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Poetry: Andre Bagoo and Vahni Capildeo

By Shivanee Ramlochan, 2012 Bocas Lit fest blogger


Andre Bagoo begins his reading.
“Tissues and bones, it was a trick”– Grizzly Bear, ‘Ready, Able’This is one of the epigraphs that introduces you to Andre Bagoo’s 2012 poetry collection, Trick Vessels. The other is a brief account of how a trick vessel functions: by hidden, possibly elaborate, possibly simple mechanics. These curious, ancient devices, used by the Greeks and Phoenicians for sportive amusement, become a focus in Bagoo’s mesmerizing, equally curious collection. Ponder, he seems to be encouraging us to think, on how a trick vessel is never filled, but by secrets, and with them, too.

I have to admit upfront, rather gauchely, that I have a vested interest in Andre’s work, because the knowledge of his excellent poetic voice is no new news, to me. I’ve been privileged to hear some of the pieces in Trick Vessels when they were freshly served up to the Cropper Foundation participants of 2010 for discussion and often-spirited debate. I know these poems, and I don’t know them. I thrill to them. They have kept me company throughout this year’s festival, and it has been a synaesthetic delight, a walk through several converging paths all at once.


N. Laughlin listens, beamingly, as Vahni Capildeo reads from her work.
In a clever, charming twist, Andre rounded off his Bocas reading by sharing one of Vahni Capildeo’s poems, and she began her reading with the sharing of one of his. Her reading spanned poems from her three collections, the most recent being 2012’s Dark and Unaccustomed Words. I had a colleague whisper in my ear, mid-reading, “Vahni seems… you know, possessed,” she hastened to add, “but in the best sort of way!” I knew what she meant. Capildeo sounded and seemed taken over by her work, and she read with the intensely charged commitment one hopes most writers will employ to in their readings, but which most never even approximate.Festival programme director Nicholas Laughlin chaired the session, taking unapologetic delight in interacting with Bagoo and Capildeo, two of his dear friends. He drew from Bagoo this splendid observation, which I scribbled down immediately:“We are all, to some extent, quite extraordinary… somewhat miraculous, all tricky.”

Responding to Laughlin’s question on the title choice of her newest collection (which is dedicated to him, the audience learnt), Capildeo responded that one person’s dark and unaccustomed words are another’s clear and bright ones: she wants her readers to be aware, to be slightly (or highly) uncomfortable, situation depending. She expressed dissatisfaction with the ethnographic slurring of some of our fantastical folkloric creatures, the lagahoo, the douen. There is value, and a pressing sort of need, she averred, in identifying with every character, no matter how they’re morally cast: the good and the bad, the treacherous and the kind.

Laughlin asks Bagoo to bring the session to a reluctant close, with a reading of the first poem in Trick Vessels, published in the September 2011 issue of The Caribbean Review of Booksshared on the Bocas blog in the countdown to this year’s festival.

It gave the audience goosebump pleasures. It’s startling; it’s inventive. It’s tricky.

Photos by Rodell Warner, our official 2012 Festival photographer.