Sunday, September 22, 2013

Long Listed for National Book Award: Congratulations to Lucie Brock-Broido

Poems by Lucie Brock-Broido
I am a lover of the long, strange, and grandiose title. And so, it seems, is Ms. Brock-Broido. My favorite examples of this in her new book Stay, Illusion  are "You Have Harnessed Yourself Ridiculously to This World" and "Considering the Possible Music of Your Hair."

This summer I was sent an advance copy of Stay, Illusion to review and consequently spent much of August carrying the beautiful book with me and making comments in the margins as I stopped at red lights or took the collection out for coffee. Along the way I learned that "dirndl" is a traditional German skirt or dress and that I really need to read Kafka's Blue Octavo Notebooks.

More than this, I found myself drawn again and again to the scaffolding of the poems, to the long lines both intimate and faraway at once. In these lines the beloved is close and the language paired down. Here are some of my favorite lines in the book.

Cloak of many blankets wounding you to warmth. It was not,
We both agreed, the time for hospital, its open sea of urgent

Care. Close your eyes and try to sleep. Underwater the music

Of your hair is glossy even now, willowing in currents, away
From our island rancid with the spring.

                                                                 Not much longer now.

Green length of one hour, all the blood rushing to the places it will
Not be needed anymore. Now no longer now.

                                                         from "Considering the Possible Music of Your Hair"

The collection's title references a line from "Hamlet" and it is a tad unclear to this reader whether the loss of the father and the aftermath of the world without him is a perfect analogy for this book. Certainly the narrator of these poems is self-obsessed and as with Hamlet's youthful narcissism,  we are drawn into their struggles.

Lucy Brock-Broido
Finally, it is the the sense of a mind looking back on its life in the presence of death that interests me most. The language is paired down to particulars and with an urgency to speak.

However, one troubled orientation of the book is the constant references to "Jews" in a rather Shakespearean fashion. I find this troubling from the first poem onwards:

On the tunic of a Jew, preventing more bad biological accidents

                                        From breeding in. I have not bred-

          from "Infinite Riches in the Smallest Room"

I do not know Ms. Brock-Broido and so perhaps these references would make more sense if I did.

This is a book that I would recommend for poets interested in structure and surprise --- which I believe is most of us. It is a book that kept me company in late summer and my writing and thinking were the better for it.

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