Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

"Measures of Expatriation" by Vahni Capildeo (Carcanet, 2016)

Sometimes poets give readers an easy start. Not so here - "She is away./ The feathers in my eye spoke outwards./ She is the accident that happens./ The sun bursts hazel on my shoulders./ She is the point of any sky". 124 pages, lots of prose, small font - I think I'm going to struggle. She's been in the Cambridge Literary Review, and PN Review, but not many other magazines - none I've been in.

No. I'll just skim the rest. It shouldn't have been eligible for a poetry prize, but there we go ...

I like "Laptop Blue screen Rationalization" ("I didn't rightclick on Timothy. I leftclicked on Timothy. I'm opening Timothy. I remember the summer that was Timothy, but I do not recall what's inside Timothy. How many keystrokes have been wasted on Timothy ..."). I don't like "(V) The poet transformed into space". Here are some extracts which for one reason or another caught my eye -

  • The 3 page piece starting on p.13 ends with "no join// no join// no join// and also // like // like // like" right-aligned.
  • "I have seen the eyes of a woman fill entirely with black (cornea and iris), not the eyeholes of a mask but the active blackness of a surge in the universe inimical to the development of life", p.17
  • "And at our conference,/ so many equivalents/ for gracias and Verfremdung,/ easy change amongst false friends." p.18
  • "This style of garment is out of fashion and no longer exported. Dubiously collectable, some turn up second-hand in England. Buying one and wearing it would show a real investment in ... something" p.26
  • "The loneliness of the body is utterly different from the loneliness of the mind" p.27
  • "talk about sleeping/ being happy/ i dream giraffes mostly/ having put one together/ from sand under seawater/ dappled by sunlight/ at paddling depth/ or having seen it rise up/ amiable/ companionable/ with a friendliness seldom measured by scientists/ a long-lashed/ essentially solitudinous yet/ occasionally-leaning giraffe" p.53
  • "Two friends almost bump into me. Who are they? The one I know better was a curled darling, palefaced like a dollmaker's temps perdu. The other I know less. Both so pleased to see me! Their faces bob, charge, glimmering up, losing themselves and returning: let's go for a drink! Night is ocean in a barrel " p.62 (centred prose)
  • "
    cheveluresprécieuses    ifiraisemyarms    whatrainsdown    
    foracanopy/circus    ifilowermylids    istarttoflower    
    " p.77
  • "Like you drop from the sky or what? spoken word. Sped arrow. To speak to those who do not read you. To flee from the space that remains clear inside the head so long as writing is the continuity" p.112
  • "Any love/ meant as equal/ is momentary/ momentarily unequal/ is equal/ if love/ reckons time/ knows not equals" p.122 (full stop after "momentary"? "reckons time knows not" means "thinks that 'time' doesn't know the meaning of 'equals'"?)

Other reviews

  • Sandeep Parmar (Formerly an OED lexicographer with an Oxford DPhil in Old Norse, Capildeo’s poetry is a space in which literary tradition and linguistic play square off against the lyrical guise of lived experience. ... A major poetic voice, Capildeo’s integrity and intelligence put her several steps ahead of publishers, academics and critics who might foolishly marginalise her work in Britain.)
  • Dave poems (it’s a long read and a dense one, and every word has clearly been agonised over. ... And yet the sum of its dense, allusive and syntactically outlandish linguistic performances is an extremely human book. ... The collection is full of such moments of rhetorical power, in which Capildeo demonstrates an excellent ear for rhythm, for the impassioned and genuine, something like an intellectual call to arms. More often than not, however, such moments are immediately deflated by the mundane or ridiculous, as the impulse to keep a sense of proportion does its work. ... Capildeo is extremely careful to never let the messiness of reality be erased for the sake of political cleanliness. As Amanda Merritt notes, that same messiness occasionally looks more like plain confusion, and there are certainly times in Measures of Expatriation where I found the poems’ rejection of conventional syntax or deep etymological punning a little too dense to follow. ... This is not an easy book by any reckoning; it is long and densely written, it often leaves the reader without footholds and deviates from recognisable tradition.)
  • Amanda Merritt (Comprised primarily of prose-poems, the book’s non-linear, associative narratives require the attention of poetry, yet float across the watery expanse of prose. ... This creates an alluring air of intimacy, however, ocasionally the prose weighs down the beauty of the image—‘a heart splintered into a rose of frost’—and, on occasion, the lyrical brilliance of Capildeo’s work is overshadowed by her blocks of prose. ... To assess this book properly, one must either have an authoritative grasp on the nature and aesthetic of prose-poetry, or a predilection for post-modern verse. Finding myself sympathetic to neither of these conditions, there is still much I can admire in Capildeo’s work. ... However, more often than not, context and deixis run about the page like watercolour. Interpreting these streams of thought can be, for a reader, a labour-intensive and disorienting procedure.)
  • Peter Riley (VAHNI CAPILDEO’S POEMS present a wide range of linguistic usages and scales of attention, sometimes all within the one poem, but generally begin with feet on the ground. ... CAPILDEO HAS SPOKEN in many ways of the dispersed nature of the poetry, the break-up of linear sense, including the idea of a “pointillist self, one grounded in complexity…” and of “the way the poet seems to move about… they don’t actually add up… it creates a sense of vibration rather than status, a sense almost of the physics of being, a musical being, one might say”. Also that “time mixing within a stanza, or a line, seems to me like a natural poetic procedure” (which she relates to the “happy and tense cross-rhythms” experienced in growing up in a non-Western multilingual household). Also “I see no problem, I take delight, within the space of the page, in crossing from mundane to heightened, elaborated, even opaque codes, registers, allusions.” and “without meaning to, I developed a poetics of reverberation and minor noise.” ... I think “Inhuman Triumphs” is one of Capildeo’s finest poetical creations (even if it does opt out of poetry at the end), not least because the extravagant virtuosity of her style is constantly bound to a lyrical condition. ... The prose is, as would be expected, more explicit than the poetry.)

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