Unbound presents poets working with / on multilinguality, or those whose language is traversed by their mother tongue. Meet the Trinidadian-British poet Vahni Capildeo, born in Port of Spain, Trinidad. She has lived in the United Kingdom since 1991. Her poetry collection ‘Measures of Expatriation’ won the 2016 Forward Prize for poetry. Her writing is innovative, her language precise, her imagery highly personal. In one word, an original artist to get inspiration from.
‘Selecting Measures of Expatriation for the Forward Prize, the judging panel chair Malika Booker stated, “We found a vertiginous excitement in the way in which the book grasps its subject: the sense of never quite being at home. This is poetry that transforms. When people in the future seek to know what it’s like to live between places, traditions, habits and cultures, they will read this. Here is the language for what expatriation feels like.’ (source: Poetry Foundation)
Below is a poem from the 2016 collection:
‘I LOVE YOU’
‘I love you,’ he wouldn’t say: it was against his philosophy; I-love-you
didn’t mean what it meant, plus the verray construction of the phrase
caused bad-old-concrete-lawman-vandal-verbal-mildew-upon-the-grape-harvest-and-war-for-rare-minerals-required-to-manufacture-communications-devices damage; saying I-love-you damaged love, subject and object; plus he could prove this in two dense and delphic languages suitable for philosophy, opera, cursing, and racking the nerves of artificial intelligence machines that perhaps could love but would be hard-wired giammai to dare say so. So what moved him to not-say I-love-you? What wake-up-and-spoil-the-coffee ashtray-licking djinn? I have to start to agree. The verbness of it impropriety (eyes glob up the syringe when you’re giving blood: semisolid spiralling); perhaps too
active… I-love-you, I sand you, I drill you, I honey and set you for wasps,
crimson you like a stolen toga, add value applying dye, fight owner-
ship, I cite you to justify skilled outrage, put your name as guarantor on an astronomical mortgage, I admit desertification comes as a relief, from I to O, O my oasis, O my mirage. Maybe the verb is a tending-to-wards? A tightrope? A tropism? A station? But that’s meeting him on his own ground; plus I can’t disprove entire languages; plus those three little words aren’t meant as saying. An icy drink in stormlight. A looked-at leaf left to transpire its own way until… And sans I-love-you the centuried moon rose above dinnermint stone; many men continued talking; a woman lifted her sarsenet skirt, peed on green lilies and, utterly gracious, walked through the archway to join the mixed group delighting in — word! believe it! — fresh air.
Vahni Capildeo, “‘I Love You’” from Measures of Expatriation.