Poets in Profile: Sarah Pinder
Sarah Pinder is the author of Cutting Room (Coach House Books). It is her first collection, but has already been widely praised, with poet Roo Borson calling the pieces "delicate, clear, tough, opaque, breakable".
Today Sarah talks to Open Book as part of our Poets in Profile series. She tells us about poetry in National Geographic, meatpacking plants and "using the dust".
Find out what inspires, confounds and delights today's Canadian poets by following our series.
What is the first poem you remember being affected by?
I remember having an encounter with Whitman’s ‘Song of the Open Road’ at a pretty young age. They’d used some of the text in a National Geographic photo essay, and I found Leaves of Grass at the library afterwards. No one does big-hearted bombast quite like him. The last verse of the fifth section of the poem is still a favourite. You can read it here.
What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?
I don’t typically think ‘I wish I made that!’ when I read something I’m really moved by, but my best friend and I show each other art we think is really good and ask ‘so what are we doing with our lives?’ to each other in response. I get that feeling a lot. W.S Merwin’s Thanks is excellent. So is Tracy K Smith’s Self Portrait as the Letter Y. Read them here and here.
What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?
Industrialized meatpacking. While working on the manuscript that ended up being Cutting Room, I was reading Timothy Pachirat’s book Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight, which includes a flowchart of the hundred and some tasks required to receive, slaughter and disassemble a cow at a meatpacking plant. The specificities and problems of this type of labour — both in the context of workers’ and animals’ experiences — started showing up in some of my poems. I’ve thought about these processes in personal contexts for much of my adult life, so I guess it’s not much of a stretch to see them appearing in my creative work, too, but it still surprised me.
What do you do when a poem is not working?
There’s this Francis Bacon line from an interview he did regarding his incredibly messy studio that I really relate to — something like ‘the thing about chaos is that I can use the dust’. Sometimes I’ll cannibalize the functional bits from poems that aren’t working, and use them elsewhere, but I also have a large capacity to forget. (I save all my drafts, but they can get lost on my computer if I’m not actively working on them.)
I sort of imagine everything I’ve jettisoned as being around me in some way, anyway, either as a reminder or as fodder for recycling. My desk and computer desktop, much like Bacon’s studio, are total messes of shredded bits and leftovers. Whether rejected lines show up again in another work or not, they’re part of the atmosphere when I’m working.
What was the last book of poetry that really knocked your socks off?
I recently read Alice Oswald’s Memorial, her recent revisioning of The Iliad, and it totally broke my brain. I have sort of danced around The Iliad for a few years, unable to really get into it, but her version really shook me by the shoulders. I didn’t expect to be so moved, but I was standing on a street corner one day, reading it while waiting for a friend, and I welled into tears. Her similes are achingly beautiful, and the pacing of the text is exquisite.
I’ve also racked up repeated giant library fines for Lisa Robertson’s The Men. It’s a hard one to let go of.
What is the best thing about being a poet….and what is the worst?
The best thing about writing poetry, for me, is that it plays upon my magpie tendencies: looking at what’s there, gathering and arranging.
The worst thing is people asking me when I’m going to write a novel, instead.