Simple complex shapes

by Simon Collings

My review of Vahni Capildeo’s chapbook Simple Complex Shapes (Shearsman, 2015) has just been published in Stride magazine. In place of the involved, richly complex verse forms and prose poems of her previous books, the new collection consists of a series of spare lyrics, quasi-fragments, and poems creating visual images on the page. It is interesting to see her experimenting with these forms, though the chapbook is probably not the easiest way of engaging with Capildeo if you’re new to her work. And she is worth getting to know.

A good starting point would be her collection Utter (Peepal Tree, 2013.) Take a look at the witty ‘Creative writing lessons’, ‘Four departures from Wulf and Eadwacer’, and ‘After J.M.W. Turner, Death on a pale horse (?)’ Her first book of poems, No Traveller Returns (Salt, 2003) was an amazing debut, including a long sequence called ‘The monster scrapbook’ in verse and prose. Among other things it’s about identity and being different.

Capildeo was born in Trinidad into a family of politicians and writers, but has lived for many years in the UK. V. S Naipaul is a cousin. She studied for a PhD in Old Norse at Oxford, hence the ‘Wulf and Eadwacer’ reference. She teaches at the University of Cambridge. No Traveller Returns and Utter are both available. Her other three collections are currently out of print.