Thursday, April 24, 2014


I've made peace with the fact that I am a collector. I am eternally grateful that the things I collect have near zero market value. Also, that for the most part, they are small things. I collect paper. I collect scraps of paper. Small printed details, drawings, kids art, water blurred garage sale posters, odd bits of ephemera, poetry leaflets, doubly exposed found photos, 1970s craft magazines, battered vintage books on prehistoric life and outer space. There are many groups and sub groups, many that have no discernible theme except in my eye. I collect minuscule scraps of paper, some half the size of a postage stamp. I get these plasticized like identity cards. I have a hundred of them. I also collect the occasional label drawn on and stuck by street artists. I harvest the ones half hanging loose. I smooth them down flat on a piece of card and write the street and the month and the year I find them.
    I used to collect the odd designs printed on the bottoms of cardboard boxes. When I worked in warehouses I would find some strange logos and motifs. I got to thinking that many of these signs represented nothing more than the cadres of buddies who worked in box factories. I used to collect comics. I can't bother picking them up anymore. Of course if I happen upon some copies of old Boris Karloff Presents or Ka-Zar Lord Of The Hidden Jungle for a buck or two, I'll pick them up, I'm not crazy.
    My rule, loose and sloppy, about collecting is that I am not a completist and that I don't have to collect it. I'm getting good at letting things go. For a year or two i collected wooden spoons. Then one day thrifting I just didn't bother buying some spoons I found. And then the spark fizzled. I tell the story of scouring all the bookstores in my hometown for examples of concrete poetry. I'm adept at pulling avant-garde periodicals from the messy shelves of good will shops. Invariably that white spine belongs to a book published by a small Canadian press in 1973. I can spot them a mile away. The second hand bookshops in MontrĂ©al, though, very rarely have what I'm looking for in the poetry department. On a recent visit to Toronto, I checked out a very well curated bookshop and asked my usual question - 'got anything by way of concrete or visual poetry, photocopy art, mail-art, text manipulations, that sort of thing ?' Instead of getting a blank stare or some tepid attempt to sell me Apollinaire, the clerk brought out a huge stack of exactly the material I look for. At that point it became, how much money would I want to spend. I bought a fine volume for thirty dollars and haven't cared much for the stuff since.
    Scarcity or the hunt is key. Milling about flea markets with unlimited funds is not collecting, it's shopping. Most of what I collect is tied to finding. And what I most like to find are things I didn't know I was looking for. Some Hassidic kids homework sheets, a stained flyer, a printed glitch, the dedication page of a mangled old book. What I want resonates with an unknown history. It has texture and life. It doesn't come by the dozen. It's oblique and hints at mystery.
    The stuff I collect fits in file folders, shoe boxes, stacks. It gets sorted through often and rearranged. It gets confused with art. It get's exhibited, shown, flaunted. It may even get sold. One thing for sure, it's not going to weigh down my kid and it's not going to line my coffin.