TS Eliot winner Bhanu Kapil: ‘It’s hard to study something by standing in front of it’

The poet’s latest collection, How to Wash a Heart, was partly inspired by a news story about a liberal white couple taking in an Asian refugee

Bhanu Kapil’s fourth poetry collection, Schizophrene, relays a scene from India’s partition. A girl fleeing her childhood home glimpses, through a hole in the cart in which she’s hidden, countless women tied to trees on the newly drawn border with Pakistan, their stomachs cut out. “This story, which really wasn’t a story but an image, was repeated to me at many bedtimes of my own childhood,” Kapil writes. This image was, in fact, “a way of conveying information”.

Throughout her work, Kapil examines the intergenerational effects of a historical silence that has slowly lifted over the largest mass migrations in history, which was also one of the most violent. These images demonstrate how colonial violence embedded in the heart of the British empire breeds racial trauma for migrants within its own borders. As she writes, again in Schizophrene, “it is psychotic not to know where you are in a national space”.

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TS Eliot winner Bhanu Kapil: ‘It’s hard to study something by standing in front of it’