Diana Jones-Ellis on Sarah Pinder’s Cutting Room

Cutting Room, Sarah Pinder. Coach House Books, 2012.

by Diana Jones-Ellis

Deeply immersed in an articulation of the materiality of objects, Sarah Pinder’s evocative and haunting collection, Cutting Room, often pushes this very materiality over the threshold toward instability. In “Not to Be Too Sharply Distinguished,” Pinder’s engagement with the romantic edges toward the erotic while at the same time drawing our attention to the materiality of the words on the page:

The pendant lamp measured out the table,

just glasses snuck in and suggested full sentences

left sloppy against each other,

her red shoes tipped in at the door.


She walked her eyeliner all the way down to the elevator,

counting categories after silence.

I nodded, went along with it,

kept my hands to themselves. (51)

Here, our gaze finds the red shoes, the walk, and the excitement of a seduction, but each is already framed by references to writing. The pendant lamp in the first stanza illuminates this disjunction between image and language by insisting upon awareness, if only for a moment, of the relationship between language and desire. In the second stanza, an abstraction—“counting categories after silence—disrupts the pleasure of the gaze only to foreground the immateriality of the experience itself.

Pinder often turns her eye to the landscape of work—industrialized food preparation, information processing, communications, as well as to domestic tasks—and in doing so draws the reader into an immersive experience of contemporary life. In “Calling Collect,’ a scene builds with quiet menace:

canted in gravel,

humming, drawing all the no-see-ums,

moths hurling themselves at the wolfish season,

lean, more teeth and curl, (20)

and draws the gaze to what appears to be the work of dismemberment in a slaughterhouse:

think two thin bitten fingers, steam,

the draw of the soft count, one breath

then cut.

Again: reverse,

from the top. (21)

Kurosawa’s comment, “when I say gentle, I mean the kind of gentleness that makes you want to avert your eyes when you see something really dreadful, really tragic,” aptly describes the grace and care Pinder brings to her subject. In this, she avoids simple dichotomies of good and evil but rather invites the reader into a complex mix of observed horror, empathy, and some measure of weariness. The last two stanzas of “Calling Collect” trace a kind of momentary transubstantiation as awareness moves from bodily form to an inhabitation of the object.

 Oh uncomfortable land,

dun slice whorled in dried whatever

that birds pick apart,

a cellphone ruined, spidered in

plastics, feathers of newsprint

falling open


the close eye,

this animal’s a mouthed name,

I’m a frayed-out anthem watching it,

a machine now,

watching back.

The world Pinder describes in “Calling Collect” exists in a state of decay, yet is one nonetheless seen through a lens of desire. The poem’s nineteen stanzas, some of which consist of one line, present scenes with what seem to be, at first glance, tenuous ties to those that come before and after. The focus of these stanzas moves rapidly from the artifacts of industrial blight, nostalgia, the domination of the natural world by people, dreams, and lost connections while at the same time insisting that we look with careful deliberation at what human communities have created.

The final section of Pinder’s collection, titled Archipelagos, is a fluid and at times incantatory perusal of fragments of domesticity and the everyday juxtaposed with the grotesque, the lovelorn, and the lost.

I gasp sometimes, in public,

waist-deep in

strained embroidery snarl,

indent of teeth along a thigh –


queuing in a public line

at shell-white hours,

there’s a watery knot of an ankle in a sheet,


stirring itself down, snapping me right shut. (75)

Archipelagos is composed of shards of prose, tercets, couplets, lists, and sometimes just a single line on a page. Pinder uses references to the recorded image and the technology of film (“what was looking when there wasn’t / a date stamp that kept rolling in live feed?” 70; “wrists cocked, / one reel of clothes in hand / unlocked frame by frame,” 82) to pull the reader into a play of intimacy and distance; moments of recounted or imagined dreams; images briefly detected at the periphery of vision; possession and dispossession of the beloved; nostalgia and a sense of utter alienation from what one might understand as the seamlessness of reality.

One finds intermittent collisions of catastrophe and jouissance in Pinder’s work and these have the effect of reminding us not only of who we are but how close we come in the small moments of each day to losing ourselves in the endless cycles of production and consumption, and the waiting that happens in between.


Work Cited

Richie, Donald. The Films of Akira Kurosawa. Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998, 181.


Diana Jones-Ellis has graduate degrees in history and literature. She is a writer and a poet.