Poetry News

Rest in Peace, Lucie Brock-Broido (1956–2018)

By Harriet Staff

This morning, a note went out to Columbia School of the Arts—where Lucie Brock-Broido has long been the Poetry Concentration Director—announcing that the beloved poet and teacher has passed away after a struggle with cancer. She would have turned 62 in May. Word of Brock-Broido's passing has also arrived by way of the Washington Post and through Amazon's Omnivoracious, where her editor Deborah Garrison writes: "Her poetry... while stunningly various in its forms and subjects, had its signature: injustices unmasked in beautifully embroidered, fanciful language that continually fascinated her readers and was hugely influential with students of poetry over several decades."

In a Q&A about her poems "Father, in Drawer," and "Extreme Wisteria," Brock-Broido was straightforward, almost wistful:

I don’t have a stoic bone in my body. Would that I could conjure even a feigned indifference to—anything. To the contrary, I am different to everything. In real life, emotion is easy; holding back is tough. On the page though, it’s the opposite: that’s what I strive for — the chill (of course), the stupor (a necessity), but never quite the letting go.

[...]

“Extreme Wisteria” contains “extreme” hyacinth as well as wisteria. Are extreme flowers like extreme sports — i.e., are they dangerous?

Flowers do not tend to be dangerous. Poems, in my opinion, always are.

Wisteria is, first: a hardy, deciduous, capable-of-earnest-grasping shrub which bears small flowers. After that, it can be pressed (violently if you will) into an attar of its former self. In this poem, wisteria is also a state (of mind), the place one heads toward when feeling wistful. There are other states—such as “Irrinois”—that district somewhere between Annoy and Irritate. Or the state the poet Liam Rector dreamed up, called “Sentimentia,” the place where sentimentality bleeds into dementia, and the result is extreme truth on the page.

Attar of hyacinth is the scent I’ve worn all of my adult life, the only scent in fact. (I eschew change.) So consummate is this pressed oil, though, that on more than one occasion, I’ve been told of the lingering presence of my absence in rooms I’ve been in. The man who runs the elevator in the building where I live once told me that, were I to commit a crime, I would be apprehended instantly. Hours after I am gone, he told me, the evidence of hyacinth goes up and down with the elevator all night long.

Are extreme flowers like extreme sports? What I know of extreme sports: my favorite is called “Extreme Ironing.” You think I’m making this up. Participants take baskets of heavily wrinkled clothes, their boards, their irons (electricity, not portable, seems to get there once you do). The sport is played in radical settings; at the edges of cliffs, or hanging from high bridges. The athletes are called “Ironists.” I am one of those.

Both of these poems, but particularly “Extreme Wisteria,” use the sentence fragment to significant grammatical and poetic effect. Could you say more about this choice?

On fragmenting: I’m in love with the idea that a poem should always try to be smaller than itself. The white space should be as detailed and passionate as that which is said aloud.

A beautiful assertion from Brodsky: “The more invisible something is /the more certain it’s been around.”

Brock-Broido's most recent book, Stay, Illusion (2013), was a National Book Award finalist. Her fifth collection of poetry, Left of Oblivion, is to be published by Alfred A. Knopf. Our hearts go out to the poet's friends, family, students, and colleagues. She will be greatly missed.

 

Originally Published: March 7th, 2018