to tell this story about how a family falls apart, how as a child your parents can make decisions about your future and how your life can change forever in a way that can’t be recovered.

Richard Ford

His writing recovers something for a person in a moment that can harden that person forever. I like how you will spend your whole living life outside that story thinking about luck and how that works out in the world, how it’s worked out in your own life and in the lives of the people you know.

I wish I wrote something like that. And I wish I could give and make something like that to someone. It’s so generous.


Souvankham Thammavongsa won the 2004 ReLit Prize for her first poetry book, Small Arguments. Pedlar Press will release her new collection in September 2013.

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