Home Home – Lisa Allen-Agostini

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

“Most adults don’t believe children can get anxiety, but believe me, we do.” 

Lisa Allen-Agostini’s Home Home, 2017 CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Young Adult Literature finalist, is a brief but stirring lesson in what it means to make a family, and how home can be anywhere with deep and devoted roots. Kayla, whose stern disciplinarian mother has sent her to Canada, isn’t so sure she can ever get used to the Edmonton cold, even on an average summer day. She bundles herself up in excessive layers, keeps herself company in her own room at her aunt’s house. Aunt Jillian and her partner Julie are the first lesbian couple that fourteen year-old Kayla has known; she loves them but isn’t so sure how to feel about ‘the LGBT thing’. Throw in a best friend thousands of miles away; a cute boy who gives Kayla serious butterflies, and Kayla’s battle with mental health: it all seems like too much for even a smart, resourceful girl to manage. How, in the midst of this maelstrom of sickness and uncertainty, can Kayla be sure of exactly who she is?

This isn’t a detached look into the life of a chronically depressed teenager. Allen-Agostini brings us into the complex, often chaotic inner world of Kayla, and shows us this protagonist as a living, breathing girl child. Kayla navigates her mostly-hermitic world using the contemporary technology anyone her age might. Her Skype calls with Akilah are a touchstone to a familiar life, which the writer brings into sharp auditory focus: we can hear the “burbling, bubbling” Skype ringtone every time Akilah calls; we can feel the importance of that sound, no matter how annoying Kayla finds it. We hear its reverberations in her everyday life. 

Allen-Agostini’s portrait of Kayla, a girl who both knows her own mind and fears it, makes Home Home indispensable reading for young people, and for older people who want to know their youth better. In her obsessive Buzzeed video watching; her love of old-school hip hop; her quest to find the place she belongs, Kayla is a young person worth rooting for, worth believing. It’s a convincingly-hewn message of this slender, strongly-mapped novella: every young person who struggles deserves not only awareness, but faith, and loving trust. 


Swallowing the Sky by Lisa Allen-Agostini

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Cane Arrow Press, 2015.

Cane Arrow Press, 2015.

Confessional poems are often bleak and beautiful, wrapped up with honest and complicated hopefulness. In her newest collection, Swallowing the Sky, Allen-Agostini champions a strong poetic voice mired in such admission, one that’s borne bitter regrets, and emerged on the other side of harrowing landscapes. If life is a permanent gayelle, poems such as these are prepared to do battle in those confines. These verses ring out in celebration of fresh loves and sharp-suited new romantic possibilities, delving deep into the scar tissue of family secrets, seeking and stating truths with confidence and clarity.

In “Pathology”, the collection’s opening serving, the poems are both armoured and made bare by honesty: a family’s history is levelled at the reader for examination. With rawness unafraid to take its own measure on the page, brutalized femininities and the braggadocio of male swagger take root. These are legacies usually secreted beneath blameless antimacassars, but Allen-Agostini razes those gentilities to the ground, in movements such as “VIII: beast”:

“his cold eyes lit up to see me
his double, his shadow
never raised his hand or voice to me
though he beat my mother, called her
every kind of stupid
had women
even married one

but built my mother a house brick by brick…”

Nothing less than the undiluted marrow of life lines the insides of such verse, which, as the poet herself describes, makes for the hardest fare. In “Living”, from the collection’s third arc, the narrative voice is triumphant and wise to time’s caprice, as it proclaims:

“Living is the harder thing
not picking clumsy poems out of life. […]
Living is the art
the trick of holding your breath
til the poison dissipates…”

There is no mean craftswomanship in moulding such pain-tinged experience to form and structure, in ways that do not sully their first flush of feeling. Swallowing the Sky does this, and more – it suggests the fullness of a life that can summon poetry as its alchemizing, cleansing relief.

An Evening of Tea and Readings, November 23rd

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

Official event flyer, designed by Kevin Hackshaw.

Official event flyer, designed by Kevin Hackshaw.

Dear Friends of Paper Based,

Amidst the pre-December Christmas listmaking and the first signs of tinsel-strewn excitement that this festive season prompts, it gave us glad tidings indeed to host our final Tea and Readings of the calendar year. Last Saturday’s event was marked more than the full stop on this reading series for 2013: as Joan Dayal (Paper Based’s owner, for any newcomers to the blog!) remarked, the final reading also serves as a forum in which we look forward to the series’ reprisal in the new year.

We welcomed a group of talented, diverse writers to the Paper Based podium: song-poet Paula Obé; poet Gilberte O’Sullivan; poet Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné; spoken word artist Mickel Alexander, and poet and fiction writer, Lisa Allen-Agostini.

Paula Obé reads a fiction excerpt from a full-length work, as it appears in the She Sex anthology.

Paula Obé reads a fiction excerpt from a full-length work, as it appears in the She Sex anthology.

Gilberte O'Sullivan shares a selection of her new and published poems with the audience.

Gilberte O’Sullivan shares a selection of her new and published poems with the audience.

This evening marked two firsts for our reading series, about which we’re delighted in equal measure. For the first time, we showcased four readers sharing space in a print collection: the brand new anthology, She Sex, published by Bamboo Talk Press and freshly-launched at NALIS this month. Edited by Obé, She Sex contains work from Boodoo-Fortuné, O’Sullivan, Allen-Agostini, as well as the editor herself. Copies of She Sex are available at the shop — we look forward to hearing reader responses on the power and emotional impact of this anthology, which reveals the core truths encircling much of female sensuality.

Mickel Alexander holds the audience rapt (including yours truly!) with one of his spoken word renditions.

Mickel Alexander holds the audience rapt (including yours truly!) with one of his spoken word renditions.

Boodoo-Fortuné shares poems from her soon-to-be-published manuscript.

Boodoo-Fortuné shares poems from her soon-to-be-published manuscript.

Gracing our reading series for the first time was not just any member of the ambitious, trailblazing initiative The Two Cents Movement, but an executive member, Mickel Alexander. Taking time out from 2 Cents’ event-packed schedule, which includes a comprehensive secondary school tour, Alexander brought the invigorating vibe of spoken word to Paper Based. We look forward to hosting more members of 2 Cents in the future, as we aim to diversify and broaden the scope of the readings that issue from our microphones!

Lisa Allen-Agostini shares from one of her unpublished short fiction pieces, bringing the evening's readings to a close.

Lisa Allen-Agostini shares from one of her unpublished short fiction pieces, bringing the evening’s readings to a close.

We’re not entirely through with our podium for 2013 — the shop will be hosting two book launches in December:

  • Ingrid Persaud’s If I Never Went Home on December 7th
  • Robert Antoni’s As Flies to Whatless Boys on December 14th

Keep your eye on our social media hubs (Facebook and Twitter) for more information on those events: we’ll be sharing more specifics closer to each launch date.

As we close the chapter on our 2013 Tea and Reading series, we look forward with new inspiration to what this initiative holds for us — and for you, our dear friends — in the coming year. It’s been an honour and a privilege to host so many talented poets, fiction and non-fiction writers. We’re grateful to each of them, for sharing so generously of their time and talents.

As we aim to make 2014’s readings even more successful, we eagerly welcome your feedback: feel free to share your thoughts, suggestions and recommendations here or on our Facebook and Twitter pages!

She Sex: Prose & Poetry, Sex & the Caribbean Woman

by Shivanee Ramlochan, Paper Based Blogger

The inaugural publication of Bamboo Talk Press, She Sex could rightly be regarded as a trailblazing, transformative work, concerned with showcasing the innermost erotic stories of Caribbean Women. Some truths about women’s sexuality — its practices; its taboos; the secrets it dares not reveal — are typically kept close to the chest, as the anthology’s co-editor, Paula Obé, mentions in the book’s introduction. Obé continues, saying, “Sometimes shadows need to be lit to take away that fear.”

Several of these pieces tackle achingly difficult subjects revolving around the female body and psyche, bringing them to the page with emotional fervour that lingers long after first readings. These contributors aren’t afraid to bare their teeth, whether they’re recounting the electric thrills associated with initial sensual encounters, or casting blame squarely in the laps of sexual predators. Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné’s poems lilt with a deep, quietly authoritative energy. In “Mother of Water”, the poem’s narrator triumphantly declares:

“I will not wear this gift
of well made shame
passed down to me.
I am a woman not buried
quite so easily.”

Lisa Allen-Agostini’s poem, “The Tiniest Tabanca”, delves energetically into Trinidadian Creole to probe the shocking hurt of a theft, one that leaves the subject of the piece sliced open with the intensity of loss. The line “sharp sharp knife cutting skin and flesh and bone like butter hand slip you crying onion tears slow surprising pain you never look for” conveys this in fluid urgency.

In the prose section, “No Lipstick for Me” by Kavita Ganness reveals the narrator’s inner turmoil, in the wake of a harrowing act of male-inflicted trauma. Ganness’ piece sees the protagonist alternating between outrage and bemusement, vacillating helplessly before she takes her defense into her own hands, in an act of exultant aggression. One of the early lines of the story warns, “…terrible things happen, it’s inevitable in most cases — like women dirtying their lips with lipstick.”

The collection features the work of several other writers, including talents from Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and Bermuda, making it a truly collaborative regional project. Indispensable for women and men who want to read true erotic tales from our societies, She Sex will prompt both delight and dismay, in competing measure.