Obviously, I’m open-minded,
but who handles the handover?
What is important is that you’re serious,
and who can handle that? (Do You Like What You See?)
Coming out of the Toronto Small Press Book Fair recently, one of the very few tables with publications that really stood out was by former Montrealer Sarah Pinder, through her series of lovely little chapbooks, covering her table as she sat quietly, knitting. Deceptively small, her publications include the single-poem chapbook thanksgiving (2006), the poetry collection Do You Like What You See? (2009), the short story collection The Beautiful Province (2009), the essay/talk ‘My things, my grand-mother’s things’ (2009) and a two-author chapbook of two short stories, Pearls Before Swine Flu / This Is Plague City (with Dave Proctor, 2009).
I used to fuck men in plaid lumberjack shirts all the time when I first moved to this city – saw the canoe paddle over the door of the first boy I dated here and knew I’d have his dick in my mouth in five minutes’ time, though we’d just met. I wanted someone to take me home. All the wilderness tips came back, a thousand kilometres away, regardless of whether you’ve ever actually had to stare down a bear in the middle of a trail. Us kids spent most of the time popping strips of caps on the sidewalk with jagged rocks, or killing small creatures in snares off where the street ended.
But still, that mountain man cliché got under my skin in the middle of Toronto; made me ache for smoke and sweat until I went around sealing my mouth second-handedly over every smoker I could find. Walked around with little dead fires in my mouth all the time, wanting more and more ash. (“Neighbor Study,” The Beautiful Province)
In little publications that run the gamut from essay to poems to short story, hand drawn roughness to carefully-crafted design (the photo series in Do You Like What You See?, for example, is quite lovely), part of what appeals is the lack of self-consciousness in these small chapbooks, from someone who appears to write and publish quietly, out of a sense of necessity, and out of the occasional (making each publication, thusly, a true occasion), as opposed to habit. Her chapbook ‘My things, my grand-mother’s things’ comes out of, as she writes at the back, “a lecture at OCAD at a symposium called Collectorama that focused on people’s obsessions with the act of collecting.” Her essay begins:
I want to say something about houses, and the way they end up becoming repositories. When I was fifteen, my mother sold the house I grew up in. I remember walking through the halls of the little bungalow with my camera, taking flash photos of the empty rooms and naked walls, while telling my confused mother it was because I wanted to remember the house we’d lived in. when I got the roll of film developed, I leafed through the photos I’d meant to describe our life before the atomizing effects of divorce and just saw the flash bouncing off those naked white falls, flattening each room into a box devoid of sentiment. That roll of film made clear to me then that memory is sealed to things that fill the spaces we spend our time in – objects and possessions from paint by numbers to egg slicers that say ‘we are here’.
Still rough in parts, this is a lovely personal essay written as story with all the weight of the personal, adding another bit of thread from her larger weave of concerns, and makes itself, almost, just as much a treatise on art and memory. Does it take going through a writer like Pinder to realize just how little heart comes through in so much other writing? There is much heart, certainly, in Pinder, but rarely a moment of over-sentiment, even while wandering through a series of familiar tales of failed dating, losing one’s own past, and working to negotiate oneself through a new and unfamiliar city.
I was at a yardsale over the weekend, and a woman had a large box of photographs from the 1950s-70s that she was giving away for free. Upon inquiry, she revealed she’d found them at the intersection a few years before – decades of documented family dinners and trips to the beach, which she’d assumed had been tossed to the curb when someone had died. Every photo was carefully annotated with dates, names and little in-jokes or asides about the images themselves. Another woman going through the box with me announced that it was too depressing to look at these images stripped of meaning by the absence of their owner, and her statement neatly named my desire to hold on, archive, become the narrative link.
Where exactly is Sarah Pinder heading with these small, glorious (and sometimes, uneven) moments? I could see something collecting all of the above as a warm and loving arm in a collection produced by, say, Pedlar Press, as very few other publishers seem to want odd little bits of prose and poetry mixed into a single package, but perhaps Pinder remains happy making as many of these as she sees fit, whenever the moment strikes. In many ways, I certainly hope so. I know I would like to see more of these odd, and extremely personal, little productions.
Snap that string and let me reel
out, driving bald highways
towards a holiday I don’t celebrate
with anything but food,
simple movement and talk
of money, grief.
I fill the gas tank in stripped
small towns – payphones and
and lists are my roadside relief
now. I must rake leaves (thanksgiving)
For more information on her or her little publications, check out Sarah Pinder at bitsofstring.wordpress.com