Snow’s holding off in Massachusetts. Five hours ago came notice from Columbia that Lucie Brock-Broido had died. Work’s been called off expecting snow and I sit with the browser shining: ‘Our beloved Lucie Brock-Broido, esteemed member of the Writing faculty’—then the low rehearsal of awards, the thresher trying to play a lyre. Bad, fool Orpheus, academia. ‘It is with great sadness that I share with you the passing’—and I’m waiting for the squall now, wondering if the whisky I have will last until dark.
First. Fuck you Columbia University School of the Arts. A perfect note on digital letterhead, perfect, encapsulating what’s most sickening about institutional ‘culture’: faced with a dear corpse, the disgusting machine can do nothing but supply its own cheap specular corporate streamers as basis for qualifying a life. A list of trinkets waved over her quiet body. Not ‘Lucie fretted and smoked by the manuscripts,’ not ‘The mayfly was about her,’ ‘She kept house with handsome cats,’ ‘She smiled, extending her hand’—not these. Repugnant machine Columbia University School of the Fucking Arts and every lecturer there who didn’t demand this tripe about ornaments be struck. Shameful and insular. Faced with a dear corpse and searching for the best plaudits to make a bier. I’m seething like the trees.
Yet this was Lucie, too; she and I fell out over what I deemed her white-collar approach, her equanimity, primness, misplaced propriety, ‘professionalism.’ A rep of the university, building gates around letters to make them soft for stillness or stiff with posturing.
But Lucie. Years earlier it was you at a summer writing program who said kind things about my work, and how can I know for sure it wasn’t those words that folded into my insouciance and made a polearm?
Today, Stephanie and I shared a feeling or more, too. I asked Scherezade if I could read a poem of yours, Lucie, and she agreed. I read from “Am Moor”:
‘Was moon-shaped helmet left // In bog’
and brought The Master Letters up to my face, just to cry near your poem. Now, right now, in a time of ubiquitous situation-poems—poems of accessible emotional ‘events’ like illness or breakups, poems without any linguistic register to speak of, without phrases of power or distance, Modular Verse, blue-collar stuff, right?—you walked up from the creek, wind and hair, words like fish in your fists. The words. In the poems of yours I remember, Lucie, every one mattered.
You wrote: ‘There are no sorcerers left, / only mechanics to fix things as they break down.’
Was it you Lucie who helped me to prefer the sorcerous and obscure? And if glaive gets me through to a valley, will I find your sigil in sticks by the fire?
Maybe not. But knowing you and saying No to you have drawn some part of my shadow in stone. Thank you, Lucie. Goodbye, Lucie.