Vahni Capildeo arrived in the UK in 1991 from Trinidad, where she was born. After completing a DPhil in Old Norse at Oxford University, she held a Research Fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge. Her first volume of poetry, No Traveller Returns (Salt) appeared in 2003 which, with her subsequent prose poem pamphlet, Person Animal Figure (Landfill, 2005) has placed her as a writer’s writer. Her work has been anthologized in The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse (OUP, 2005) and appears in numerous literary journals.
Vahni’s prose poems inhabit her mixed verse/prose collections as herbal beds in a well-planned garden: placed for textural contrast, as well as separate practical use.
“Looking at my garden I know that iris sibirica must come up like a sword from the earth and that trailing rosemary should be a green wave fixed in its rush towards the paving stones.” (‘Lux Æterna Et Perpetua’, No Traveller Returns)
Enchanted, it would seem, by the magic and mists of ancient texts, Vahni Capildeo’s prose poems weave modern spells over language, often through an intertwining of voices, which are distinct both in character and rhythm. The voices are consciousnesses more than characters, a subtlety that allows her narrator to lay out emotional traits as monsters (in the ‘Monster Scrapbook’ sequence in No Traveller Returns) and animals (in the prose poem for three voices, Person Animal Figure). Sometimes it takes a creature of the imagination to honestly portray what it feels to be human.
With such an emphasis on their auditory quality (and her readings are always vocal performances), her prose poems descry their themes gently, coyly, mischievously and archly. Robert Potts described her work in The Guardian as “entertaining and unsettling”: Of Person Animal Figure, he writes, “[a]mong the pleasures here is a frenetic and wickedly ironic interior monologue - painfully amusing, penetrating and acutely observed.”
No Traveller Returns, Salt Publishing, Cambridge, 2003
Person Animal Figure, Landfill, Norwich, 2005
The Undraining Sea (forthcoming, 2008)
Dark and Unaccustomed Words (work in progress, unpublished)