Happy birthday, Lucie Brock-Broido! Here are some quotes from the poet.
“I, abstract, adoring, distant / And unsalvageable.”
“I think poetry is a cold art with a big heart of all heat.”
“Wonderment I take as a word that implies luminosity, and I’m interested in that. But of some different metallic kind because my poems are troubled into being.”
“My theory is that a poem is troubled into its making. It’s not like a thing that blooms; it’s a thing that wounds. I had a terror I could tell to none, as Dickinson would say.”
“In its first blush, a new poem is not cold at all—in fact, whatever has troubled that poem into mind has come straight from the warm-blooded, mammalian heart. The steely, more ruthless self is the Editorial Self, the self that seizes back the excesses and the wildernesses and the confections of the earliest drafts. It’s akin to what Wallace Stevens, in my opinion, was discussing when he wrote ‘Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour.’ The first soliloquy of a poem is—in the initial rush—all heat, indulgence. You let the poem Have Its Way with You. The big heart is in that translucency of how a poem happens into being. You admit a series of initiating realities, truths—but not yet told slant. After a long period of incubation, you muster the courage to become hard on yourself, on the poem itself. You keep it on a tight leash as you edit the thing. You yank the choke-chain harder. The final soliloquy, many, many drafts later, is the poem after it’s been raked and scarified and held tight. Then, finally, you let yourself Have Your Way with the poem.”
“Real speech: what people say and what’s withheld from being said is of the essence to me. In real speech, that which is withheld hurts. On the page, that which is withheld is the most pure form of speech.”
“I came to poetry because I felt I couldn’t live properly in the real world.”
“I don’t have a stoic bone in my body. Would that I could conjure even a feigned indifference to—anything. To the contrary, I am different to everything. In real life, emotion is easy; holding back is tough. On the page though, it’s the opposite: that’s what I strive for—the chill (of course), the stupor (a necessity), but never quite the letting go.”
“What refuses to be restrained? In truth—everything. There is no stopping this. Blake’s lithograph: I want! I want! I want! I’ve coaxed myself to allow my feral instincts to run wilder still. To have less self-consciousness. Then I chisel down into my own odd, extravagant habit of what I call violent concision. Meanwhile, I try hard to contain the coveting that governs my every move: the idea that I want nothing, nothing (ever) to change. I have no instinct, no gift for hankering after (or even embracing) change, in what Kunitz called ‘the fullness of time.’ I really do yearn for every illusion to stay.”
“I came to poetry because I felt I couldn’t live properly in the real world. I was thirteen and in Algebra class. That was the day I decided I would be a poet for all time. I walked out of class and dropped out of school. That doesn’t mean I became a poet, but I did have this absolute severance with one period of my life where I felt I was being made to live in the world I was brought into—Straight-A student, The Most Perfect Little Girl—that I couldn’t inhabit anymore. And so I went to a place I felt I could inhabit which turned out to be, as we know about poetry, more hellish than the one I left!”
“I am a compulsive practitioner of magical thinking. And poetry is the skin that I have between my body and the world’s body.”
“Well I’m not sure that poetry is singular. There are more powerful arts, such as music. Maybe twice in my life, if I were lucky, have I wept from a poem. Get me near music and I can be bent into tears. It holds my heart and manipulates me more than poetry. Language itself, though, is at the top. Real speech: what people say and what’s withheld from being said is of the essence to me. In real speech, that which is withheld hurts. On the page, that which is withheld is the most pure form of speech.
That’s what interests me in poetry. That withholding, that white space, the pressure, and my long-term faith in violent concision, is still with me.”
“When I feel most powerful, as a writer, is not in the art of composition. I feel I am at the mercy of the hour, the moment, or the eccentricities of my own circuitry. As an editor of my own work and others’, that is where I feel at my most powerful. I am Edward Scissorhands. For something—an image or a phrase to get to live in a poem, it has to be a big deal. Earned.”
“I would venture to say most of us would not admit to trafficking in that trade or in that image of how we must lead our lives. It’s too painful.”
“As a writer, I am hard on myself. I write so much more than I would ever publish.”
“Now each poem must be, as Larkin wrote, its own sole, freshly created universe. At the heart of my life is the idea that I don’t ever want anything to ever change. That’s the basic tenet. This is not a very smart way to live, because that is the only thing you can’t change: that every thing is changing every minute. My title is a plea to the heavens, to fathers, to ghosts, to masters and the mistresses. I used to possess a quality that the fiction writer Charles Newman told me I was the essence of—radiating naiveté—many years later I wrote a poem with that as a title.”
“I think the reason I’ve published so few books is that I have a pretty high expectation of self-reinvention between books and I would prefer to have been in this world and published fewer works than I would publishing the books that would reveal the process of the changes. I have left many tracks in the snow in this book though—about transition and change, on purpose, wittingly, and with some embarrassment—because I don’t like to change in front of anyone.”
“I make a distinction when I’m teaching that there is a language called American. It is the language of our real life, in the exact moment of the quotidian. The extraordinary fluidity of American allows flux, unlike English. I think American is very democratic in allowing different hues of language and parts of speech to commingle.”
“Let me just say that the politics that I have are never the politics of poetics. I am not interested in politics. Politically, I am only very conscious of how we live and what we do right and what we do so awfully wrong.”
“I find it odd that, in real life people think I am funny but no one ever suspects that on the page! Personally, I think some of my work is a riot! I crack myself up, but I know that the poems seem so relentlessly dark. Dan Chiasson wrote recently that this new book of mine reads not as a memoir, but as a ‘grimoire.’ People read that and think, of course: ‘grim memoir.’ Would that they knew that archaic term. A grimoire is a little black book with spells and incantations in it.”
“t took so many years to discover what it was I was trying to do! I willed my poems into a different shape by trying to get over what I had already done. I loved the idea of a line stretching across the page. Charles Wright says each line must be a station of the cross. I would add to that that each line can be its own stanza. I find the intensity of that line extremely audacious and physically beguiling. I wanted many of the poems to have long legs. At first I was calling them clothespin poems, before I knew what I was doing. The lines seem pulled on either end, tight and taut against the wind.”
“I think we’re all in conversation on the page with that which came before us, or even during us. We inherit whatever canon we’re in the midst of, a great collective influenza.”
“Flowers do not tend to be dangerous. Poems, in my opinion, always are.”
“On the page, I am more than accustomed to being misconstrued as a thirteenth-century monk lucubrating in his dark anchorage. Or a pre-lingual child singing from the bottom of a well where she fell in Midland, Texas circa the ‘Me Decade.’ All that is my own fault. I brought me up as a ventriloquist, and in my early twenties I swore to god (in an extreme anti-Plath moment of my life; I have since come back to the fold) I would never stoop to speak in my own voice on the page.
I’m done with all that now. No matter what mask, it is I (it is I, not the wind) who speaks. I prefer to be legible. It’s time to get simple here.
Though I am wildly capable of certain linguistic fabrications, I am in it for the truth. OK: a truth. I am no longer interested in the hokum-pokum of the dramatic monologue.”
“Ambrose Bierce, in a sharp-tongued review, wrote that Oscar Wilde was a ‘gawky gowk’ who ‘wanders about, posing as a statue of himself.’ I’ll be taking that one to heart as well.”
“I know my work can be quirky, but in my mind’s eye I am almost transparent—nearly naked!—exposed to the point that I could be taken as just a player in the most extreme sport, called the ‘Running of the Nudes.'”
“Rhythm is the last thing for me. I have my rhythms; they’re inalienable; I can’t mess with them. I know what syllable goes where and it’s not negotiable, but it’s not an act of cadences that triggers a poem. It could be a title, I love the names of things.”
“I listen to the poem. First I hear the provocation and the name, and the trouble, the trouble in mind. But then what I listen to is not what provoked the poem, not what named the poem, not what I originally insisted that the poem was going to be about. The poem has to have its own circulatory system, and I begin again. When I’m ‘composing’ it, I can say anything, no one’s looking. I can be overwrought, underfed, I can be anything. It’s in the editing of it that I allow the poem to tell me what its particular truth will be. Even if that truth is Autobiographically Incorrect.
And one more thing, as a long-term and unrecovering practitioner of the prose poem (which I disapprove of, and find indulgent, and feel helplessly drawn toward), the sonnet is the finest and most perfected little cage for a poem.”
“To say what’s what and who’s who. Henri Cole used the term ‘violent concision’ and the sonnet is that form of violence, and concisely, because there’s this metallic cage you can rattle the bars of, but you can’t get out of. Just as it should be: a place where you can’t go on and on. In prose you must go on and on, and, in a prose poem, you have to account for the leaps and the white spaces and the deletions in a different legislative world. Sometimes when a student can’t write, I suggest writing a blathering, indulgent, bubbling, frothing, mess of a prose poem. And then you put on the rubber gloves, put your hand down into it, and get out a sonnet. Like the time in the middle of the night that I dropped my only set of car keys down the toilet at a rest stop on the Massachusetts Turnpike.”
“I’m of the ‘go away, get out of here’ school. I’m of the come-here, nothing-ever-felt-like-this school. That’s just one way of looking at it, just the negative, the black and white, because I am very interested in real life and its benevolences, and a whole kind of moral code that I live by: a tribalness, a loyalty, a connectedness. But in poems I feel much more wicked, more distant, rather cruel in ways that I’ve never noticed in myself by way of the real world. I put poems, my poems, in a very separate realm.”
“I have long sought to live in a sorcerer’s world, his apprentice—my home, my love, my life—the poem as prayer, as a form of incantatory protection.”