Trinidadian poet Vahni Capildeo wins 2016 Forward Prize for Poetry


[Many thanks to Geoffrey Philp for bringing this item to our attention.] Trinidadian poet and University of Glasgow professor Vahni Capildeo wins the 2016 Forward prize for Measures of Expatriation. She is the third Caribbean poet in a row to win the award.

Trinidadian poet Vahni Capildeo has won the 2016 Forward prize for best poetry collection, making it three years in a row that a Caribbean poet has won one of the most prestigious poetry awards in the UK and Ireland. The prize for first collection was also awarded to a Caribbean writer, Tiphanie Yanique, who was born in the Virgin Islands.


Capildeo’s collection Measures of Expatriation, which explores ideas of belonging and home, saw off a shortlist including TS Eliot winner Alice Oswald, Ian Duhig, Choman Hardi and Denise Riley. She follows two Jamaican-born poets, Kei Miller and Claudia Rankine, who took the main prize respectively in 2014 and 2015.

Chair of the judges, Malika Booker, called Capildeo’s collection “a book you will forever be opening”. “She is trying to articulate something quite hard to pin down and isn’t afraid to boldly take risks in language and layout,” Booker said. “It is a book that no one else could have written; it is her DNA, her stamp. Every time you open that book, you’ll find something peculiar, something exhilarating, something new, something exquisitely crafted. [. . .] [Measures of Expatriation] is almost like a swan – calm on top of the water, and underneath it is pedalling furiously, to create a new vocabulary in terms of the layout and language used, the lexicon it uses.”

Capildeo received the £15,000 prize at a ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall in London on Tuesday night. A professor at the University of Glasgow, Capildeo previously worked as an OED lexicographer and has an Oxford DPhil in Old Norse. She comes from a well-known Trinidadian family of politicians and writers, which includes Booker prize-winning novelist VS Naipaul.

Yanique’s first collection Wife, which has taken the £5,000 Felix Dennis prize for best first collection, is an exploration of matrimony that Booker described as “deceptively simple but [actually] complex and bold”.

“Thinking about the region, and how patriarchy is so rife there … how Yanique examines the different facets of matrimony and how witty it was, was so exciting to us. Her titular poem Wife is a tour de force,” Booker said.

English poet and translator Sasha Dugdale was awarded the £1,000 best single poem prize for Joy, which was first published in PN Review. A “surprisingly long winner” according to Booker, Joy is written in the voice of William Blake’s newly widowed wife Catherine, and is “mesmerising, beautiful and effortless to read”.

“It shows craftsmanship, to be able to maintain and sustain an emotional intensity, a dramatic play-like poem that still left us fulfilled and satisfied,” Booker said. [. . .]

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2 thoughts on “Trinidadian poet Vahni Capildeo wins 2016 Forward Prize for Poetry

  1. A small correction: Vahni is not a professor at the University of Glasgow, much as she loves the place. She held the Harper-Wood Studentship from St John’s College, Cambridge 2015-16 and is looking for work. _Measures of Expatriation_ is her fifth full collection and seventh publication.

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