Poetry News

Writers Remember Lucie Brock-Broido

By Harriet Staff

Remembrances and reflections on the life and work of Lucie Brock-Broido are coming in, with Mary Jo Bang writing at Boston Review and, in a piece at the Paris Review addressed to the future readers of Brock-Broido, Stephanie Burt noting that "[t]he past, the patriarchal past, was very wrong, and Lucie was right about it." At the New YorkerHannah Aizenman collects poems from the magazine's archive (the poet contributed work for over two decades). "Just to read the poetry is to see—in its hypermetric lines, its cliff-face line breaks," writes Burt, "its 'gathering / Of foxes oddly standing still in the milk broth of oblivion'—how there was more to her and more in the poetry, more to consider (before reflecting) beautiful, and more to gather into the self for reflection than most poets, and most poetry, have in store."

Burt also considers the late poet's contributions as a teacher:

To see her as a classroom teacher—as I did in the early nineties, just before she came to Columbia—was to see her restlessly metamorphic, supernatural talent (supernatural, beyond nature, working with more than what we have been given) at work in real time. She had a generosity that few can show: she shared her energy with individual students, not one or two but all of us, in clusters as well as one at a time. Lucie (LB2, as she signed herself) gave all of us, in six or seven colors of ink (evergreen, tangerine, amethyst), more attention than our poems had ever received—along with access to cats and new coinages and sometimes tea.

She also gave us, before the Web and when Xerox machines were a very important thing, painstakingly compiled dossiers of poets to read and of poetic moves that we could emulate, if we so chose, more examples than we had ever before seen. I remember her telling early-nineties students, often for the first time, about Jane Miller, Denis Johnson, Frank Bidart, and on and on. I still have the photocopies, some divided into categories that she made up (for example, The Swerve). Some of the undergraduates who learned from those constellations of examples (again, this was before her Columbia era) are now grown-up poets with books of their own; others are doctors or legal scholars. Those future scholars (if they delve into Harvard’s files—I hope they do) will see how thoroughly Lucie’s noticings, as well as the models of her first books, allowed these young writers to become themselves. Watching her organize something or someone—an entire writing program, a classroom, the homeostatic arrangement of verse on a page, a single complex sentence, a young poet’s attitude towards this demanding, forgiving, personal art—you could see how much power her deliberately elaborate styles could hold and how much she could give away, how much she knew and how much she figured out about style and need and growth and fear and appetite and promises, and also about Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wyatt and Sumeria and Scottish ghost stories and the catastrophes of American carceral capitalism and the compromises that power involves.

I wrote about Lucie’s work in the late nineties, and I have written about it (perhaps not often enough) since. As much as I love The Master Letters, I think she got better with each book. She became more deeply and meditatively herself. Though I had the joy of teaching Columbia students alongside her a few years ago, even then I felt like more of a fangirl than a friend—and I liked the feeling. I am still a fan. When I reread her work—especially the twenty-first-century work, shot through with elegy as it is—I feel, Who would not be a fan?

We'll keep you posted as the news sinks in.