Posted: July 26th, 2011 | Author: lise | Filed under: Column, Poetry | Tags: Amy Winehouse, Back to Black, Caribbean, elegy, Grenada, Lisa Allen-Agostini, literature, poem, Trinidad & Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago | 3 Comments »
Amy Winehouse. Photo by nuflicks/Flickr Creative Commons License
On Saturday I was in a sailing boat in St George’s, Grenada, getting ready to cast off when the skipper announced that Amy Winehouse had been found dead.
I’ve never met Amy Winehouse. I’m not a musician. I’m not British or anything even remotely connected to her. I only discovered her music about three years ago and, honestly, there were people who were more ardent fans. I do know, however, that hearing the news of her death made me deeply sad. She was an epic talent, writing songs that cut sharply into the pain of love and loving and singing them in a voice that wrung each drop of that pain from the poignant lyrics, the voice that her friend Russell Brand described as having “rolling, wondrous resonance”. I often put what I consider to be her best song, “Back to Black”, on repeat, feeling the music just probing my own pain the way a tongue will probe an aching tooth, flinching from the agony but going back for more and more of it.
I was in Grenada on assignment –I might not be able to make rent every month, so to speak, but I do have a fantastic career that lets me do things like that sometimes. My assignment called for me to experience Grenada’s beauty, and I had my morning tea on a balcony overlooking the two-mile stretch of white sand that is Grand Anse Beach. I had woken up Sunday morning with Amy on my mind and I wrote this poem in her memory.
Back to black
Sunspills on Grand Anse
White sand, white surf
Sad for her
Drunken life and death
Foreseen in black songs
Drowning in sorrows
Sunspills on Grand Anse
The surf washes over me
My heart beats
In tune to white
Black songs unsung
I go snorkeling
But there are nights, o Amy
I am you
Scarred and scared
Learning from Mr Hathaway
Posted: May 2nd, 2011 | Author: lise | Filed under: Column, Poetry | Tags: Bocas Lit Fest, Christian Campbell, jazz, Lisa Allen-Agostini, Merle Collins, poetry, reading, Trinidad & Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago, writing | 2 Comments »
I’m posting here three poems. The first is a poem I wrote some years ago after my mom died, and which I read at the Bocas Lit Fest Poetry Lime Friday night; the other two are poems that came out of the Bocas poetry writing workshop I did. (Check the previous blog posting for details on that). I’m also putting up, for the workshop poems, the prompts that comprise the material that went into the poems.
Frail as hope
her wasted body
smells of soap
and soured dreams.
Once she was
much more than this.
Once she kissed
our smooth young faces.
She held us hard
against the world
outside her yard,
kept us safe.
Once she loved.
Once she moved.
Merle Collins, who led the workshop on Saturday with Christian Campbell, had the participants write for a minute after being given a prompt, and then we had to take those writings and shape them into a poem. These were my responses to the prompts and the poem that came from them. (It’s not very good, I warn you!)
Stew–stew in your own juices watching that ass slip slide hiccup down the hall oh lord will I never stop stop stop stutter to a halt
Friday–payday just got paid money in my pocket hey hey* (*you recognise this song?) but that is not me hungry when is my friday coming
Mango–sweet and slippery flesh sliding on lips nature is a boss fragrant flesh a gift thank you Jesus his face in every mango
Soft–but soft what light through yonder window breaks the window break? no yuh ass is shakespeare yuh ent ha no culcha or wha
Islands–her eyes were islands drowned in milk open only to what was inside her drowned
Drunk–like his blood eaten like his body consumed by the world that scorned him
Sky–open Irish frizzy hair delight bright smile heart-shaped face shape of her heart
Empty–Fennec on my lap warming my empty womb the son I will never have he answers when I call with a polite mew to say yes? you called?
Sea–me here in you so big and I so small and never could swim too good splash but not hard softer, a lapping more a lapping
From which I constructed:
me there in you
and I, so small
and learning to
the softly lapping
waves of your hipsway
ass slip slide
flesh a fragrant gift
open to only
the islands of
what is inside her
and me stroking
the kitten on my lap who
warms my empty womb
the son I will
when I call him
with a polite
I am become
the cat’s mother
Finally, Christian Campbell’s exercise was to use mimicry–like jazz singers scatting, like a soucouyant taking the shape of an old woman–to shape our poems.
I chose to mimic the form of a radio death announcement.
We have been asked
to announce the following death:
Respect, of women
who dies on every street in town
The funeral of the late respect
will be held at noon
at the rape of your daughter.
No flowers, by request.
Posted: May 2nd, 2011 | Author: lise | Filed under: Column, Poetry | Tags: Barbara Lalla, Bocas Lit Fest, Christian Campbell, David Chariandy, Derek Wacott, Eddie Baugh, Edwidge Danticat, fiction, Lisa Allen-Agostini, literary festival, OCM Bocas Prize, poet, reading, Richmond Street Boys', Tiphanie Yanique, Trinidad & Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago, workshop, writing | 5 Comments »
If the Bocas Lit Fest (Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival) had been held in another country, right now I would be packing, looking for my earrings on the floor behind the sideboard in my hotel room, clearing my non-existent room service charges and being driven to the airport in a shuttle or by a member of the organising committee. As it was, Bocas took place in my country and I just had to get into my car and drive home last night. The feeling at the ending of a great event is the same, though. Bocas left me replete, yet hungry for more.
It ran from Thursday April 28-Sunday May 1. Thursday’s highlight for me was my leading a creative writing workshop for 9-11-year-olds at the National Library in Port-of-Spain, where all the Bocas main events took place. There were 20 boys present, all from Richmond Street Boys’ Standard Three, and their teacher Mr Hercules. I did a quick talk about the basics–every story has a beginning, middle and end, and what is conflict and how it’s used–and then set them on a free writing exercise. I was honoured to be the scribe for a visually impaired boy, Kishon, as he told a wonderfully creative story about a boy reading a book about a wilderness explorer who gets savaged by a wild lion.
Another Thursday highlight was moderating a reading by two talented authors, Prof Barbara Lalla, and Prof David Chariandy. Prof Lalla is the author of two novels, and she read from her most recent, Cascade. I’ve read it, and it was as puzzling and beautiful as an impressionist painting. Up close it was hard to see the pattern in places, but once I was done and stepped back a bit it was gorgeous, a detailed, breathtaking vision of aging and friendship. Prof Chariandy’s debut book Soucouyant is a shortish novel that has won many plaudits in Canada, where he’s from, and I found it spare and gut wrenching. Having watched my own mother fall to dementia, the main theme of the book, I saw many things in the story that were painfully familiar.
Friday night I read in the Poetry Lime. It was originally supposed to be a poetry crawl, going from bar to bar in Woodbrook, a wonderful entertainment zone in Port-of-Spain, but was changed at the last minute to a lime at the Reader’s Bookshop in St James. While I would have been happy to tramp up Ariapita Ave drinking and reading increasingly slurred poetry, perhaps this worked out better–especially as I had to drive home! I read four poems, three tiny ones on love, and one short one on my mother’s experience with dementia. (I’ll post that poem separately.) It was an excellent, if packed reading. Some of the poets taking part were Phillip Nanton, Lorna Goodison, Tanya Shirley, Mark McWatt, Jane Bryce, Christian Campbell and Merle Collins. I was extremely flattered to have been invited to read in such distinguished company!
Jamaican author Marlon James takes in the poetry at the Bocas Lit Fest Poetry LIme
Saturday I took part in a poetry workshop with Christian Campbell and Merle Collins. The theme was mimicry and improvisation; participants had to use random prompt words given by Merle to write as much as they could, and then combine those slivers into a whole that, hopefully, would make sense. Christian made us think up a pattern to mimic and write a piece using that structure. It could have been anything. I chose the form of a radio death announcement. (I’ll post those poems separately, too.)
Sunday I was exhausted and so overstimulated I felt I had bees under my skin. I was constantly on the verge of tears and I couldn’t sit still. Thankfully, I had only a couple things planned and I could–and did–spend the day drifting around getting in people’s way after I finished taking part in a workshop on getting published. Now, since I’ve already been published one might say I shouldn’t have gone. But I nevertheless enjoyed the workshop and I thought the facilitators, Margaret Busby (founder of Allison and Busby), Jeremy Poynting (of Peepal Tree Press) and Ken Jaikaransingh (of Lexicon Books), did a terrific job of explaining the process. They gave tips to writers–including on finding an agent, looking for the right publisher, and formatting work for submission.
Oh! and Sunday too was readings from the winning OCM Bocas Prize books, Edwidge Danticat’s Creating Dangerously, Tiphanie Yanique’s How to Escape from a Leper Colony, and Derek Walcott’s White Egrets. Tiphanie, who was a contributor to Trinidad Noir and with whom I did a short book tour in NY in 2009, reads beautifully. Her story was about a convict who had been wrongly convicted of a crime he did commit. You’ll have to read the story to see what I mean! Prof Eddie Baugh, a Jamaican scholar and poet who I absolutely adore, read from Walcott’s poetry. His reading of a piece dedicated to Lorna Goodison made me shiver.
With Prof Eddie Baugh at a reception hosted by the French Embassy at the close of the Bocas Lit Fest
As always at the end of a really exciting and connected literary event I’m exhausted and sad but also invigorated and hopeful because of all the interesting people I’ve met, all I’ve learned and heard, all the books I’ve bought. I got poet Tanya Shirley’s collection She Who Sleeps with Bones, How to Escape from a Leper Colony, ARC Magazine’s second edition, and Earl Lovelace’s Is Just a Movie. Gobbled up Tanya’s book already and want to start on Tiphanie’s any moment now, once I’ve done some of the work I’ve neglected for the past few days!
I’ve put up a zillion photos from the weekend on my FB author page. Check them out and see if you can pick out the world famous Caribbean writers who were there!