It has already been put forward by the Poetry Society for the TS Eliot prize, which is often referred to as “the most coveted award in poetry.” The book, published by Carcanet, was launched on February 10 in London.
Strictly speaking, expatriation has two meanings: one can expatriate oneself, leaving one’s homeland for elsewhere like so many artists, businesspeople and diplomats around the world. Or one can be expatriated—banished— against one’s will or with one’s back against the wall. Curiously, an “expat” refers only to the former, and to the latter: a migrant, exile or refugee. Capildeo, an expat herself, asks the question why in her collection’s namesake piece Five Measures of Expatriation, and throughout the rest of her book. She probes what it means to be foreign, what it means to be in foreign (as we say), and what on earth foreign really means, anyway. Capildeo’s continuum of expatriation begins with animals, taken from nature into domestication; then, it traces exiles of history, religion and lore, and finally, it concludes with men and women today who have a complicated relationship with the places they call home.
Although the collection is mostly tied together by the theme of expatriation, the pieces themselves are incredibly diverse. Many poems are penned, familiarly, in free verse, but lyrical prose poetry, thumping rhymed verse, and even straight prose all feature. Capildeo reinvents her presentation frequently and drastically enough for it to be said that Measures of Expatriation offers a poem for everyone. Or, to think of it differently: the collection is not perfectly suited to any one reader. Some Trinidadians might feel at home when Capildeo employs creole or mentions roti, but might be lost when she slips into French or takes us to Aston’s Eyot in Oxford.
Just as some fans of short and emotive poems might feel at home with the carefully scant “Marginal,” but might feel a stranger in the densely novelesque “Too Solid Flesh.” As much as her subjects are taken out of their comfort zones, so too are Capildeo’s readers, often to good effect.
Whatever the medium or subject matter though, Capildeo’s voice is largely consistent. Though the key might change between her prose and verse, sound (or in her own words “language’s musicality”) takes precedence over hard imagery and elaborate symbolism.
This means that her language, though often hypnotising, can seem cacophonous, arcane or even nonsensical at times.
Within the same piece, Capildeo can be court-order explicit and fever-dream drunk—whatever it might take to create her poem’s unique musicality.
Words, for her, seem to be equal parts sound and meaning, resulting in poems with both quotable insightfulness and funto- say mishmash.
Measures of Expatriation is an intimately personal work, with most of the pieces reading like personal experience, journalled and framed in poetry.
Over the course of the collection, the experiences all amount to Capildeo laying herself bare, as a woman, a poet, an expat, a Brit, an Indian, and a Trinidadian, to the reader. If Measures of Expatriation is anything, it is honest.
In a poem titled “Book of Dreams/ Livre de Cauchemars” Capildeo’s stand-in persona begrudgingly answers an onslaught of questions about V S Naipaul, her famous (albeit distant) cousin.
Capildeo tries to explain to the people posing the questions that, despite her familial ties to Naipaul, she is no more fit to answer questions about him than anyone else. But in lieu of a second-hand Naipaul biography, she gives us something more.
In Measures of Expatriation, Capildeo gives us a near exhaustive account of herself, a literary celebrity in her own right, and though one might find (or contrive) similarities between the two, Capildeo is unquestionably her own artist, well worth investigating and knowing about, and in her own words no less.