Memphis writer, filmmaker Lynne Sachs returns this week with new book of poetry

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The impeachment proceedings involving President Donald Trump have revived interest in President Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal.

They’ve also revived memories of that era, for those who were around at the time.

One such memory finds artistic expression in “Year by Year Poems,” a new collection by Memphis-born author/filmmaker Lynne Sachs, who makes an appearance Thursday at Burke’s Book Store in the Cooper-Young neighborhood.

In one poem, simply titled “1973,” Sachs remembers how the televised Watergate hearings disrupted her afternoon rerun routine.

“I say goodbye to Lucy, Ricky, Fred, Ethel, Hazel, and Gilligan,” Sachs writes. The stars of the new show on TV are “Dean, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman.”

Partly to impress her dad, “I wear an ‘Impeach Nixon Now’ button/ on my dress,” she concludes. “I feel brave.”

As its title suggests, “Year by Year Poems” ($19, Tender Buttons Press) consists of poems named for years, from “1961” (the year Sachs was born) until “2011” (the year Sachs reached a half-century). The poems are short and impressionistic yet precise, evoking milestones (the births of Sachs’ two daughters) and what might be called trivia.

For example, “1974” references streaking, the short-lived but much-publicized fad in which people stripped off their clothes and raced, naked, through public spaces.

“Streaking,” she said, “is the only word in the book that when I’m doing a reading, if there’s someone in the audience under 30, I feel like I have to explain it to them.”

The book isn’t the only new work from Sachs that sifts through decades of memory and family history, beginning with the cradle-through-Central High School years Sachs spent in Memphis with her similarly creative siblings, Dana Sachs, who is an author, and Ira Sachs, a noted film director (“Frankie,” “Love Is Strange”).

About two weeks after the 5:30 p.m. book signing and reading at Burke’s, Sachs will be in Park City, Utah, for the Jan. 24 premiere of her new feature, “Film About a Father Who,” which opens the 26th annual edition of the weeklong Slamdance Film Festival, a once-upstart rival to Park City’s overlapping and more renowned Sundance Film Festival.

Almost 30 years in the making and constructed from rediscovered Super 8 and 16mm home movies, VHS tape recordings and new digital video footage, “Film About a Father Who” — the title is a reference to Yvonne Rainer’s 1974 landmark “Film About a Woman Who…” — is, at base, a portrait of Ira Sachs Sr., the “Bohemian businessman” whose Memphis children were only three of what eventually was revealed to be nine children among six mothers. (Two of these women were Sachs’ wives, the first being retired Rhodes College sociology professor and Memphis resident Diane Sachs, the mother of Lynne, Dana and Ira Jr.)

According to the Slamdance catalog, the documentary is Sachs’ attempt “to understand the web that connects a child to her parent and a sister to eight siblings, some of whom she has known all of her life, others she only recently discovered … Her film offers sometimes contradictory views of one seemingly unknowable man who is always there, public, in the center of the frame, yet somehow ensconced in secrets.”

Said Sachs: “The film is my investigation of what a family is.” (In fact, that phrase also could be applied to her brother’s feature films, including the made-in-Memphis “Forty Shades of Blue,” in which Rip Torn plays a man somewhat inspired by Ira Sachs Sr.)

The film is bookended with footage of Lynne Sachs attempting to cut her aging father’s sandy hair, which — complemented by his signature walrus mustache — is as long and hippie-ish as it was during the man’s still locally infamous party-hearty heyday, when Ira Sachs Sr. restored, renovated and lived in the historic Adams Avenue property that is now home to the Mollie Fontaine Lounge.

“There’s just one part that’s very tangly,” Lynne comments, as the simple grooming activity becomes a metaphor for the daughter’s attempt to negotiate the thicket of her father’s romantic entanglements, the branches of her extended family tree and the thorny concepts of personal and social responsibility.

A graduate of Brown University and a resident of Brooklyn (where she lives with her husband, Mark Street), Lynne Sachs has been creating experimental short and feature-length films since the mid-1980s. Most are nonfiction films, although they may contain recreations of actual events or passages of abstract imagery.

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Generally, Sachs’ films screen at museums and colleges, and at film festivals more devoted to movie aficionados than to movie marketers. In 2018, her film “The Washing Society,” about the women who work in New York City laundromats, won an award at the Indie Memphis Film Festival in the “Departures” category, which recognizes experimental work.

Opening up the hectic Slamdance festival will be a new experience for Sachs, whose movie is likely to find an appreciative audience among any attendees who live in Park City, where Ira Sachs Sr. — now 83 — earned a reputation as “the Hugh Hefner of Park City” after he relocated from Memphis to Utah.

“I know there is a lot of pain in it,” said Lynne Sachs, referencing the film’s presentation of the children’s fraught relationships with their loving but often inattentive and self-centered father. “But there’s also a lot of love and forgiveness.

“I’ve made so many films about other people’s lives, I felt like it was time for me to be as vulnerable in my own film as I expect other people to be when I’m in front of them with my camera.”

Lynne Sachs and ‘Year by Year Poems’

Book signing, reading and conversation at Burke’s Book Store, 936 Cooper.

5:30 p.m. Thursday.

For more information, call 901-278-7484.