The Lightning Room With Sara Backer

Welcome to the Lightning Room, where DeWitt Brinson & Simon Jacobs take turns asking PANK authors extremely difficult questions about their work.

December interviews come courtesy of the mind of DeWitt Brinson.


I direct you to Three Poems by Sara Backer in our March issue. Now join us, won’t you? As we discuss the new toll system for traveling to poets, Buddha bunnies, and the dark stairwell we drink from.

1. These poems made me hungry. How do you see the intersection of poetry and food?

Obviously, both are basic necessities. Beyond that, food is the vehicle of the most tangible imagery there is. Is that cheating? (p.s. I do make a fabulous devil’s food cake from scratch.)

2. After digesting Crocodiles in Real Life, what poem by Vallejo should be ingested?

To me, Vallejo is a city in California you drive through on I-80 and pay toll to cross the Carquinez Bridge from which you can see the lighted Domino sign fill up with neon sugar. (I’ll mail back my graduate degree tomorrow.) But since that’s your only question about Crocodiles in Real Life, I’ll ramble. The story line is totally factual; I experienced this in 1981with substantial apprehension and relief. I didn’t write about it until decades later when I perceived a political metaphor. I live in New Hampshire, a State that has been targeted by the Free Stater movement that is blatantly out to destroy our government in the vague name of “freedom” (i.e. freedom from democracy, freedom from social responsibility).  Most people regard the Free Staters as harmless whackos, but the movement is funded by billionaires. It’s naive and dangerous to think they are safely contained. Little bits of them add up to one big predator, a predator who has no qualms about eating us alive. 

3. Is a chocolate gun the only way to kill the Easter Bunny?

The chocolate Easter Bunny is immortal. No gun, chocolate or otherwise, can kill this Pagan icon of fecundity conflated with the rising of Christ. You could try melting it in a double boiler and pouring the chocolate goo into a buddha mold, but that wouldn’t stop the rabbit.

I’m not trying to kill the Easter Bunny. I just want to point out that things that kill us pose as safe and tasty stuff we’ll gladly eat.  Anyone remember candy cigarettes? Propaganda is never harmless.

4. What is the most poetic experience you’ve had?

I have a recurring dream about a library at night, a brutalist structure with total glass and light on the ground floor and less and less light and more concrete as the stories rise. I can’t distinguish the top floor from the dark sky. In my dream, I recognize I’ve been there before, yet I always end up in an empty side stairwell, where the doors to the stacks are supposed to be locked. Each time, I gain access to the floor higher than the last one I visited.

5. Where you would you like to go that you’ve never been?

I’m lucky to have chosen to travel the world in my wayward youth, so that rules out about 22 countries and most of the U.S. Lately, I dislike traveling in airplanes. Boats are even worse.  So, my vacation plans have become like Emily Dickinson’s: Tuesday—front porch, Wednesday—dining room, etc.  All right, if you forced me to buy a ticket somewhere and gave me five seconds to answer, I’d say China, mostly because I’ve already been to Alaska, Indonesia, and Japan.

6. Picture yourself standing in room full of people you know, but they’ve all forgotten who you are. Write a little bit about how you feel.

Relieved. They’d have forgotten all the selfish and neurotic things I’ve done. Excited. Think about it; I would hold all the power in that room! Like getting a second life without the memory wipe. If it came to working the room, though, I’d feel uncomfortable. I don’t like being the star of the show; I prefer to be the quiet understudy in the corner who doesn’t miss a trick.

Thanks for inviting me into The Lightning Room. Is that a chocolate cake I see?


DeWitt Brinson is a poet. That guy, he does it all.

  • Carolyn Waggoner

    A delightful interview, just as anticipated.

  • What a brave interview. Great answers–and questions from a truly inspired writer.

  • Blanche Milligan

    What makes these rather ridiculous questions entertaining is Ms. Backer’s clever answers. But, I guess some credit goes to the formulation of questions that prompt interesting replies, so thanks.

  • Michael Spring

    Sara Backer is one of my favorite poets. She is full of depth and wit. This interview is great. I laughed several times. The questions are hilarious and her answers, beat for beat, echoed the obvious intelligence and wit of the interviewer’s questions. Kudos!

  • Hello Sara. Bill here. Djerassi. Peanut butter, banana breakfasts. Great admirer of your work. Have an observation to make regarding JANUS poem. Would you please email me sometime soon? In any event, meanwhile as ever,
    Here’s to you

  • Joyce O’Connell

    Good interview. Questions refreshingly different and you were well up to the challenge of providing responses that kept the whole process just a little off center. Me likey!
    a few seconds ago