Bardia Sinaee, breathing.
Micro-press maven and poet-about-town Bardia Sinaee sat down for an e-interview with the Town Crier. We talk dancing, debut collections, his poem “Etobicoke” from Issue XX: Winter 2013, and not being white.
Town Crier: In your poem “Etobicoke” from Issue XX: Winter 2013, you explore the cultural mash-up of suburban life and its dialectical implications. Having been born in Iran yourself, do you ever feel pressure to engage with these cultural disparities in your poetry?
Bardia Sinaee: I used to be vaguely ashamed of being foreign. I learned to speak without an accent, then I went to a whiter school and stopped saying things like “yo that’s jokes,” then I went to university and wore skinny pants and started speaking like a news anchor. But after it all worked and I was able to pass for a white person, I started using my foreign-ness to get attention or stand out. And I still haven’t outgrown that last phase! Maybe after that I can write about my own “cultural disparities,” but right now I’m too chickenshit.
TC: You were a student at Carleton University until recently, involved with in/words magazine as well as your own baby, Odourless Press. How have you found the shift from the Ottawa to the Toronto literary scene?
Bardia Sinaee: Toronto people dance more. I can’t and won’t dance. Everyone’s been forgiving of that so far, but I fear an intervention.
TC: You also review micro press poetry at Micro Bublé what’s been on your bedside table lately?
Bardia Sinaee: Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle. Ted Berrigan. Debut collections by Andrew Faulkner and Sara Peters. Whenever I open my inbox I re-read another section of Jeff Blackman’s chapbook manuscript, So Long As the People Are People, which Apt. 9 Press is publishing in the fall. Jeff is the risk-takingest poet I know—too bad he has a full-time job. We should all be parasites.
TC: As a writer, reviewer, and publisher of micro press poetry, what is it that’s drawn you to this medium?
Bardia Sinaee: From the Micro Bublé mandate: “Exposure is the latter half of creation! This is especially true for micro-presses, through which writing communities share work outside the dictatorship of market forces.”
TC: Tell us more about your poem, “Etobicoke.” Go on.
Bardia Sinaee: There are suburbs and then there are the highly-planned, grid-like human containment units of Mississauga and Etobicoke west. I grew up mostly in Mississauga, spent four university years living in Ottawa’s granola-crunching Glebe neighbourhood, then moved to Etobicoke this September.
I wrote “Etobicoke” after spending my first few weeks here bitching about the place relentlessly: how the landscape is unforgiving to pedestrians, how everyone keeps to themselves, and so on. The Tim Hortons by Kipling Subway Station is one of the area’s only truly public places. There are burger/sushi joints and two Starbucks within twenty metres of the Tims, but their clientele is more specialized. The other big hubs, like Sherway Mall or the community centres, are mostly divided by class and/or race because of pricing or proximity.
But this Tims, which is openly connected to a Wendy’s and thereby huge, always has a little bit of everybody: a Filipino nanny absentmindedly crams spoonfuls of apple sauce into a baby’s face, waiting for the parents’ Lincoln to pull into the parking lot; a guy in patchy flannel rants loudly about the immigrant tide next to a table of chatty Persians; four mousey students busy themselves with finance textbooks; a guy with pointy sideburns tells his disinterested friend the Hyundai Sonata is overrated; somewhere in the corner an aging Polish woman reads the funny pages with a look on her face like everyone in the world could drop dead and that’d be just dandy. There’s no farce of “corporate responsibility,” no ambient indie music or “baristas,” the cashiers either have a genuine smile or are exhausted and show it. I hope I don’t romanticize the plainness of it all, if that’s even possible, it just seems to be the most accurate cross-section of this part of the city.
Dennis Lee is not convinced.
There are a lot of murals on the sides of buildings here depicting happy homogeneous patrons of some ambiguous checkered-tablecloth cafe. I wanted to make this poem a mural with a twenty-first century update of sorts. So I tried to avoid dwelling on the speaker’s interiority or “the oppression of the self by the metropolis” or the funny feeling of being an ant I get when I’m at, say, Union Station—I just don’t feel that way in this Tims, I feel like a good old fly on the wall and so it seemed more imperative to get the bustling, clunky Tim Hortons noises down on paper.
Just one final note: “young men do things to Hondas” is lifted right out of Dennis Lee’s poem “400: Coming Home” (Civil Elegies and Other Poems, Anansi 1972) because I tried to rewrite the line, or update it, or make it more accurate, but he really put it perfectly.
Bardia Sinaee was born in Tehran, Iran and currently lives in Etobicoke. His poetry has most recently appeared in The Puritan Compendium I and The Walrus. Odourless Press will be holding its spring launch on May 29 at The Ossington with chapbooks by Suzannah Showler and Matthew Walsh as well as broadsides by Ben Ladouceur and Mat Laporte.