Remembering Lucie Brock-Broido

by Michael Ansara | March 12, 2018


Lucie Brock-Broido wrote gorgeous lines, lush lines, beautiful poems in a completely unique voice.

Wrote. I look at that sentence and there it is—the horrible, irrevocable, unbelievable past tense. Lucy died last week, leaving a hole in the poetry world and broken hearts in those of us lucky enough to read her work, learn from her generous teaching, hear that totally unique voice. Almost all deaths are hard on those of us left behind, but this death at 61 seems transparently premature and unfair.

With blond hair down to her waist, usually in boots and velvets, Lucie could in appearance seem to inhabit another time, perhaps the Victorian, or perhaps an alternative universe. But her richly embroidered poems were totally of this time. As beautiful as the language is, the poems are unflinching in their engagement with the heartbreak of our times, our world.

Lucie could write about anything, everything, and make it sing. She wrote about leopards and prisoners and open-carry gun laws and love and the condemned and of men and of women and of horses and of cats and of so much more. Each time she wrote, she wrote about so much more than any one subject. Her poems are precise. Precise and cosmic and always gorgeous all at the same time.

She was intensely loyal to other poets. She was incredibly generous to her students both at Columbia University and in her summer seminars. I was amazed watching her find something worth keeping and building upon, even in the clumsiest attempts by one of the many deeply admiring poets and would-be poets studying with her late on summer nights at her Cambridge home. Always late in the night—the later the better.

With me, her generosity took the form of a ruthless destruction of every poem I brought her. Patiently but firmly, respectfully but with no possibility of argument, she would root out every bit of sentimentality that so often soaked my lines. She would attack my generalizations and what she saw as my incurable romanticism. Always, she was right. She would send me home at 1 a.m. feeling chastened and excited.

And now, this large heart with its singular voice is stilled. “What if I were gone and the wind still reeks of hyacinth, what then” she wrote.

And I have no answer. Only an aching heart.

Lucie Brock-Broido lives in her four books, and anyone who loves poetry needs to read them.