Colombian poet Caylin Capra-Thomas delivers one of the best books of 2022


Caylin Capra-Thomas knows how to make his entrance.

Alternately, the first verses of the Colombian poet waver, expose, seduce; they warn readers, complicate narratives we swallow too easily, sharpen the senses, and offer final encouragement.

Lesser artists might cross that initial threshold and then stumble. Admittedly, the filmmakers crumble under the expectations set in an epic opening sequence; writers of all genres fail to deliver on the promises made by opening sentences. Not Capra-Thomas.

“It’s hard to say what will be important,” she writes in the very first line of her new collection, “Iguana Iguana,” due out this summer from Texas-based publisher Deep Vellum.

To sit with the book is to know that everything matters – Capra-Thomas never misses a word or loses his voice. Its flawless lyricism and distinctive perspective ring true, making “Iguana Iguana” one of the best poetry collections of 2022.

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Rites of passage’

Capra-Thomas continues his very first opening line, which leads the poem “Passage”, into a beautifully melancholy, coming-of-age ballad that is neither nostalgic nor insensitive. Spying on a gathering of teenagers by a river, his speaker observes them “aside / Staring, wary like crows. / Everyone in the group is a dead version of yourself”.

Witnessing the youthful interior of any station that succeeds it, the speaker ponders the ways in which language fulfills and fails to capture the passage of time. “The dark chorus of your own life / continues to croak in diamond darkness, beneath the roar / of every body you inhabit,” writes Capra-Thomas.

Caylin Capra-Thomas

Much of “Iguana Iguana” revolves around the specific wisdom we pass on to those who come after us. This legacy is most evident in “To My Twenty-Year-Old Sister on My Thirtieth Birthday,” which opens with a necessary statement: “Nobody knows what they’re doing, Maddie.”

From a terrain that is just beautiful and strange enough to disorient, the speaker describes her own twenties with lucidity and resignation; some mysteries defy description and must be experienced to be absorbed on a soul and skin level.

“Know me, sister. / I bequeath to you the decade that separates us,” writes Capra-Thomas.

This view of change by degrees, in which maturity both buzzes in the chest and arrives as an out-of-body experience, is expressed in the opening line of “Supermassive” – ​​”I stood at the sink and I aged a few minutes”; it changes shape, bending into unsettling wisdom in a passage from “Callahan and Sumner”:

“And it’s crazy how we hold / so many miles inside us, but some people die / in the same city where they were born.”

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This kind of upside-down revelation, from sad-eyed observation to something like acceptance, colors “patron saints,” in which the speaker brokers a calm, sobering accord between faith and reality :

“And when I saw nothing / But late winter’s gold licking the abandoned trees / and a few classmates passing by in an old Saturn / surrounded by snow around the rims, I knew / i had been forsaken by something, that Saint/So and so -Thus slept, slept forever – let / she be – and all that I expected lived / elsewhere and I would never return.”

A place of our own

Whether through physical detail or spiritual awareness, Capra-Thomas conveys a sense of place through “Iguana Iguana”.

Several poems sweat through the enveloping humidity and around the slippery characters of Florida. Another, “Chambers,” examines issues across the Arizona-New Mexico line.

Most often, Capra-Thomas creates lived sensations – nameless places, moments like sealed memories.

The ‘Stranger Danger’ speaker looks back on a childhood in which his fearful mother “made me / Recite our address and spell my last name / To my eyelids” while his older brother roamed free like a adolescent coyote.

Poems like “Twister” travel the contours of a “crazy river” while “Not the Fly But the Amber” offers the image of “Twin/sunflowers in an empty bourbon bottle”. Unfamiliar, perhaps, but immediately recognized and instinctively known.

To pay attention

“How can each of us support what we create? Capra-Thomas writes from the inside “The Funny Part”, a poem that begins by talking about tomato plants and an anxious gardener who crushes “leafy cigarettes” and plants “filters with shaking hands”. .

“The Funny Part” goes to the core of the collection, as Capra-Thomas faithfully flips words like tender, attend and Warningeager to know everything that makes them so similar and everything that separates them.

To create anything and not get lost, to heal and to be healed, requires rare degrees of awareness. As Capra-Thomas’ poems demonstrate, forces must be held in tension: vulnerability and fragility on the one hand, resilience and self-forgiveness on the other.

As even the most pitiful gardener knows, a plant becomes more tender as you move from roots to stem and flower. So handle with care.

The poet’s speakers plan to take care of themselves in both promising and dubious ways. The voice that rings through “Window” follows another killer opener – “So many friends I’ve caught beautiful, without knowing it” – to shivers of danger and flickers of fire as assurances of beauty.

They want to be surprised: cooking “almost naked near the kitchen window”, leaving the TV on or the stove on; anything that needs to be fanned into flames.

The ‘Spring-Loaded’ speaker leans into a daydream, in which being groomed involves ‘a specific man’ touching them from behind, perching on their bed ‘on a Thursday afternoon’ to ‘rock some scotch/between my lips while the fridge repairman growls / on his haunches in the next room.”

Sharp humor becomes a way to care — or at least protect yourself long enough to sift through the past. “He drank my whisky/hot. He left me cold” (from “A Pilgrim is a Foreigner”) is a line worthy of Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell. Poignant and amusing, “All My Exes Live in this Poem” is perhaps the great unwritten country song of our time.

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More viable and fulfilling, these poems suggest, is the wide-eyed approach that Capra-Thomas experiments with and encourages. Straining one’s own attention means seeing the world not just as beautiful or fragile, but as an entanglement of both.

In this we are likely to find something worth saying and savoring under an electric storm (“Lightning Suspected in Deaths of Horses”), when enveloped in winter (“Whiteout”) or in the lesser degree of connection and hope (“Present Conditional”). There, Capra-Thomas writes:

“If something is broken / in me, it is not / the most vital part. / There are keys in my pocket. / Elsewhere, / an opening.”

Locals can experience more “Iguana Iguana” on September 1 when Capra-Thomas reads alongside poet S. Yarberry at Skylark Bookshop. To learn more about the poetess and her work, visit

Aarik Danielsen is the Features and Culture Editor for Tribune. Contact him at [email protected] or by calling 573-815-1731. Find him on Twitter @aarikdanielsen.


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