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This report is taken from PN Review 212, Volume 39 Number 6, July - August 2013.

Letter from Trinidad Vahni Capildeo
To travel through a land is different from travelling as a writer through a landscape. The writer travelling through, say, East Anglia, feels the landscape is worded, even in the absence of words. The words are actively absent, rather than unwritten. Ninth-century raiders destroyed monastic manuscripts. The travelling writer has been an imperfect reader, jettisoning must-read titles to draft new texts that perhaps will refuse to exist. Yet, despite the writer's imperfect reading, she or he is alive to words inhabiting every particle of a beloved, refashioned landscape abuzz and crumbling with syllables as if with sand and bees. Words are lying in wait. The nineteenth-century antiquarian furnished the shoreline with a linenfold ghost. The twentieth-century psychogeographer's sea teems with lumpish, phosphorescent herring. The Australian poet-patient is, Godlike, in everything.

What about places where a travelling writer might sustain an illusion of wordlessness; literary wordlessness? They are nonetheless unquiet. Between Piarco International Airport in Trinidad and the capital Port of Spain are miles of agricultural soil left untilled, or badly built over. This earth speaks doubly, an uncanonised speech. First, its history: imported labourers declared illiterate because not literate in English; 'education', desperation's mantra, leading to a blotting out of tongues and to oddities, like the Rajput whose English-language achievement was reciting from memory 'The Assyrian came down like a volf on the fold', his accent heavy with India and with ironic judgment of colonial culture. Second, the rich ground lies waste in a silence overwritten by supermarket-speak. 'China', ...


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