046_Global13_Spotlight_Tri&Tob

Global 13

SpotlightTrinidad and Tobago “In the Trinidad of my childhood, there was a respect for and delight in language well used” IntervIew Vahni Capildeo, poet, teacher and lexicographer Vahni Capildeo, based in Oxford, was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1973. After reading English at Oxford University, she took up a Research Fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge, and published her first poetry collection, No Traveller Returns, in 2003. Four further books of poetry and prose followed, and her next collection,Utter, will be published with Peepal Tree Press later this year. She currently teaches at Glasgow University The daughter of a politician and cosmo- where except at Oxford, because I wanted personality could be eased and quietened. politan mother, Trinidadian author and poet to learn Old English, to get to the roots of The best things about Oxford life were Vahni Capildeo comes from a large extend- my language and its literature. I knew that the workload, the tutorial system and the ed family that includes author V S Naipaul. that might involve hard labour. It has paid friendships. Here, she talks to Global about her earli- off, as the Anglo-Saxon metre and way of est childhood memories, her undergradu- writing about the sea and exile can pierce When, and why, did you decide to become a ate life in Oxford, her love of language – me with heat and cold, untranslated, as writer? Were you writing poetry from your from Old English to Chinese – and which true poetry does. We didn’t own any cold- teens, or earlier? authors’ work have inspired her. Though a weather clothing, so in those pre-Internet I always intended to become a writer. By great admirer of contemporary Caribbean days, determined to settle things better than the time I was six I was very serious about writers, with their activist stance and ability provisioning myself and flying expensively doing ‘poems’ in pencil in copybooks. In to connect with real issues, Capildeo shuns near Christmas time to a winter Oxford in- the Trinidad of my childhood, there was the idea that her poetry and prose have been terview, I wrote letters to various colleges, a respect for and delight in language well shaped by her Caribbean background. This asking if tutors in Modern Languages, used; also, an awareness of sunken lan- becomes clear as she offers us an insight guages, still spoken by some of Trinidad’s into her own unique works, as diverse in The rest of the world is people: Romance languages, African lan- their form as in their themes. guages, North and South Indian languag- already in, or passing es, Chinese. Global: What are your most vivid early memories and images of Trinidad? through, Trinidad. It is As a writer, are you to a greater or lesser Vahni Capildeo: My parents moved to time for the rest of the extent influenced by your Caribbean back- what is still my mother’s house two years ground? Does this sense of ‘influence’ before I was born. This house is in Port of world to come to terms matter? What about politics? island was a cosmopolitan, travellers’ place. with this archipelagic is less my Caribbean childhood than myThe greatest influence on my writing life Spain. There was always a feeling that the A great strength of the island mentality is sensability, where criss- relationships with contemporary Carib- that ability to cross cultures, cross space. bean writers, especially those based in the My great-grandfather once came stalking crossing and fluidity are a region, such as Nicholas Laughlin, An- up the driveway, and he was Indian, an dre Bagoo and Vladimir Lucien. Talented way of life upright Rajput in white, incomprehensibly writers in Trinidad are less likely to be ancient, bringing a young banana tree as a beached in the academy than they are in gift and helping us plant it. He had not met Music or English would give me a serious the UK. Trinidad’s a small place. my brother and me before, but blessed us pre-interview interview in the summer. The Nicholas Laughlin, for example, co- kindly on the head. Christ Church English tutors gave me a directs Alice Yard, a public art space, is thorough grilling, which I enjoyed. programme director for the Trinidad and How did you get to study English at Oxford? Something, too, about the openness of Tobago’s annual Bocas Lit Fest and edits What were the best things about Oxford un- Christ Church Meadow and the college’s two significant magazines. Andre Bagoo dergraduate life for you? great uncloistered quadrangle appealed as is an investigative journalist, trained as a I never seriously considered studying any- somewhere to live, where the sense of mere lawyer. They are in touch with live issues 46 lwww.global-briefing.org first quarter 2013global


Global 13
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