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YEAR BY YEAR POEMS by Lynne  Sachs


by Lynne Sachs

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-927920-20-9
Publisher: Tender Buttons Press

Fifty poems and their drafts chronicle a lifetime of personal and public events.

In 2017, filmmaker Sachs created a documentary, Tip of My Tongue, to celebrate her 50th birthday. The project included 50 poems, one for each year of her life, presented as handwritten works in progress. With this collection, Sachs offers the finished poems, often accompanied by reproductions of the drafts. This allows readers to see how early ideas are amended, discarded, or refined. In “1970,” for example, notes jotted on the draft include “Chronicles of Narnia—Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy / Ecology—terrariums.” Several lines play with the Narnia idea, yet the final draft drops the image to focus on the terrarium, drawing a comparison between that enclosed world and the TV news: “Vietnam behind / another glass / in the den.” Poems without drafts to clarify movement of thought can sometimes have obscure connections, as in “1995,” where the speaker considers her baby daughter, once inside her, now outside. That poem has some jarringly sinister images (“I am a snake, a spider, the flame of a burning sword”); it would have been instructive to see more of the processes that produced them. Some poems concentrate on family or individual memories, such as “1972,” which explores the changes of puberty; others draw explicit parallels between biography and history. In “1991,” for example, the speaker sees herself (as many women did) in the lawyer Anita Hill as she’s testifying: “I don’t know her, but I am there with her.” A line in the draft reads “I alone can hear her gulp,” which becomes “I notice her gulp” in the final version. In moving from “I alone” to “I,” the speaker makes more room for collective experience; she is not alone in noticing.

A filmmaker’s compelling work provides an opportunity to trace a poet’s creative process.