Published in Berkshires Week on Feb. 27, 2013
Original article: http://www.benningtonbanner.com/berkshiresweek/ci_25231906/poet-opens-series-at-bennington-college
BENNINGTON — “On the road blue thistles, barely / visible by night, and, by these, you may yet find your way home,” Lucie Brock-Broido writes in “Stay, Illusion,” her acclaimed new collection of poetry.
With Bennington College back in session for its spring term, the campus has woken up from its winter break, the students are back and the calendar is full of illuminating talks, readings and performances — many free and open to the public, like the Poetry at Bennington series.
Organized by literature faculty member Mark Wunderlich, Poetry at Bennington attracts some of the country’s greatest active poets to campus, starting next week with a visit from Brock-Broido, Columbia University’s poetry director.
On her visit to Bennington, where she briefly taught in the early ‘90s, Brock-Broido will give a reading from “Stay, Illusion” at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, and a talk on Emily Dickinson’s “Master” letters on Tuesday.
Released in October, Brock-Broido’s new book, “Stay, Illusion,” was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award in Poetry, and it is under consideration as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, which will be awarded in about two weeks.
Wunderlich is a former student of Brock-Broido’s.
“Nobody else in America sounds like her,” he said. “She has this completely unique poetic style, where the language is foregrounded, and she makes use of heightened diction in her poems, and sometimes even arcaicisms. But also, at the core, she’s a poet writing about real emotional experience. This combination of heightened style and emotional grounding makes her work appealing.”
With a penchant for carefully sculpted language, Brock-Broido says she’s known as an “unintentionally difficult poet” — a reputation that she hopes to disprove in her new collection.
“My project with this book, which also took nearly 10 years to write,” she said, “was that I wanted to write poems that were more permeable to a reader and still in my voice, which is never plain-spoken.”
The book is also a departure from Brock-Broido’s previous work in its formal elements and visual presentation. Many of its poems use unconventional spacing and alignment. Brock-Broido said her publisher even had to alter the shape of the book to fit some of the long lines in her poems.
“Stay, Illusion” also contains poems with apparent political themes, another departure from Brock-Broido’s previous work.
“I really wanted to write poems that had to do with what I call ‘Red America’ and ‘Blue America,'” she said, referring to poems in the collection that touch on themes like capital punishment and humanity’s treatment of animals, a topic that Brock-Broido (a vegetarian) cares about deeply.
The night before her reading from “Stay Illusion,” Brock-Broido will also speak to students about Emily Dickinson’s “Master” letters, which inspired her own 1997 book, “The Master Letters.”
Brock-Broido explains that while Dickinson wrote thousands of letters during her lifetime, 2,000 of which have been collected, there is a literary mystery surrounding three specific letters written to an unknown recipient, who she refers to as “Master.” Unlike her thousands of others, these three letters were never sent — they were found after Dickinson’s death by her sister. For 150 years, these letters have been a source of literary controversy and intrigue, as we will probably never know the identity of the letters’ intended recipient, or if Dickinson intended to send them at all.
Aside from the mystery, however, scholars agree that the “Master” letters are literary masterpieces.
“They’re very urgent, quirky, interesting letters full of yearning” Brock-Broido said. “Pure yearning.”
For her own collection of poems, “The Master Letters,” Brock-Broido says “I spent nearly a decade of my own life living inside my own project with Dickinson as my ‘master,’ in that I was in conversation with her work.”