Life, Edited: Sarah Pinder’s Cutting Room

Lori A. May

Toronto, ON: Coach House Books, 2012. 88 pages. $15.95.
(Click on cover image to purchase)

Sarah Pinder’s first collection of poems explores the ways in which recording technology blurs the line between past and present. The past is never far-removed for Pinder’s speaker as she documents personal experiences through references to photocopies, phone calls, film, and online status updates; these forms remind one that life is lived with an audience in mind. In the first section of Cutting Room, an untitled prose poem makes it clear that Pinder leans toward the cinematic, with “every eye a visual, a pan, an establishing shot.” Through documentation, private moments become public; Pinder’s speaker questions the societal lack of privacy that results from technology’s intrusive sharing of every waking moment.

This collection is not merely about technology, though. It is about the transparency of life that technology’s varied methods of documentation afford—for better and for worse. In particular, Pinder considers the emotional consequences of constant archiving. She explores what happens when, through recordings, emotions from the past remain present and even inescapable, as in the poem “Calling Collect”:

remember the tapes we made of each
other, thrown on the counter, the appeal
and pills, the deer of your voice
in the echo chamber, my van.

Yet in this same poem, the speaker “ink[s] this part out,” showing that technology allows for selective memory. Later in the poem, the speaker focuses on the sharing of passionate breath and then commands “then cut,” signaling that an impulse toward editing can shape not only our understanding of the past but our experience of the present.

We often record with good intentions—to share, to document, and to remember. Pinder’s collection shows that these intentions can also cause undesirable but equally accurate aspects of the past to end up on the cutting room floor. Nevertheless, such cut moments remain alive in memory. As a result, her poetic speaker is often concerned with “the alternate ending,” with the ways in which we modify and represent our lives to selectively edit what happens—or what has already happened. Through recorded representations of the past the speaker aims to shape her memories, yet she is not entirely successful; her past cannot be unlived despite attempts at influencing selective memory.

In demonstrating that the past haunts one, Pinder explores how the past remains present. It can even make use of the present tense. Such is the case in “Hochelaga,” in which the speaker acknowledges that recordings “still pinch the heart,” even though attentive staging, with anticipated retrospection all along, may have helped construct the past’s most affecting details:

Hang a sheet over the living room wall
to make a studio,
cut away the slab of afternoon and it’s a little diorama […]

In “Hochelaga,” the speaker acknowledges that memory begins in a present in which selective editing is at play; Cutting Room often considers the compulsion to record genuine moments alongside the artful fabrication of those moments. It is only in the final section, “Archipelagos,” that the speaker seems to escape her sometimes paralyzing, sometimes choreographing awareness of an observing eye; she considers the influence of recording even on one’s seemingly unfiltered experiences:

what was looking when there wasn’t
a date stamp that kept rolling in live feed?

The tension between real and recorded experiences highlights that there are obstacles to documenting life in motion, and while the collection explores the joys of revisiting life’s archived moments, it more often questions the extent to which life can be lived in an unadulterated present.

The poems in Cutting Room reveal snippets of a recorded life, but when read together, their collage of prose and verse suggests a more fully-realized account of the speaker’s life. In revisiting what has been recorded and what has been edited out the speaker begins to clearly see her life in its present state. This present comes to include even the seemingly unrecorded spaces between email and camera, status update and photo. The emotions and experiences discarded to the cutting room floor remain alive in memory as they are of personal significance to the speaker; it is her uncensored memories that more accurately reveal moments of life lived authentically and without concern for an audience.

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