When I flipped over to the back cover of Sarah O’Brien’s recent collection of poetry, Catch Light, it was both startling and encouraging to see the resemblance. I was originally interested in reviewing the publication because it entailed reading beautiful writing about photography, two of my lifelong passions; however, only after holding the book in my hands and reading the biography excerpt on the back did I notice that she was a recent graduate from Brown University. A brunette woman, with bangs and a nose ring, who has traveled and lived internationally and works as a writer and photographer, I felt like I was looking at myself (hopefully) in ten years.
As I read through O'Brien's poems in one of my favorite coffee spots, I could imagine her sitting through my photography studio critiques, much more eloquently discussing the displayed photographs: the lighting, captions, titles, and content. Her collection of poetry, a National Poetry Series Winner, chosen by David Shapiro, ranges from descriptions of the history of photography and technology to a critique of light, space, captions, and how images are used and discussed as visual narratives.
O'Brien explains in an interview, “I was reading all of these manuals—how to build a darkroom, how to develop a photograph—and it only seemed natural to start writing my own... because of the inherent poetic opportunity in the images associated with photography.” Her brilliantly written poems all join together in a beautiful unity, exploring the limits and power of imagination, perception, memory, and reality, most importantly in relation to the human experience of light.
Raised on a farm in Ohio, O’Brien has since lived in Cape Town, Paris, and various locations across the United States. She got her B.A. in Comparative Literature at Brown, where she translated Ryoko Sekiguchi’s Heliotropes for her thesis, followed by a MFA in poetry at Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. She now works as a photographer for The Daily Iowan.