Book Review: Like A Tree, Walking // Vahni Capildeo

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Like a Tree, Walking, by Vahni Capildeo is a protean collection. The range of poetic style is astounding, almost as if it is consciously defying a simplistic understanding or categorisation. I cannot think of any other such volume that contains such a breadth of styles and forms. It is almost discordant and fragmentary, yet it holds itself together as naturally as the changing yet constant surface of a river in spate. Capildeo shifts from form to form, voice to voice, without discernible artifice and is not caught in the choking web of generic expectations.

Some of the poems are radical in their lineation and word spacing. With some poets this would come across as gimmicky and distract from the poetry itself, however, Capildeo’s command of form shows that each and every line has been considered, and the form chosen to suit the content. Such styles can take a moment to get into, but that is their merit. In having to pause and approach a poem with thought to how it works, in terms of form, the reader is forced to read with a greater care than they might otherwise. It is also remarkable how such poems open themselves up when contemplated without preconception. By pausing and just letting the poem sit before your eyes, different aspects of it come to light with each reading.

The formal range might be noteworthy but do not dominate the collection. In part this is achieved by the way in which nature is centred. These are not reverential poems about nature as a beautiful other, instead they are honest connection with that which is all around us. Nature is seen as part of life, and abuts the dullness of humanity without concern.

This engagement with the world provides a keen sense of place to the poems and so links the psychological aspects of life to concrete geographic realities. It almost makes one seek out each and every place the poet has ever stood, to try and grasp that same moment of space. Yet poetry is able to provide a warping lens, bending each person’s reality momentarily so that they may catch a glimpse of a place they have never, and can never, reach for the moment is gone, save for its refracted form on the page.

For such a slim volume, Like a Tree, Walking covers a range, not just stylistically, but also in terms of content. Without that ability for the reader to envisage themselves within the same psychogeographic moment, the range of content would be overwhelming. With some poets that would give a rather disparate feel, almost like a collage, but in this case the wide-ranging aspect, coupled with an eased use of multivalence, binds the collection together, without forcing it into a single stolid entity.

Words by Ed Bedford

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