"I want to write you a beautiful book of prose, against not least the before-too-long loss of tongue and sense and all sun-defiant hues on the river bend..."
With this salvo Zach Savich opens Events Film Cannot Withstand, a first book of prose from the lauded poet, who gives readers here a lyric meditation that bounds over landscapes of imagination, artistic process, place, and human intimacy, and that ultimately lives up to its opening promise to create a work of art to clutch onto against the dying of the light.
Savich's prose is nothing if not variegated—Events moves fluidly between narrative structures that range from relatively-straightforward memoir to diptychs combining photography and lyric blurbs, from a multiple choice quiz to an annotation of one of his own poems. While its flickering identity might risk accusations that Events is disheveled, there's a satisfying journey to be staked through the chaos. In fact, a large part of the fun of reading Events is that the prose invites the reader to perform mental gymnastics, the twists of which keep orbiting in the mind after the book is closed, and the shapes of which inhabit multiple tonalities:
"Does the heart set more like a bone or the sun?"
"They put my baby grandmother in a dumbwaiter during a knife fight."
To make something new exist just move faster or slower than everything that already exists"
"we awoke to pigeons moaning in the fire escape
dogwood and the scent of rain dogwood its pink drill treads"
That the experience is mutable from chapter to chapter is part of the book's appeal. The reading experience of one section does not provide a linear, predictable pathway into the next. For example, within Part One (of five parts) alone, "The First Swimmer" subsection explores the blank slate of creation; while "Holyoke Fences" bumps against the constraints of history, geography, education, etc., that form the walls of the (artistic) self; "Blurb" explores lineage, poetic and otherwise; "All Extant If" is a series of invented, one-sentence truisms; and finally Part One culminates in a "Sensibility Quizz" [sic] with questions along the lines of:
8. To make this room brighter will you:
a) turn on the light
b) turn off all the other rooms' lights
The quiz question makes explicit Savich's particular lyric logic, an underlying poetic tendency that recurs to ask readers to take negative space as the new normal, to flip the script on the too-easy interpretations by instead "turning off all the other rooms' lights."
Such inversions are further enacted in Part Two via the aforementioned photo/lyric diptychs: a series of squared-off single paragraphs, each left-handed against a respective right-handed photograph. The progression of imagery takes the reader through a snowy black-and-white landscape and mirrors the prose on associative rather than literal levels. A sort of negative-space operates here, as well: the photographs are atmospheric and arrayed to give the illusion that the photography describes the text, and not the (usual) other way around. In one diptych, a photograph of a distant farmhouse with snow-covered trees provides apt accompaniment to lines such as, "Mug up like a telescopic lens, everything always coincident... This is nothing but a specific kind of nothing."
Savich's currency frequently comes from finding the substance in such "specific kind[s] of nothing." Ultimately, Events is unmistakably a poet's prose: structured in paragraphs and not broken lines, but nonetheless made of flesh draped over a skeleton of intuition and associative logic, wound together with the lyric flow of a meditation rather than Dewey-decimaled into the linear categories of a topical essayist or conventional memoirist. In other words, it's vintage Savich, fitting to his poetics: "I think we should employ the full capacity (or a limited capacity, fully) of both language and the world, like a walk with a smart friend does." *
Indeed, reading Savich's prose feels like a walk with a smart friend, but it also feels like opening someone else's photo album and worming yourself impossibly through the walls of each photograph to bask in the glow of the inexplicably-familiar emotional subtext—his prose makes possible nostalgia for and understanding of events that are also simultaneously defamiliarized by being so esoterically personal to the author's experiences and perspectives, and as such Events sits among the high-water marks for the impact that nonlinear, lyrical memoir is capable of.