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Measures of Expatriation by Vahni Capildeo review – ‘language is my home’


Literary tradition and linguistic play square off in a timely collection about belonging

Readers of Vahni Capildeo’s previous poetry collections will not be surprised by the verbal intensity and wide range of allusion in her latest, Measures of Expatriation. It is subdivided into seven sections, each a “measure”. The title poem’s four-word stanza dramatises the book’s central (and timely) question of belonging: “Expatriate. / Exile. / Migrant. / Refugee.” Each status is burdened by associations with leaving and distance – from mythical exodus, to bird migration, to recent conflicts in the Middle East and their human consequences. Capildeo suggests that words, like individual identities, exceed definition: they are fluid and cannot be fixed. Identity, too, can be measured across the recorded and unrecorded histories of language. And any attempt to affix a “pure” identity as he or she moves across national borders, facing death or erasure, partakes in grave acts of violence on the body and in language. Capildeo, born in Trinidad and a long-time UK resident, writes:

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