8-Vahni Capildeo


Vahni Capildeo wearing wearable art by Kavir Mootoo, photographed by Kavir Mootoo on the Lopinot Road in Trinidad

Vahni Capildeo‘s books include Utter (Peepal Tree, 2013), Simple Complex Shapes (Shearsman, 2015), and Measures of Expatriation (Carcanet; Forward Poetry Prizes Best Collection; T.S. Eliot Prize nomination). An ex-medievalist, she worked in lexicography, academia, and culture for development. Her performances engage with Euripides, Shakespeare, and Martin Carter. Recent non-fiction appears in PN Reviewadda (Commonwealth Writers) and Granta. She is a Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow at the University of Leeds.

What do you suggest people might read or hear in advance of hearing you?

‘Four Departures from Wulf and Eadwacer’, in Blackbox Manifold:


Included in Utter (Peepal Tree, 2013):


Also recorded for the Poetry Archive:


Where can we find one critical (or other) response to your work that you have found provocative, interesting, insightful or generative?

Nicholas Laughlin’s interview: http://www.nicholaslaughlin.net/capildeo-interview-macomere.pdf

Point us towards some examples of work in other media (art/cinema/music etc) that inflect upon your work, in any way at all:

This song by the calypsonian The Mighty Shadow is the single best exploration of how the spirit moves the artist that I have ever heard: https://youtu.be/n3O-jgw_V3Q

What readings or performances most shook you up, and why?

Joy Goswami, speaking at the ‘Almost Island’ dialogues founded by Sharmistha Mohanty and Vivek Narayanan: http://www.caravanmagazine.in/showcase/almost-island-dialogues This was not strictly speaking a reading, and was the opposite of performance. We were seated at a long, diplomatic-looking set of tables, perhaps fifty of us, with light-up microphones. Joy Goswami, in answering a question, went into a blend of reflection, poetry, and memory. Suddenly he was flooded with the feeling of being inhabited by his dead mother, in a detailed and organic sense, not spiritualist but like an excruciating embodiment of a Proustian moment. His face brightened and opened; his voice changed; he wept and shook and thought aloud, with something not incoherent but more visceral than coherence. His being shaken shook me. The audience showed tolerance; more than tolerance – the willingness to be opened up along with him, and yet to return to intelligent critical reflection, utterly different from retaining a critical distance. We were not pressured to alienate ourselves from a shared experience, and so some of us gained sufficient insight for effective analysis, without losing that sense of having been moved beyond words. I’ve also been shaken by the performances of traditional masqueraders in Trinidad, who seem to channel a strange force of character and expression (Attillah Springer verbally, and Maria Nunes visually, think through and document these experiences.) Amongst recent co-readers, hearing Denise Riley made me want not to have to ‘perform’ but just sit and listen for an indefinite time to her work, for its sheer, unpredictable, playful and terrifying virtue, in some of the older sense of that word.

What writing (or whose writing)  is exciting you now?

Too many people to name. It would be unfair to pick and choose. It’s exciting to see an ecological consciousness arising in poetry. I can’t say enough about that. In these strange times I’ve also gone back to re-reading older feminists: bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich.

What/who do you wish people read more of?

Proper, expert analysis and thinking: statistical, linguistic, etc. Against impressionistic reactions as to what is happening or who is saying what. The essay collection edited by Marilyn Strathern, Audit Cultures: Anthropological Studies in Accountability, Ethics and the Academy (2000). It’s illuminating far beyond the academy or the turn of that century. Everyone should read it to understand more about human beings, creative or intellectual labour, and workable models that nonetheless don’t cut us with violence to fit business practice to nobody’s ultimate profit. That’s my slangy language (left to myself I’d talk about ‘headspace’ and ‘thinking time’), not the book’s. These essays are practical, thoughtful, nuanced and accurate. I wish more people read, and would cite, Deborah Cameron on political correctness, and feminism. Then there are the hosts of ‘forgotten’ or ‘difficult’ or un-republished primary writers, whether from ancient sources, current but lesser-disseminated languages, or those texts which have had influence and perhaps are spoken of, but do not make it often enough onto curricula or into popular reference.

What do you wish you read more of yourself?

Anything. There is so little time, so much tiredness.

What is your writing for?  And what is it against?

It doesn’t consult me about that.

Ask yourself a question you’d like to answer. It could be one of these from the questionnaire in the last issue of the Little Review (below)or anything else at all you think might be good.

What do I look forward to?