© Jonathan Turner

Vahni
Capildeo

About the poet

Vahni Capildeo (pronouns: they/them) works with multilingualism, place and memory. Their books include Venus as a Bear (Carcanet 2018; Forward Poetry Prizes Best Collection shortlist) and Measures of Expatriation (Forward Poetry Prizes Best Collection 2016). Vahni has worked in academia and culture for development at Commonwealth Writers. Theatre collaborations include radical Shakespeare at the Southbank Centre, and responses to the Guyanese revolutionary poet Martin Carter. Vahni is a traditional masquerader, with homes in Scotland and Trinidad, and is the current Douglas Caster Cultural Fellow in Poetry at the University of Leeds.

© Jonathan Turner
© Jonathan Turner
Participants from SLATE Charity Group in creative writing workshops with Vahni Capildeo

The Commission

For Collections in Verse Vahni is investigating the way internal migration was normalized as a way of life within the British Empire, the multiple senses of ‘home’ this created, and how everyone’s life is a tapestry of small and large journeys.

Vahni was inspired by the Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land exhibition’s long view of context from the slave trade through the 1948 call for immigrants to refresh an England depleted by war, to the persecution of Windrush citizens in the UK’s ‘hostile environment’ of 2018. The archival sound material was another inspiration, showing everything from everyday life to rare recordings of the great minds and souls who now define the Caribbean archipelago’s interlocking movement with England: Lord Kitchener, Mikey Smith, and so many more.

In her residency at Dewsbury Road Library in South Leeds, Vahni has sought to connect with fellow writers and readers to communicate two things: that the multiple overseas/British sense of ‘home’ inborn in the Windrush generation, in all their genuine variety of motives and origins, is an important part in the fabric of post-imperial British identity, for everyone to know; and the belief that everyone’s life is a fabric of small and large journeys.

In creative writing workshops with South Leeds residents at the library and community groups, Vahni explored the ‘hidden migrations’, relocations and movements that make up the story of our lives – from moving overseas to moving to a new village, or between different states of emotion and health – and where the points of contact are with Windrush stories. How do we understand our own journeys, and find commonality with Windrush – such as the ways we are all making homes?

In their poem, Vahni has created a tapestry of Windrush stories that blends with the everyday migrations of communities. Vahni found it a joy to encounter the Leeds residents’ intuitive and thoughtful understanding of Windrush, as participants explored their own stories of journeys, small and large, as what connects everyone in and on these islands in the busy twenty-first century. The spontaneous, in-transit form of the postcard was central to these workshops.

Participants from SLATE Charity Group in creative writing workshops with Vahni Capildeo

survival becomes/ an acquired taste, improvement/ a second skin, and home/ is a long-distance love affair/ with loss”

Windrush Reflections
Vahni Capildeo

Vahni’s poem is in the collage form of the cento, creating a tapestry of historical and contemporary voices (including those of law and government, poetry, and Leeds library communities), and in which theirs as poet is no more than any of the others, paying homage to variousness as modern identity. The poem will be displayed as part of a visual display of postcard ‘journey’ stories collected from community groups at Dewsbury Road Library, which will be launched with a day of poetry busking performances at bus stations and stop along Dewsbury Road.

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