FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION IN CONVERSATION WITH VAHNI CAPILDEO

FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?

VAHNI CAPILDEO: I stopped writing poetry and started again. The first time I stopped, at the age of eleven, must have been because of going to school, which was bad. I started again at sixteen, which coincides with when I immersed myself in French and Spanish, collaborating with my Convent classmates on a dramatic reading of Lorca and directing and costuming a public performance of an excerpt from Anouilh’s Antigone.

FAF: Please talk about your development as a writer of poetry. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.

VC: I’ve never felt like a poet. I see and hear things in my head, and I wish I had the time and other resources for more training and sharing in music and visual art. Lately I’ve enjoyed writing Midnight Robber monologues for traditional masquerade performance.

FAF: What does being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes mean for you?

VC: It’s more than I can understand. An honour.

FAF: Please tell us something about the creation of your shortlisted collection, from first words to final book. Does it mark a departure or change from your earlier work? Which poems in this collection are most important to you?

VC: I really believed this Book of Things was not very long, though I knew how many poems were in it. I experienced it in terms of lyric rhythms and still moments. It was a shock when I printed it all out. In some ways it’s the opposite of Utter (2013), which is also quite lyric, but which felt large and tidal, a word-sea. What’s new here is the number of poems set in Ireland. I’m glad to be able to thank friends in Ireland, who were hospitable during two years of displacement. It’s good to feature Colin Graham and Selina Guinness’s lambs at Tibradden, and Peadar King’s artists’ island of Inishbofin. Most important is the index of places, which shows how one poem can belong to several locations. The index also shows which places in reality are at the origins of the poems. I wouldn’t have thought that mattered until I found people imagining Glasgow poems were set in Trinidad, or Trinidad poems in Sri Lanka, and so on. It matters for the internal lighting and feel of the work for readings not to be quite as far out as that.

FAF: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?

VC: (I’m not picking anyone in the U.K.) At the moment I’ve returned to reading Lorca. I value his art of scarcity, intensity, and colour. For similar reasons, Nicholas Laughlin in Trinidad.

FAF: What is next for you as a poet?

VC: A long poem about a transformation.

FAF: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?

VC: Delete Facebook. Go outdoors.