Welcome to another Masters Edition episode of Docs in Orbit, where we feature conversations with filmmakers who have made exceptional contributions to documentary film.
In this episode, we feature a two part conversation with the remarkable and highly acclaimed feminist, experimental filmmaker and poet Lynne Sachs.
In part one of the conversation, Lynne Sachs speaks about how feminist film theory has shaped her work and her approach to experimental filmmaking. We also discuss her collaborative process in her films including, her short documentary film A MONTH OF SINGLE FRAMES (for Barbara Hammer), which is currently available to screen at Sheffield Doc/Fest until August 31st.
Mulvey, Laura. (1975). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Screen,16(3), 6-18, Link
Steyerl, Hito. (2009). In Defense of the Poor Image. e-flux, 10, Link
Lynne Sachs is a Memphis-born, Brooklyn-based artist who has made over 35 films. Her work explores the intricate relationship between personal observations and broader historical experiences by weaving together text, collage, painting, politics and layered sound design. Strongly committed to a dialogue between cinematic theory and practice, she searches for a rigorous play between image and sound, pushing the visual and aural textures in her work with every new project.
Sachs films have been screened all over the world, including New York Film Festival, Sundance, Oberhausen, Viennale, BAMCinemaFest, Vancouver Film Festival, DocLisboa and many others. Her work has also been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Walker Art Center, Wexner Center for the Arts and other venues, including retrospectives in Argentina, Cuba, and China.
She received a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship in the Arts. In 2019, Tender Buttons Press published Lynne’s first collection of poetry Year by Year Poems.
Lynne Sachs is currently one of the artists in focus at Sheffield Doc Fest where her most recent feature documentary film, A FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO is presented alongside a curated selection of five of her earlier films.
Rain Taxi Vol. 25 No. 2 – Summer 2020 Lynne Sachs – Year by Year Review By John Bradley
“Everything that surrounds us becomes part of us,” wrote Fernando Pessoa in his The Book of Disquiet. In the author’s afterword to this book of poetry, Lynne Sachs refers to Pessoa’s statement as “an eight word distillation of my endeavor.” On turning fifty, Sachs decided to compose a poem for each year of her life, and that’s what Year by Year provides: fifty poems, beginning in 1961 and ending in 2011. For many of these poems, the book offers an early handwritten draft, adding an extra layer of depth to this intriguing project. Sachs, a filmmaker as well as a poet, wisely avoids trying to encompass every event that transpired in a year; rather, she distills one key moment. Here’s “1969,” a poem that provides an eight-year-old’s view of an historic event that year, in its entirety:
Our telephone rings. Neil Armstrong on the line. He knows I stole the Earth’s only moon. “Give it back,” he says. I watch him step across the lunar landscape. I thought we could be friends. He turns to look at all of us (from the moon) I am the only one who sees his sadness.
The poem feels like a combination of a young writer’s diary, a scene from a short story, and a dream. The end-stopped lines convey the sense of a writer used to composing prose, and the last line of the poem surprises the reader with its unexpected perception.
The most intriguing poems are those juxtaposed with the handwritten early draft, as with “2002,” for example. In the top right corner, we see a list of notes for that year: “security/ Anthrax/ gloves/ Susan w wears/ gloves.” The opening lines of the poem quickly remind us of the national panic that year: “Welcome to the department of homeland insecurity./ I’m with my friend in her car, not far from the Pentagon.” This is the year white powder was found in various envelopes, creating widespread fear; wearing gloves (as indeed Susan does in the poem) was a way to protect oneself, or at leastto create the illusion of protection. The ‘heart of that fear is revealed in the second stanza:
Here you’ll find inscrutable dust, under your tongue, in your nails, your nose, even the folds of your labia. Dust that pushes past security bars and screen doors.
Her imagery brings to mind not only the white anthrax powder, but also the dust from the destruction of the two World Trade Center towers.
In the introduction to this book, poet Paolo Javier informs us that the poems of Year by Year led Sachs to create a “feature-length hybrid documentary” called Tip of My Tongue, an indication of how richly resonant these poems are, with their skillful intermingling of private and public.
INTERVIEWS Maggie Dubris: A Prayer for St. Clare | interviewed by Zack Kopp Wanda Smalls Lloyd: Creating Family Along the Way | interviewed by Jessica Sparks Sue William Silverman: The Now-ness of Memory | interviewed by Tatiana Ryckman
FEATURES Louise Erdrich: An Appreciation | by James P. Lenfestey Resurrecting Leo Tolstoy | by Tim Brinkhof The New Life | a comic by Gary Sullivan
FICTION / DRAMA REVIEWS A Beginning at the End | Mike Chen | by Jessica Raskauskas Black Girl Unlimited | Echo Brown | by Linda Stack-Nelson The Resisters | Gish Jen | by George Longenecker The Shape of Family | Shilpi Somaya Gowda | by Rajiv Ramchandran The Sweet Indifference of the World | Peter Stamm | by Susann Cokal In The Beginning: A Stage Play | David Heidenstam | by Bryon Rieger
NONFICTION REVIEWS Asemic: The Art of Writing | Peter Schwenger | by Jeff Hansen Me & Other Writings | Marguerite Duras | by Fran Webber The Shadow of Vesuvius: A Life of Pliny | Daisy Dunn | by Walter Holland The Devils | New Juche | by Alex Kies Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life after Which Everything Was Different | Chuck Palahniuk | by Chris Via The Painted Forest | Krista Eastman | by Dustin Michael Wine Girl: The Obstacles, Humiliations, and Triumphs of America’s Youngest Sommelier | Victoria James | by Jack Sartin
DMZ Colony | Don Mee Choi | by John Wall Berger Elementary Poetry | Andrei Monastyrski | by Michael Workman The Elegy Beta | Mischa Willett | by Lee Rossi Year By Year | Lynne Sachs | by John Bradley Maids | Abby Frucht | by Nick Hilbourn Cement | Sarah Menefee | by Patrick James Dunagan The Hospice Orgy | Phillip Lee Duncan | by Zack Kopp Black Case Volume I & II: Return From Exile | Joseph Jarman | by Greg Bem Amalgam | Sotère Torregian | by Patrick James Dunagan The Distant Sound | Eliot Schain | by Lee Rossi Hull | Xandria Phillips | by Tyrone Williams The Last Love Poem I Will Ever Write | Gregory Orr | by Mandana Chaffa
COMICS / ART REVIEWS The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. IV: The Tempest | Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill | by Greg Baldino In Dreams | Dennis Hopper | by Ruth Andrews The Man Without Talent | Yoshiharu Tsuge | by Jeff Alford
About Chapter 16 In response to the loss of book coverage in newspapers around the state, Humanities Tennessee founded Chapter 16 in 2009 to provide comprehensive coverage of literary news and events in Tennessee. Each weekday the site posts fresh content that focuses on author events across the state and new releases from Tennessee authors. In addition, Chapter 16 maintains partnerships with newspapers in each major media market statewide, and our content appears in print each week through the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Nashville Scene, and the Knoxville News Sentinel. Through the site, social media, a weekly newsletter, and our newspaper partnerships, Chapter 16 reaches more than half a million readers on a good week.
When filmmaker Lynne Sachs turned fifty, she dedicated herself to writing a poem for every year of her life, so far. Each of the fifty poems investigates the relationship between a singular event in Sachs’ life and the swirl of events beyond her domestic universe.
In May 2020, Chapter 16 featured a “2010” from the collection of 50 poems.
In the eventuality that preparation for security advanced signatures obtained life jackets confirmed permanent medical records sealed pharmaceuticals delivered weather reported batteries checked tires filled expiration avoided warnings acknowledged wills signed if-and-only-ifs collected and still no one anticipated the return of my brother-in-law’s cancer.
A friend forgot to send her payment — a single check she never put in the envelope, hidden under a stack of receipts, appointment cards, and electricity bills. The check, never arrived. Her policy, cancelled.
She who had already given up her ovaries and come face-to-face in the ring with illness, won that round. Now no rope to hold onto, no pillows to fall back on. We two friends of more than twenty years sit at a table in a café talking of our homes, books we’ve read, people almost forgotten, purses with zippers, jump ropes, kitchen counters, projects abandoned.
I ask her about her health. She’s crossing her fingers That’s all she has until they pass that bill.
Lynne Sachsmakes films and writes poems that explore the intricate relationship between personal observations and broader historical experiences. Her work embraces hybrid form and combines memoir with experimental, documentary, and fictional modes. In recent years, she has expanded her practice to include live performance with moving image. Lynne was first exposed to poetry by her great aunt as a child in Memphis, Tennessee. Soon she was frequenting workshops at the local library and getting a chance to learn from poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Ethridge Knight. As an active member of Brown University’s undergraduate poetry community, she shared her early poems with fellow poet Stacy Doris. Lynne later discovered her love of filmmaking while living in San Francisco where she worked with artists Craig Baldwin, Bruce Conner, Barbara Hammer, Carolee Schneeman, and Trinh T. Minh-ha. Lynne has made thirty-five films which have screened at the New York Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Walker Art Center, and the Wexner Center for the Arts. Festivals in Buenos Aires, Beijing and Havana have presented retrospectives of her work. Lynne received a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship. In early 2020, her newest movie, Film About a Father Who, will premiere on opening night at the Slamdance Film Festival and in NYC at the Museum of Modern Art. Lynne lives in Brooklyn. Year by Year Poemsis her first book of poetry.
1 – How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?Writing YEAR BY YEAR POEMS did not just change my life, it was my life. When I turned 50, I decided to reconnect with every year of my life, so far, by writing a poem that explores the relationship I had had with something beyond my control, outside my domestic universe. The personal confronts the public, and vice-versa. Writing these poems forced me to carve out precise distillations of these moments in my time and our shared time.
2 – How did you come to filmmaking first, as opposed to, say, poetry, fiction or non-fiction? I have been writing poetry since I was a child and filmmaking is actually an extension of this desire to process my bewilderment and occasional understanding of the world that spins around me. The personal, experimental, essayistic, documentary approaches I bring to my filmmaking are extensions of the thinking involved in writing a poem.
3 – How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes? I adore first drafts and for this reason I try to write my poems by hand, with a pen on paper. I return to them like an archeologist, relishing every gesture that I see on the page. With this in mind, I included many of my first drafts – as images almost – in YEAR BY YEAR POEMS. So far, readers have generally appreciated seeing these visualizations of the process of writing, moving back-and-forth between the inchoate first draft to the finished, edited, typed version. My mother was the only person who thought some of the poems were better and more fleshed-out in the original drafts. I thought this was apt, since her perspective on my life is probably the most complete.
4 – Where does a poem, work of prose or film-script usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning? Each poem in YEAR BY YEAR POEMS begins with a year. In fact, I gave myself the pleasure of inventing a new graphic font for each of these 50 years, and these designs/ doodles became the cover of the book. Limitations or constraints on the writing of a poem actually allow me to work in a more expansive way. I feel less overwhelmed by the daunting challenge of trying to say something. In terms of my filmmaking, I have made 35 films, the shortest being 3 minutes and the longest 83. I just completed FILM ABOUT A FATHER WHO which is 74 minutes and will premiere next month as the opening night film at Slamdance Film Festival in Park City and then at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in February. Believe it or not, I started this film in 1984 and just finished it. The only way I could find its structure was to create many short films and then to find search for compelling transitions.
5 – Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings? I have finally discovered the joy of reading from my book in front of an audience. I have never ever been an actor so it did not really appeal to me before. Now, when I am reading from my own book, I feel deeply connected to the listeners in the room. It is so much fun to watch people responding. I have recently read or will read at Berl’s Poetry Bookshop, Topos Books, McNally Jackson Bookstore, KGB Lit Bar, Court Tree Gallery, Penn Book Center, and Museum of Modern Art Buenos Aires (with a translator). I will be reading from my book and showing my films at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library for National Poetry Month in April, 2020.
6 – Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are? I think my deepest concerns stem from my visceral devotion to feminism.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be? A writer should stir of up thought and encourage a fascination with language. Writers who have found a place in the community should also encourage others with less experience through workshops that bring in people who have not yet named themselves as “writers.”
8 – Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)? I absolutely adore working with an editor, both people I know and trust to be honest and kind and people who care only about one thing – making the text better. In writing my first book of poems, I worked with my Tender Buttons Press editrix Lee Ann Brown who had some uncannily astute suggestions that included line breaks, word choices, finding clarity, carving way too much explication and everything in between. Working with her as well as my poet friends Michael Ruby and Michele Somerville was a gift. In addition, very early on, I actually hired a graduate student in creative writing to meet with me just a few times. She would read the poems with such distance and objectivity. It was refreshing, and I didn’t feel guilty asking her to explain what she thought since I was paying her.
9 – What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)? Read your poems out loud to yourself. Listen to the rhythm and feel it in your body.
10 – How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to filmmaking to multimedia)? What do you see as the appeal? Oh, you really ask such insightful questions. What do I call myself? Am I filmmaker who writes poems? Can I be more than one thing? Can I just be an artist? Can I change according to my surroundings? I think our culture is actually becoming more open to these permutations. Patti Smith (musician and author) and Tony Kushner(playwright, screenwriter and children’s book writer) are two of my heroes in this respect. Finding visual or textual distillations is at the foundation of both my writing and my filmmaking. In neither situation do I ever call myself a storyteller.
11 – What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin? On a writing day, I do what so many other writers do. I am not particularly ingenious in any way. I go out to a café, buy a cup of tea (preferably in a teapot) and begin to write. As long as the music is good and people are not talking on their cell phones, I am happy.
12 – When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration? When my writing feels hampered by the clutter of my life, I set limits. I frame my ambition by a constraint, like only thinking about one particular conceit or finding my way to the bottom of the page. I try, though I am rarely successful, not to read what I have written as a reader but rather as co-conspirator with absolutely no taste. Taste is dangerous. So is the internet, so I try to reject that in any way possible.
13 – What fragrance reminds you of home? About twenty-five years ago, I was visiting the Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell in Utah. It’s a very strange and other-wordly lake, mostly because it is artificial and built by recreation lovers who didn’t mind filling in a canyon in a naturally arid landscape to create a place for water-skiers. My sister Dana Sachs and I were together in the elevator descending to its lowest level. When the elevator doors opened, we immediately turned to one another and remarked that this dark, intimidating, cement space smelled like our grandparents’ home in Memphis, Tennessee, a place we had not been inside since we were children. Recognizing that “fragrance” concretized our sensory bond as sisters who were carrying so many of the same memories.
15 – What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work? Last week, I finished reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. It took me six months and the experience was fantastic and awful, ultimately ending with ecstasy. The experience was convulsive and exasperating. I was transformed in a way that was truly extraordinary. I am a different person now that I have read Molly Bloom’s treatise on her body in the book’s last chapter; her one-sentence no-punctuation 25,000 word spin through the sensual made me reel and dream and sing. I would add to that a few other writers who come to mind today: filmmaker and poet Trinh T. Minh-ha, author and scholar Tera W. Hunter, author Claire Messud, poet Lee Ann Brown, and poet Katy Bohinc.
16 – What would you like to do that you haven’t yet done? Canadian film director François Gerard completed his highly successful film Thirty-TwoShort Films About Glenn Gould in 1993. In an interview, a reporter asked him what he planned to do next. His response was that he planned to donothing. Doing nothing for an artist can be transformative. I envy people who claim to be bored. I do not have ahorror vacui. I search for emptiness and find a sense of tranquility. Ultimately, it is very productive.
17 – If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer? I did consider being a human rights attorney, a pediatrician or an anthropologist. I also wish I could cook well, though I don’t aim to be a chef.
18 – What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?Writing gives me so much oxygen. When you write, you feel like you added one minute to the 1440 minutes in a day.
19 – What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film? As written above, I recently completed Ulysses, but you know that is a great one. I also was very taken with Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts which showed me how to weave together intimate personal writing with more theoretical investigations. I return over and over and over again to filmmaker Ken Jacobs’ Star Spangled To Death, which is his opus film that he bravely refuses to complete.
20 – What are you currently working on? Oh Ida: The Fluid Time Travels of a Radical Spirit, an experimental, sci-fi essay film that will trace the erasure and recent emergence (in the form of monuments) of the story of activist and journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett who spent her early years in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee and committed her life to nurturing a spirit of liberation in the face of resounding racial violence. I am making this film with author Tera Hunter and a few weeks ago we started shooting. It’s a blissful, intense collaboration.
I had never heard of experimental filmmaker Lynne Sachs before stumbling upon her poetry collection at McNally Jackson on a day when I finished my commute book on my way downtown, but if her films are anything like these sharp, personal, evocative time capsules then I can’t wait to watch them.
This collection, which is comprised of a poem for each year of Sachs’s first fifty, is a perfect example of how making art that’s specific and personal somehow feels universal. She, in telling her own stories of milestones both political (how watching the Watergate hearings with her dad she, “finally became real to him”) and personal (love lost and kept, children’s births, friends illnesses) perfectly captures the way that all of our lives interweave with larger events.
I read this book through 2 times on the day I bought it. Then I copied out lines I liked and took up 2 full pages of my notebook. I have a feeling it will be sticking with me for a long time. Highly recommended.
Double Trouble in the Roaring Twenties: Valery Oisteanu and Lynne Sachs (PRINCE)
New York poets Valery Oisteanu and Lynne Sachs make distillations, sometimes with words, sometimes with images. As a collagist, Valery imbibes the detritus of visual culture, using the materials he has consumed to construct surreal, oneiric designs. As an experimental filmmaker, Lynne collects images and sounds and reshapes them into cinema poems that warp and enliven our awareness of reality. In the mid 1980s, Lynne’s father Ira Sachs met Valery and his wife Ruth in Bali, Indonesia at the beginning of their shared multi-year engagement with the island and its rich culture. Soon, Ira introduced Valery to Lynne during his visits to New York City. It was during these regular familial interactions over thirty years that Lynne and Valery discovered their shared passions for making image-based work as well as writing poems. Tonight’s Double Trouble reading at McNally Jackson marks their first public poetry convergence, as they celebrate the beginning of the Roaring Twenties!
When Lynne turned fifty, she dedicated herself to writing a poem for every year of her life, so far. Each of the fifty poems investigates the relationship between a singular event in Sachs’ life and the swirl of events beyond her domestic universe. Published by Tender Buttons Press, Year by Year Poems juxtaposes Sachs’ finished poems, which move from her birth in 1961 to her half-century marker in 2011, with her original handwritten first drafts. In this way, she reveals her process of navigating within and alongside historical events such as the Moon Landing, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., streaking, the Anita Hill hearings, the Columbine shootings, and controversies around universal health care. With intro by Paolo Javier and design by Abby Goldstein.
Fort Greene Store: Tuesday, February 4, 7:30 PM An Evening with Tender Buttons Press Featuring Lee Ann Brown, Katy Bohinc, and Lynne Sachs
Reception to follow
Lee Ann Brown founded Tender Buttons Press in 1989, naming it after Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. The press aims to publish the best in experimental women’s writing, and the poetics of all Tender Buttons books gives rise to an extraordinary range of innovative forms and modes. To celebrate the press’s 30th birthday and the publication of the new Tender Omnibus collection, Greenlight hosts a night of reading and conversation featuring three Tender Buttons poets: Lee Ann Brown, Founder and Editrix of Tender Buttons and 2018 Judith E. Wilson Poetry Fellow; Katy Bohinc, author of the poetry collections Scorpio and Dear Alain, among other works; and Lynne Sachs, filmmaker and author of Year by Year Poems. Each will read from their own work as well as that of other Tender Buttons poets, followed by a panel discussion on “The Life and Times of an Indie Poetry Press.”
When Lynne Sachs turned fifty, she asked herself one simple question: How have the private, most intimate moments of her life been affected by the public world beyond? The poems she wrote in response turned into this book. One poem for each year.
Sachs is a well-known experimental filmmaker. Year by Year is her first book of poetry, and in many ways it can be appreciated as the logical extension of her career as a visual storyteller. She describes her films as combining “memoir with experimental, documentary, and fictional modes.” Such a description might also be applied to her poems. Year by Year dips into memoir when it recounts events in her personal life. The glimpses into current events have a documentary feel. When Sachs describes moments she was present for but cannot possibly remember, such as her own birth, the book takes us into fictional territory. The hybrid form (memoir/documentary/fiction) is one experimental element. But even more innovative is the way she often presents us with two versions of the same poem. The handwritten draft and the final typeset poem face each other, resembling a book of poems in translation where the original and translated versions run in parallel.
I first read Year by Year in two sittings, focusing only the final versions of the poems. It is unusual for me to consider a poetry collection a page turner, but this book was. It propelled me through time from the poet’s birth to the birth of her daughters and beyond, from the Civil Rights Movement to the Iraq War.
On my second read, I scrutinized the handwritten drafts alongside the final versions, one poem at a time, letting them resonate individually. The experience was fascinating not only because it showed what choices the poet made to tighten each poem, but also because reading the two versions side by side created a not- quite-synched stereo effect, or perhaps something close to a superimposed image in a film.
In “1962,” for example, the final version reads: “Two baby girls brown and blonde/at home with mom and a nurse.” The draft version is less distilled, but it has its own appeal: “A plan, an American plan, two eggs any style, not the Continental breakfast, baby girls blonde and brown at home with mom and a nurse, a black woman whose name no one remembers.” In particular, the fact that no one remembers the nurse’s name, in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1960s, sets the stage for the Civil Rights events that will happen in the later poems.
In “1966,” “fields of daddodils that never drooped” becomes “Droopless daddodils.” The conversational tone shifts to a pared-down diction that sounds more childlike and more artful at the same time.
The draft version of “1978” includes “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” which the final version simply calls, “a feminist book on the body/I wish I loved.” The line breaks allow us to read the sentence as a whole and as a fragment, at the same time. We infer that the narrator wished she loved the book, but also that she wished she loved the body, the female body, her own body, enough to be comfortable learning more about its sexual functions. Having the name of the book on the facing page adds to the emotional impact, because so many of us know that book well, a cultural touchpoint that reminds us of how uncomfortable it can be to attempt to claim our bodies as our own.
The first poem in the book sets the tone by introducing the concept of time—the time of day, the time of year, the time of life of the poet’s parents when they became her parents: “Born at dinner time on an August evening,/the child of a twenty-one and twenty-three-year-old” are the opening lines. The use of time adds to the cinematic quality of the poem, grounding us in an “opening shot,” instead of the abstract or fuzzy entrance to a poem that a reader might expect. .
The poem “1964” immerses us in a scene that shifts from close up to zoom, from a little girl’s room to the vast night sky. We see the magical thinking of a young child, who might believe she can reach the stars or that she can change her parents’ behavior. The poem suggests the lack of control children have in their lives and the way they cope by refocusing their attention outward. As Sachs puts it, “My mother and father are fighting on the other side of the door./I lick the window next to my bed and pretend to taste the stars.”
It is not surprising that a poetry book by a filmmaker is lush with images. Even something as visually static as a phone call becomes vivid and tangible in “1982,” when the narrator is making a transatlantic call to her brother: “His hello transforms this dirty glass box/into four dynamic movie screens.” The poem then offers us glimpses of what the narrator imagines she sees on those screens, the events she is missing by being far from home. The poems also sometimes convey abstract concepts as physical objects, such as in “1961” where the future is a crystal ball that the newborn drops from her hands. It shatters and scatters “down the hall/out the front door of the hospital/into the sweltering darkness.” The “camera” zooms in to the tiniest of hands and then pans out to the room, the building, the outdoors. We can imagine two different “cameras” filming at the same time at vastly different scales.
Natural beauty and headline-making violence appear in the same stanza, showing, with that juxtaposition, that we cannot escape from the world around us. In “1999,” for example, “In our front yard now, Columbine grows wild./With each bloom, I think of her, a mother too.” The narrator cannot even look at her Columbine flowers without thinking of the Columbine school shooter. Again, Sachs uses something visual and concrete to pan over to the homophones they might prompt in a reader and writer alike.
Similarly, in “2004,” the narrator’s daughter’s first solo ride on the subway is made to coexist with explosions in the Madrid metro by terrorists. The public and the private collide in its own kind of explosion on the page in a visual way.
The book ends with the fifty-year-old narrator looking back over her life—another visual reference. The scene is her birthday party, where she “perform[s]/split-second happiness for the camera.” The last stanza reads:
I catch my reflection in the bathroom mirror
take another look at my own silent film
and listen once again to the soundtrack
I’m playing over and over.
This scene can be interpreted literally as the narrator watching a film she made. But the “film” is also a metaphor for her life, her private and public memories, and, by extension, this book. The last line is “I’m playing over and over.” As an artist, Sachs keeps playing, again and again, with each of the thirty-three films she has made over the decades and now, with her first book of poems, which are just as inventive and fresh, just as delightfully playful with form. These poems are innovative but never intimidating or deliberately opaque. Instead, they invite us in, encouraging us to play along. They give us a structure to enter into our own retrospective lives, our own distillations of time, our own superimpositions of the newsworthy world onto our most intimate moments.