A timeline of my second collection's journey to print
It's book promo season, so I have to subject you to posts like this :)
December 2, 2021:
McClelland & Stewart announces their Spring 2022 poetry list, with my second collection, Each one a Furnace, in the fine company of Madhur Anand’s Parasitic Oscillations, Laurie D. Graham’s Fast Commute, and Phoebe Wang’s Waking Occupations. This is the last cohort of poetry titles Dionne Brand acquired in her time as the Poetry Editor of M&S. I remain overjoyed that this title that was inspired by Dionne, who I had hoped would encounter the work, was one that she liked, chose for publication, and edited. I still cannot believe my luck. The oracular, inimitable, spectacular Dionne. This is a secret I’ve kept for almost two and half years, and it is a relief that the news is finally in the world. Time passes so slowly in publishing, but to the rest of the world, almost no time has passed since Palimpsest Press published my debut collection. This causes me some anxiety because although I wrote the two books over a cumulative 11 years, they are both being published within a year of each other (something something scarcity increases the value of products in our capitalistic panopticon). Because of that anxiety, and the wondrous way the events unfolded (the book went to press 2 weeks ago), I decide to chronicle them.
March 8, 2019:
As with many other stories of my literary life in this country, this one begins with Shazia Hafiz Ramji. Shazia put out a tweet saying she had an extra slot for a first books reading at VPL. My ‘book’ is a chapbook, but I respond immediately and clarify that via DM. Shazia feels it is still good to go and books me for the reading on April 8, 2019 with Aidan Chafe, Malcolm van Delst, Benjamin Hertwig, Hasan Namir, and Shazia herself.
April 2, 2019:
Perhaps not wanting it to be on April 1, I am laid off from my job in enterprise software sales (something something not for cause the board wants us to change direction). I hadn’t been very good at that job, but I’d been trying my best.
April 8, 2019:
Still reeling from being suddenly unemployed in a country I had just moved to, I attend the VPL reading and read from the poems that will appear in Manubrium later that year. My partner and 2 year-old are in the audience. I am DM-ing with Shazia after the event, asking for feedback on my reading, because I feel I had read the poems too fast. Shazia recommends that I watch Dionne Brand’s Griffin Poetry Prize reading from Ossuaries to see how poets who use “rich language” pace themselves. I had earlier read The Blue Clerk in December 2018 after experiencing Dionne’s reading at Vancouver Writers Fest The Best Canadian Poetry event (Canisia Lubrin was there too!). I didn’t meet either of them at that time.
April and May, 2019:
While reading Ossuaries, a fragment catches my eye and stays in it.
who will see the bedraggled gawping doorways,
The solitary deaths of finches that winters strand,
I begin to see finches everywhere. I don’t know why, but I google “finches” and go down a rabbit hole. Something about the profusion and wildness of finch names and types (cutthroat finch, society finch, brimstone canary, euphonia, black-throated canary, zebra finch) gets me thinking. I become impelled to write about finches. This may be a function of the despair I am feeling at the time, unmoored and ill-at-ease in a strange country, but the initial poems come quickly.
I borrow a book on finches from my local library. It is glorious. How have I lived so long without knowing much about finches?
I have time to write, being suddenly free, and the propulsion the book gives me keeps me aloft. For the first time, writing can truly be my only vocation. Well, that, and applying for jobs. Being a diasporic bird of solitary disposition, myself, I think I can compile the new poems in a chapbook titled The Solitary Deaths of Finches. Either that, or make them a “finch” section in a full length work. One problem: I know I can’t use that phrase from Dionne’s work without her permission. I don’t know anyone who knows Dionne. I look on the Penguin Random House permissions portal and start filling out a request, but it requires that the quote be requested in the context of an actual book that is about to be published. lol. It feels audacious, but I realize I have nothing to lose if I reach out to the author to ask her blessing. Wonder of wonders, her email address is on her university page. I start to gather my courage for the email I am about to compose.
May 26, 2019:
I have now written 20 finch poems. I email Dionne Brand to ask permission to use the phrase The Solitary Deaths of Finches for my chapbook. I add that I can send the manuscript if she wants to view it to reach a decision about approval.
May 29, 2019:
Dionne responds, granting her permission to use the phrase as my title. I am overjoyed and can hardly believe it. She adds that she would be interested in seeing the chapbook.
May 30, 2019:
I send a PDF of 20 finch poems to Dionne. Because I had written the poems under the inspiration of (and in response to) her work, it really matters to me what she thinks of the poems. This makes me super-anxious, but I try to turn my attention to other projects (the book I had begun to translate, as well as getting a job).
I have gone back to verify the time stamps, and Dionne responds 40 (!) minutes later with admiration for the work. She advises that I hold off on the chapbook and add ~25 more pages to make it a book-length work. I had thought I was done and didn’t think I had anything else to give the finch poems. I had also not wanted to belabor the finch metaphor. But this is Dionne giving me advice, saying the poems could be more, so I go back to my desk and continue to draft the poems. I turn to some older unpublished / unrealized poems about transience / migrancy for an initial boost. Reformatting them in the register of ornithology helps me come unstuck. New poems begin to arrive.
June 25, 2019:
Dionne sends an email saying if I do decide to make it a full length work, many editors would likely be interested. She say she would, as well, as poetry editor of M&S. Lol if DB wants to read a manuscript I wrote for DB, then DB will get the manuscript I wrote for DB. In truth, I am not as interested in other eyes for the work, and she had, afterall all, helped me turn it into a book, from a sheaf of poems.
I immediately send her the 45 poems I now have (I have been able to add exactly 25 poems) in a 57-page manuscript. I said “I can't imagine anyone else I'd like to have a first look.”
July 5, 2019:
I am contacted by the publishing manager of M&S, who acknowledges receipt of my manuscript, which DB had shared with the team for consideration.
September 25, 2019:
M&S publishing manager reaches out on behalf of DB and the team of M&S editors to begin a conversation about publishing The Solitary Deaths of Finches.
September 29, 2019:
I get a new job. It is soul-crushing, but I am buoyed by the news brewing in my inbox.
“Painted Bunting” appears in THIS Magazine.
November 13, 2019:
I am told by M&S that DB and team are putting together an offer of publication. I am bursting with this news. I know how big a deal it is and don’t want my friends to think I’m bragging about my good fortune. I am also dying to tell someone who understands how magical what is happening is. I tell very few people, including Shazia and Aidan (and Jim Johnstone, since I will always be in his debt for his kindness) what is going on.
November 26, 2019:
I receive an offer of publication from M&S.
January 13, 2020:
One of the early poems, “Orange Weaver,” appears in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (January 2020), accepted by Shane Neilson. I had earlier read it in an episode of the Wax Poetic radio show.
March 2020: [global pandemic]
May 25, 2020:
I receive a contract for review, from Penguin Random House Canada.
August 9, 2020:
After A LOT of back-and-forth, the contract is completed.
August 13, 2020:
I receive 50% advance.
January 2, 2021:
I send the “final” manuscript, now 56 poems, to DB.
January 12, 2021:
Zoom meeting, which I enjoyed very much, with Dionne.
January 23-25, 2021:
DB completes first-round edits on the ms and sends me an annotated version. She suggests another title. I present 6 alternatives. The Solitary Deaths of Finches becomes Each one a Furnace (from one of the poems in the book).
January 25 to February 21, 2021:
DB’s comments are very incisive and precise, and cut to the nodes of weakness scattered throughout the ms. “I had to push myself, often beyond my…level of skill and insight.” Dionne’s edits direct me beyond my ability- I see the trajectory of her directions, but doubt my ability to achieve it. I nevertheless respond as well as I can, turn in my responses on February 21.
“Field Dressing / Crossbill” appears in The Windsor Review.
April 6, 2021:
New DB comments, request for “clean” copy.
April 7, 2021:
I turn in final ms.
“The Child’s Other” appears in Harvard Divinity Bulletin.
November, December 2021:
Cover design and copy, final interior copy editing completed.
December 6, 2021:
I meet Dionne Brand for the first time at her SFU reading with Christina Sharpe and Canisia Lubrin. DB is so much cooler in person! I am able (I hope) to keep my most effusive fanboy tendencies in check long enough to thank her sincerely, receive her signature on my copy of A Map to the Door of No Return, and take this photo: