A visit to The Printed Word

Image courtesy of Google.
Sometime last summer, word reached me that a new bookstore had opened in the heart of Dundas, specializing in poetry and philosophy (among other genres). Notwithstanding the time before Christmas when I took a ten-minute break from holiday shopping to poke my head inside, this weekend marked my first intentional trip to The Printed WordAnd, wow.

As I remarked on Twitter following that first stop-in, the sight of small press titles as I entered was pretty exciting. And that sense of discovery deepened as I walked further into the store’s large, rectangular footprint. With its high ceiling and relaxed quiet, allowing the muted sounds of King Street to drift through, The Printed Word offers a peaceful reading atmosphere with adequate room for conversation. Now I’m not the most outgoing person in the world but, within minutes, I found myself asking James McDonald, the shoppe’s owner, just how he came into possession of some of these titles... Like the copy of Dreams Surround Us, a collaborative collection by John Newlove and John Metcalf (that I didn’t know existed), signed by both authors.

Wide, 8-foot shelves made up the store’s perimeter, with each on the eastern-facing side dedicated to poetics from different areas of the globe. I confined myself to the Canadian shelves in order to keep focussed. But the selection was overwhelming, so much so I wish I’d brought my camera to document the many titles that stopped me cold at various points. Luckily, some of the best examples are items I brought home:

Consider Each Possibility by Cameron Anstee (Baseline Press)

A shared appreciation for the poetry of Cameron Anstee got James and I chatting about Nelson Ball and minimal poetry in general. As it turns out, James is also a publisher and issued Ball’s first children’s book, A Vole On a Roll, through his Shapes & Sounds Press. How did I miss this?

Of Light by Robert Hogg (Coach House Press)

Beautiful, hardcover collection I'd never seen before.

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu and Stephen Mitchell (translation) (Harper and Row)

Religion is another subject close to James' heart, as The Printed Word’s Religion section makes clear. He showed me at least four different translations of this ancient Chinese text to ensure I was getting the right one.

Landfall by Roo Borson (Fiddlehead Poetry Books)

Her first book! 1977!

In this light by Guy Ewing (Puddles of Sky Press)

On the way to the register, James picked out this chapbook and said, simply, “you need this”. Following our conversations about poetry and religion, I pretty much took him at his word. But glancing inside, I could see how Ewing, by using just a handful of words per poem, creates abrupt but transient collisions that leave a larger shadow in the reader’s imagination.

Hamilton has many noteworthy, independent bookstores and each maintains a consistent impression. They're all “eclectic” in what they carry but the scope of that descriptor expands or shrinks on a case by case basis. The city’s new-only bookstores tend to lean on a handful of trendy genres (like young adult and biography) without much regard for other subjects. Conversely, used-only bookstores get bogged down in stock of all sorts (a lot in “bargain condition”) and become treasure-hunts. I usually spend fifteen minutes in the former type and two-plus hours in the latter.

The Printed Word is unique on at least three counts: 1) it seamlessly integrates both new and used books, 2) feels richly curated as a single collection, and 3) doubles as a children’s bookstore (a partitioned back-room is dedicated to kids’ books). Having left behind at least twice the number of books I purchased, I know any time spent rooting in good faith will be rewarded. Tidy but charmingly rustic, airy but brimming, The Printed Word cannot be pinned to a single strength. And that's why it has instantly become one of the best bookstores in Hamilton.

Further reading: An interview with James and great photos can be found at urbanicity Magazine. 


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