The Pit by Tara Borin

Poetry about dive bars, people-watching and games of crib? Sign me up. The Pit by Tara Borin is set at the Westminster Hotel in Dawson City, Yukon, and is colloquially known as the Pit. It is here that Borin brings us inside the world in the hotel: an aged bar with a cast of characters and a never-ending string of drama; the strange and sad stories of the occupants of the hotel; and what Borin calls “the hard stuff,” addiction, divorce, death, heartbreak, poverty, all set against the backdrop of the North. Borin welcomes us into the Pit and shares its stories, with only deep compassion for all who make up the Pit’s community.

“Borin’s poems are extremely evocative…”

Divided into five sections: Beer Parlour, Rooms for Rent, The Regulars, The Hard Stuff, and Last Call, Borin takes us on a tour of the hotel, starting in the bar. Despite the fact I’ve never been to the Pit, and I’ve never been to the Yukon, so much of this collection felt familiar to me, strangely comforting. For those of us who’ve lived in small towns with regular watering holes, who’ve lived in tourist traps, The Pit will both drop you into Dawson City and also remind you of your own home. Borin does this best when contrasting the tourists with the regulars at the bar in “Sunday Morning Coming Down”:

 The regulars
 shake their heads
 while the tourists laugh,
 crowd the door and
 take more pictures –
 Aren’t we lucky
 to be here today. 

Not only do I see the scene when I read it, but I know this feeling well: trying to go about your life while tourists are fussing over something you no longer see as special or interesting. Borin’s poems are extremely evocative, with each painting a strong scene. I loved how vivid the imagery was in each poem, from setting the wider scene to the very smallest detail. In “At the Cop Shop”:

 When he reaches
 my ring finger
 I am briefly grateful
 that the fish-belly mark
 by my wedding band
 has finally

Borin is clearly a writer who loves not only clever metaphors, but words in general, dropping words like syzygy into their verses. It’s a delight to read these poems and see such wonderful use of English to express the feeling of being in the Pit, and the people who inhabit it. Borin writes about the fathers who fill the bar on Father’s Day, a retired barmaid, a pair of crib players, the wife who waits for her alcholoic husband to leave the Pit, and so many others.

The Pit is gritty and blunt and unapologetic. Borin invites us into a world they know well, and refuses to make it more palatable. They write with honesty, and with great affection for the hotel, and I’m so glad they did, because this is a great collection.

***You can learn more about Tara Borin and The Pit in this interview with them here.

Tara Borin is a graduate of the Writer’s Studio Online with Simon Fraser University. Their poems have been published in Resistance (U of R Press), PRISM InternationalPrairie Fireemerge 19 (SFU Press) and Best New Poets in Canada 2018 (Quattro Books). They are a queer, non-binary writer living in traditional Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in territory, Dawson City, Yukon.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Nightwood Editions (April 24 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 80 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0889713944
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0889713949

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Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.