Saida Agostini, author of Stunt and let the dead in, is a queer Afro-Guyanese poet whose work explores the ways Black folks harness mythology to enter the fantastic. Her work has been celebrated in numerous publications and supported by the Blue Mountain Center and others.
Photo by Kafi D'Ambrosi
Saida Agostini is a queer Afro-Guyanese poet whose work explores the ways Black folks harness mythology to enter the fantastic. Her work is featured in Plume, Hobart Pulp, Barrelhouse, Auburn Avenue, amongst others. Saida’s work can be found in several anthologies, including Not Without Our Laughter: Poems of Humor, Sexuality and Joy, The Future of Black, and Plume Poetry 9. She is the author of STUNT (Neon Hemlock, October 2020), a chapbook reimagining the life of Nellie Jackson, a Black madam and FBI spy from Natchez Mississippi. Her first full-length collection, let the dead in (Alan Squire Publishing) was released in Spring 2022. A Cave Canem Graduate Fellow, and member of the Black Ladies Brunch Collective, Saida is a two-time Pushcart Prize Nominee and Best of the Net Finalist. Her work has received support from the Ruby Artist Grants, and the Blue Mountain Center, amongst others. Visit Saida's website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
notes on archiving erasure
by Saida Agostini
love does not begin and end the way we think it does. love is a battle; love is a war; love is a growing up
- James Baldwin
when I say
I love my family
what I mean
is I worship
the battle; you
can’t wish away
creation or re-order
I thought we could
I mean to say,
I can’t lie. in truth
there are wretched
days I call my sister
and ask was this
real? did this happen?
she says nothing
part of love can be
called refusing to
answer. my mother
says let things lie
she means murder it
let our shame be
a suffocating vine:
we were made to
believe that everything
we bore was ugly: a family
of shell shocked
their own clay - yet,
I will come back to
the door of our own home
sit at its steps, and fall in
love with the slow order
of our creation, the seasons
it took to urge kindness into
our natures. how we won
glory even as the city fell.
2 fat black women are making love
by Saida Agostini
and the joke is right there, ready, shuddering
and alive - rife with promise. there are so many
paths that have been out worn out for a quick
easy laugh: tyler perry strutting with a gun and wig,
screaming rotund and loud like a madea would,
martin calling out yo mama on television, or the
meme of a young woman shot underhand
her belly in love with a tight skirt, hands moving
towards an open mouth, look at everything she devours
imagine it: does it make you hungry too?
2 fat black women are making love, on a bed, on the
floor, and they are weeping for joy - they are crying
great folds of flesh flushing and shaking, one cannot
look in the mirror save for thinking of her daddy -
all this ugly and skin together, counts the men who
say they hate her body as they do bitter cops and
dead black boys.
2 fat black women are making love - and they touch
each other like they can hold it. honeyed, profane, bawdy-
like patriots, like their bodies have never been folded
into freezers, screamed at on streets, coaxed or threatened
sweet, like they have names, like we will know
Your writing is rich with images of desire and love but also leans into the realities of pain and injustice. How do these subjects influence your work?
Our bodies were built for pleasure. What a miracle of atoms. I think one of the prevailing tragedies of misogynoir and capitalism is that we as Black folks are constantly pushed to be divorced from our physicality and pleasure. Audre Lorde defines the erotic as a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. We have a right to our etiology, our chaos, our power. I want us to know the full scope of our power, and the history of it, what it took, what it continues to take to survive this beast called America. My work seeks to recount these histories, and offer a full-throated vision of Black freedom where our pleasure is never denied.
Your poem “2 fat black women are making love” is a pixelated view of the ugliness hurled at Black women and the idea that they could be desirable. You even reference Tyler Perry’s character Madea as an example. Can you speak on the importance of art as a counter to negative stereotypes in media?
I grew up hating my body. That’s not surprising. I’m a fat Black queer woman. A lot of my work is about asserting narratives that explore the wonder and beauty of fat Blackness. I have to admit I’ve stopped thinking about my art as a counter to mainstream media simply because I am tired of working day and night to prove I am worthy of the same humanity as whiteness. Rather, my aim simply is to celebrate and name what I know now to be an irrefutable and undeniable truth: I exist and so do my stories.
In “notes on archiving erasure” there is a moment when a traumatic memory rises through the text - “there were wretched/ days I call my sister / and ask was this / real?” The response of silence is seen as a kind of love. The poem expertly demonstrates the lasting impact of trauma without naming the traumatic event. How do you prepare yourself to write through difficult subjects?
You know, trauma is a funny thing. I spent a lot of time running from it. I always wanted to be a strong woman, but I kept finding that these ghosts, the stories, and body memory of trauma kept haunting me. We talk a lot about possession and exorcism in Black religions, I remember my mother constantly worrying about the evil eye when I was younger, and how others might be seeking to harm us. I think she’s right in the sense that evil is always with us. How else could we explain centuries of state-sanctioned rape, enslavement, and family separation? We know evil like it's our kin. Truth-telling for me has been a practice of exorcism, laying hands. It’s been a way of building my own country where I am no longer at fault for the evil done to me, and the generations that have come before me, but a practice of honoring the great love it took for my people to survive here, on this land. It’s a glorious thing, to know and feel intimately that I am freer because my mother and her mother loved me. It’s a spell. Thinking of trauma as an evil that can be cast out has been a healing ritual. One that I keep coming back to right now, as we see so much evil wrought across our country. It helps me remember that we have lived through apocalypses before, and survived with joy. We have everything we need to be free.
Both of these poems are from your latest collection let the dead in. What do you hope readers take away from the book?
I hope folks take away a mandate to tell their stories. Silence is corrosive. We’ve got to find ways to name and rejoice in the complicated, weird, painful, and lovely histories that make us. It’s my hope that Black queer folks, survivors, and others navigating painful legacies find their way to this book, and remember that they are never alone.
What is your must-have/do self-care practice?
I always try to take time to just breathe each morning. It helps me come back to my body, connect to myself and remember that every great action starts with a breath.
If you have $20, how are you treating yourself?
Putting it towards a fabulous outfit! I love a good gown.
You can travel anywhere in the world, where are you going and what are you doing first?
I’m going to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. I’d bring all my people - my wife, parents, sister, and best friends, and we’d rent a fabulous house right on the water, cook good food, go swimming, and dance to house music all day long.
It’s a chill afternoon at home. What music is playing and what’s cooking?
It will always be chicken curry, roti, and a roast mango custard pie on deck. I’m playing Try by Madison McFerrin, followed by the king, Luther Vandross’ Wait for Love and A House Is Not a Home.
How can people support you?
Buy my books, let the dead in, and STUNT. Follow me on IG and check out my website. If you’re in Philadelphia on August 6th, catch me and Teri Ellen Cross Davis for our reading at the African American Museum in Philadelphia
Who is another Black woman writer people should be reading?
Diamond Forde!!!! Her work is transcendent. If you haven’t bought a copy of her book, Mother Body, what are you doing with your life???
Torch Literary Arts is a 501(c)3 nonprofit established to publish and promote creative writing by Black women. We publish contemporary writing by experienced and emerging writers alike. TORCH has featured work by Colleen J. McElroy, Tayari Jones, Sharon Bridgforth, Crystal Wilkinson, Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Elizabeth Alexander, and others. Programs include the Wildfire Reading Series, writing workshops, and retreats.