There is no logical reason to believe that Lucie Brock-Broido’s first [public] reading in ten years was conceived and choreographed and carried out for the specific fulfillment of my own private writerly needs, and yet I cannot shake a feeling that still, somehow, it was.
Brock-Broido appeared at the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House on October 17 to read from her book Stay, Illusion (released two days prior, on October 15) and to engage in conversation with Poetry Society of America Programs Director and MFA candidate Charif Shanahan. Beside many other titans des artes et des lettres, Brock-Broido publishes with exquisite infrequency (“a new Lucie Brock-Broido book,” Shanahan noted in their dialogue, “is an event”), and the readerly ravenousness that sometimes attends this was palpable in the crowd that packed the place to hear her read and then lined up at apparently inordinate length to have her to kiss their books with her pen.
If you are, as I am, a person who writes but declines identity as a writer, perhaps because writing is merely the least ineffective way you have come up with yet to deal with the discomfort of consciousness in a universe that contains as much beauty and pain as this one so far seems to, what do you do when confronted with a poem entitled “You Have Harnessed Yourself Ridiculously to this World”?
And when the carnelian voice of the poet, whom you cannot see because the only open seat left was the one behind a bookshelf, tells you therein,
Sorrow’s a barbaric art, crude as a Viking ship Or a child
Who rode a spotted pony to the lake away from summer
In the 1930s Toward the iron lung of polio
and then, in a subsequent selection,
Arguably, still squabbling about the word inarguably …
Whatever suffering is insufferable is punishable by perishable.
In Vienne, the rabbit Maurice is at home in the family cage.
I ache for him, his boredom and his solitude.
On suffering and animals, inarguably, they do.
Tread very gingerly; you’ve used up almost all the words
? You take notice, I suppose; anyway, I did.
When she had finished reading, Brock-Broido talked with Shanahan about her poetic identity, process, philosophies, and the making of Stay, Illusion (which, by the way, is a National Book Award finalist). She laid out her binary theory of poetics, in which “there are two kinds of poets: There’s Seamus Heaney, who … says, ‘C’mere – this is what it was like,’ and Frank Bidart says, ‘C’mere – you have never felt like this,’” and I thought, Even though I now have to go home and look those guys up, I get exactly what that means.
And when she said that, to her, most plainly, “a poem is an egg with horses in it” and that her subject matter as stated to strangers on airplanes is “pets,” I wanted to ask her, Did Charif put you up to this? Preposterous, of course, but the scale of my psychic inversion was by then bordering on hallucinatory. It all seemed too perfect to be incidental.
To Ms. Brock-Broido: thank you. I understand, or almost, that you didn’t do all that for me, but no knowing effort could have had greater effect, I think.
You can find the NYU podcast of Lucie Brock-Broido reading from Stay, Illusion and in discourse with Charif Shanahan here.
The Poetry Society of America has two upcoming events, both of which will take place in the Great Hall at Cooper Union at 7pm: Yet Do I Marvel: Black Iconic Poets of the 20th Century, on November 7 and a Memorial Reading for Seamus Heaney on November 11. For more details and for a full schedule of events please visit the PSA website here.
Rachel Lieff Axelbank holds an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA in Anthropology from Princeton University. She is working on a book, entitled Nonnative, an examination of Hawaiian environmental and social history via the story of one particular plant. Previously, she was a staff writer and editor for The Jewish Advocate of Boston, and her writing has appeared in The Atlantic online, Boston magazi ne, Hadassah magazine, Princeton Alumni Weekly, PresenTense magazine,The Jewish News of London, and elsewhere.