Solidifying Occupations

Like a wheel, a writer’s career turns and rotates back on itself from years of incubation, to its publication and reception, slowing back down to a new period of gestation. I have felt the past few years pulling me up towards the public, towards the highest point of my first book’s success, though it was relief when the months cycled me away from that hecticness and back towards the quiet and depths of new manuscripts and projects.

In 2019, two years since Admission Requirements was launched, my book has gone into its third printing, sold just under 1500 copies (from what I can understand on Penguin Random House’s author portal stats), and been taught in university literature classes. This year saw my first international publication, in the Danish-based Sindroms magazine. In February, I received a commission from Diaspora Dialogues to write a Toronto-specific poem based on the text of an emerging writer, for Hello, Neighbour, and the podcast of the event, hosted by Hana aha Duncan, can be heard here.

As well, my poem, ‘Two Tea Bowls’ was set to a music by composer Tawnie Olsen and performed by the Orpheus Choir for a Diaspora Dialogues’ concert on International Women’s Day. Raising Her Voice commissioned four new choral works by four female composers, all of which used a text by a female Canadian poet. I also wrote and recorded some food-specific poems as a part of a light-hearted CBC podcast, Personal BestPersonal Best, on an episode titled “How to fall in love with the culinary arts.”

In the spring, I attended MagsWest 2019 to moderate a panel on Supporting Asian Canadian Writers with Yilin Wang, Anna Ling Kaye and Shazia Hafiz Ramji, and also to give a talk on Building Good Working Relationships with Emerging BIPOC Writers, and my invitations and participation at MagsWest wouldn’t have been possible without the support of both Yilin and Sylvia Skene, MagsWest’s Executive Director.

Also in March, I visited UNB in Fredericton and Dalhousie University in Halifax to give readings– many thanks to the efforts of Rebecca Salazar, Triny Finlay, Ross Leckie, Annick MacAskill and Erin Wunker for organizing, finding funding, and marshalling warm bodies into seats on my behalf. Annick and I were at last able to read together, along with local poets Nanci Lee and Katie Clarke, and despite a last minute venue cancellation we gathered for an amazing evening at the Nova Scotia Writers Federation and collected funds in support of a local youth arts association, iMove.

Later in spring brought some events to promote the two anthologies I appeared in last year, Refuse: CanLit in Ruins and What the Poets are Doing, and local readings at Art Bar, Tartan Turban, the U of T alumni reunion, and a panel on the role of the writer in radical times in Hamilton.

Throughout the fall and spring, I visited fifteen elementary and high schools to run Poetry in Voice workshops, working with approximately 300 students and 20 teachers in Toronto, Thornhill, North York, Markham, Richmond Hill, Georgetown, Brampton, Holland’s Landing, Oakville, Hamilton, and Owen Sound via Skype. The long treks on regional buses definitely added to my back strain (not to mention the numerous books and rolls of poster paper I hauled with me), but for these school districts it was really meaningful to have a guest visitor from the city, and I was able to improve my classroom projecting voice at the same time (though some teachers took pity on me and hung a portable mike around my neck during really rowdy times. If you think students don’t get rowdy over poetry, you’ve not seen them reciting Wayde Compton or Rita Joe or Walt Whitman’s ‘Beat, Beat Drums.’)

It’s very easy for me to forget what I have been doing, maybe it’s a kind of survival instinct to not look back. Summarizing it here, I’m overwhelmed, as if seeing myself moving in a blur, like a roadrunner cuckoo. Yet I’m also grateful for the clouds of dust, or in this year, papers, emails, invoices, calendar notifications and new faces that sweep across the vista of days with a flurry that leaves me without any thoughts except where I might find my next coffee, bathroom break, repose.

In the spaces in between, I have found the blank pages and tentative lines of new poems, stories and essays, and also the outline and shape of my now permanent role at OCAD U. This fall with bring more travel and rushing about, but also I hope, stillness, as in when a force lifts the body away from the earth in a few moments of suspension before it returns it back to its berth.

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