Obits and Overlooked eulogies
As February draws to a close here at Coach House Books, we're reluctant to see off this year's Black History Month, but eager to lay the winter to rest. Whereas the gloom of the colder season has left us feeling like a team of frozen sarcophagi, we've been harnessing the potency of these swarthy themes to bolster the dark power of our dead.
Believe us, there's method in this madness, and we're here with a few reading suggestions to honour our departed. For Black History Month, the New York Times has proposed an alternative edition to their series of collected obituaries that never made it to their press. In this iteration of Overlooked, the NYT has collected the obits of just a few of the remarkable Black Americans whose dirges were muted by those of decades worth of white men in the paper's pages.
At the same time, we have an obituary of our own to add to the trove. Although not a forgotten figure by any means, February saw the passing of Jackie Shane, a soul and R&B legend and Black trans pioneer who found a warm audience in Toronto and made it her home for a time. Her hit single Any Other Way inspired one of Coach House's most popular titles on the queerness of our city. Although Jackie had stepped out of the public eye from the early 70s until 2010, this year her collected works in Any Other Way, a compilation of her music, had been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Historical Album (losing in the end, to the music of William Ferris' Voices of Mississippi).
It's important to acknowledge the folk whose shoulders we stand on. The end of something, be it a life, a season, or an event, doesn't mean it disappears into dusty archives, never to be touched again. Our work at Coach House is to collect the stories of those voices that might be left unheard: the queer and the underdogs, the CanLit creatures buried under mounds of snow in our great north.
Let's celebrate the many deaths of our seasons, the passing of Black History Month, and the voices that these life cycles make way for as we recollect and reconstruct.
I bet everything old will be new again. A commute.
hot will get cold again. Rush hour will summon those who can
take it, clothed in mostly black & grey. I will risk telling
with my posture. This is not a daily funeral,
it’s just what it looks like. I bet the rush
will slow down again
& one winter morning I will find myself dying,
wrapped in too many layers of wool. A person wearing
will close their eyes & the crowd will feel gentle.
My psyche is welded into the wrong shape.
the pole I rest my hand on, my head on my hand.
So what, I like to look at my reflection. I bet every distraction
is a main event.
Someone with grey hair & forest-green corduroy pants
will wave off someone asking for change.
That is an event.
I bet every hand has performed that action. I bet he reads
the obits., like I scroll through the timeline, & I bet
I’m taking a risk
when I don't know the dead.