My father (d. 2003) was Devendranath Jawaharlal Capildeo. He wrote poetry including children's poetry. He was also a sufferer from paranoid schizophrenia all his adult life. I remain appalled by (a) the lack of understanding of the rigidities and miseries of mental illness, by people who write fashionable academic treatises on 'madness' and 'creativity' (b) the lack of social provision for the mentally ill in Trinidad.
My mother is Leila Capildeo. I am very proud that she was born to the Bissondath and Narayansingh families in Sangre Grande! Her stories of chickens fluttering up to sleep on the ladder that led up to a pommerac tree, and of her father shooting a jumbie in a tree in the Valencia forest, bring Trinidad of earlier times alive to me. (For more on my obsession with trees, see here). Leila regularly reminds me that she is just an ordinary old Indian woman/housewife. She will not want me to mention that she won the girls' Island Schol. in the 1950s, but without her grounding I would not have survived the miseducations of which today's schooling is comprised. Not that she taught me. Far from it. She told me stories to keep me out of trouble. These stories were often frightening. I wish that I could grow up to be just an ordinary old Indian woman/housewife but at the moment I am just migrating into unencumbered and unemployed early middle age.
My brother is Kavi Capildeo. He lives in Trinidad with his family and works as a doctor.
My significant others are the dear dead of literary tradition and my friends however far-flung. And a Jamaican rabbit named Florizel, whose preferred diet is bananas.
What do I do, exactly? I dust the skirting boards, occasionally. This is a kind of hell, as it happens. It seldom happens exactly. I do not do confessional poetry, which happens inexactly. If you would like a very good recipe for wood polish, which will leave your home smelling of lavender, contact me via Mr Bagoo.
First book: No Traveller Returns (Salt, 2003) Second book: Person Animal Figure (Landfill, 2005) Third book: Undraining Sea (Egg Box, which was launched this month in London!) Fourth book, already written: Dark & Unaccustomed Words (forthcoming in 2010).
At the minute I'm in a dry thorny tumbleweed spell and miserable not to be writing. Was working on another book that's come a cropper. Think I'll move on to prose.
Whatever else I work at, if I'm not writing I don't feel I'm working and indeed resent the use of the word 'work' for anything else, if I'm not writing. I dare say some writers are like Gertrude Stein, happy enough to sit on the car bonnet while the mechanic was mending her car, and knock out another text. Myself, a steady(ish) job that could see me planning hours to spend with my duck egg blue mug of tea would be the saving of the work! Does anyone need a baker? I make lovely cakes, and these days I mostly feed them to the Etymologists at the Oxford English Dictionary, UK, where I freelance. I used to work on historical spellings there. The team needs cake. Indeed, they need CAIK. I work at caik.
I am doing this because I was told that I would be allowed to borrow glitter and a feather boa, paint odd objects, and have a turn prancing. Seriously! The email came through this evening and now I cannot resist.
Seriously, I write because I must. I no longer care if this sounds pretentious, or compulsive. It is neither of those things. I have a sense of the living language running like a great swathe of light and time; it's a sort of mental image I've had from earliest childhood. It is the strongest thing in me and operates without kindness: there is a sense of what must be when I am composing and revising, a relentlessness and a rightness, a patterning. Sometimes someone says something or does something or an issue is raised or a memory is reawakened and suddenly there is a kind of catching and quickening of ideas and form. Even without these kinds of prompts, all I have to do is collect myself and allow space and time for concentration and I can start to write.
PLEASE SAY SOMETHING DEEP (ABOUT ART):
I said this under 'WHY'. I'm not saying it again! Once was more than enough! I think I ought to say something to do with truth-telling, also living up to and memorializing beloved individuals; also a ferocity against cowardice, vagueness, equivocation, exploitation etc. But I'm hungry. And also there is that objective-seeming thing, the sense of the living language...
ANSWER THE QUESTION YOU WANTED US TO ASK (STATE SAID QUESTION, TOO):
I feel I've already misrepresented myself! "So when you coming back (to Trinidad)?" See above. Only the employed get holidays...
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(BTW, WE SHOULD ALSO ADD):
Vahni Capildeo is a co-editor of TOWN, a public arts initiative, and a contributing editor of the Caribbean Review of Books. Oh, and she's a cousin of Nobel laureate VS Naipaul, too. She lives in the UK. This is what she looks like:
Photo by Nicholas Laughlin, taken at New College Lane, Oxford, September, 2008. Header photo by/model Terry Perry-Budin.
LISTEN to Vahni reading her poetry here. READ FROM Capildeo's No Traveller Returns here. And a sample from Undraining Sea here. READ an original poem written by Capildeo for the PLEASURE blog here.CHECK some cool poetry links here (Egg Box Publishing) and here (Inpress Books). FIND OUT MORE about This/discourse/has/no/start(middle)nd here.