Friday, January 24, 2014

Utter - Vahni Capildeo

Today's book of poetry:  Utter.  Vahni Capildeo.  Peepal Tree Press.  Leeds, England.  2013.

Vahni Capildeo's Utter is poetry two cultures removed from my own and yet it speaks to me with a vibrancy as taut as the strings of violin.  Capildeo is a chameleon in these pages.  Utter shows a full range of poetic styles and a writer in full control of a rather limitless voice.

These carefully constructed poems are as delicate as a heavy man navigating thin ice, as confident as the fox slinking away with the cackling bird in its' maw.

Aux Bibliotheques Aux Antilles

Straightway dropped, still vertical, into a shadow parallel
to other shadows, I appeared to stand above, substantial,
a manifest husk that you, your khaki and navy, address

But look, only one corner is worm-eaten,
my red binding holds most of my yellowed pages together,
you can follow the story which is torn in several places
but in such ways that destruction becomes a second story,
one to love, meddled too with chocolate prints from a baby past.

Good sir, with a long reading list, no translator, and wrong change,
will you pick me?

The risk that you change your mind is mine, not yours:
pick me, and you are irretrievable;
hell is already.
Myself dropped through the floor of myself,
you, broken out of leaf,
mistrustful, pithy, four-dimensioned.
I would be stuck with that.

A lifetime with one who reads me,
by whom I am not seen.

The multifarious integrity of pomegranates.

Sharing a hell with you no king and I almost queen.


From poem to poem in this collection there is a consistent tone, an ongoing level of discourse that is captivating - but it comes from any of the myriad of voices Capildeo has captured.  Each voice has its' own distinct rhythm, texture, pulse.

Each of Capildeo's voices understands that it all comes at a cost, whatever voice holds forth, another is suppressed.  There is plenty of humour in Utter, it just always comes at a cost.

The Critic In His Natural Habitat

"You see to be serious about literature.  Have you ever considered
writing up some of these thoughts of yours? A poet like you could
bring a fresh perspective to criticism. People would appreciate that.
You needn't worry: they wouldn't expect scholarship. My book came
out last year. You don't want me to bore you with that.  It's just an in-
depth study of darkness and the imagination in the seventeenth
century. The seventeenth century might not be your cup of tea. Oh,
is that your book? I'm afraid I don't read much contemporary poetry.
Will you give me a copy? Only if you have one to spare, of course, Sultry
photo! I'm never sure about books-with-author-photos. The rail 
station photobooth? Really? You don't write for The Time Literary
Supplement, do you? Dorina recently did a brilliant review of Tricia's
edition of Gussie's translations of Brazilian slum poetry composed in
Spanish by a French guy who taught on an art history course here, oh,
donkeys' years ago.
     I don't remember his name.
     He lived in one of those nice houses. Haven't you read them? You
read Italian don't you? I'll send you the reference if I can remember
to find the time to send it. You wouldn't believe how busy I am. End-
of-term exams bang in the middle of barbecue duty. And the family
insists on their five days in Cornwall. I'm so desperate to get back to
my research. Madness! A nightmare! Merciless. But I'd like to See
You Again... May I See You Again? (Gracie! Put on the wash, I need
my brown corduroy trousers for tomorrow). Sorry.
     Oh. You're going away?"


There isn't necessarily any justice in Vahni Capildeo's poetic world, these poems reflect the realities of a corrupt and cynical world.

For Jo Groiser

The sea needs no ornament.
She adorns herself with herself
and is herself our wreckage.
Unspontaneous as disbelief
the island combusting
— every sunset, despite the mist,
such mist, so very missed, chances
ourselves plunged in sunset
forever lying off the coast.
The railroad makes straight the house.
No names for you pass muster.
I wrote gods' names in the sand.


Vahni Capildeo was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and currently lives in London, England.  Capildeo is the author of four previous poetry titles, No Traveller Returns (2003), Person Animal Figure (2005),  Undraining Sea (2009), and Dark & Unaccustomed Words (2012).


First I tried to hide it from itself.
The I tried to hide it from myself.
I tried quite hard to hide it from you,
even when we knew that was no use.
After all this hiding, no surprise
it's like a thing in translation:
eggshell-shy. A thumb's worth of glory,
nesting near the coastlines of your palm.


Vahni Capildeo's fifth book of poetry is a mature work for serious readers of poetry and it is full of abundant rewards.  Trinidad to London to Ottawa is a long reach for a book of poetry.  Very glad to meet the most loquacious Vahni Capildeo.

Maintenant: the avant garde at Poetry Parnassus - Vahni Capildeo

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