(Knopf, 2013) 
That Lucie Brock-Broido writes like a seriously wounded angel with a liking for burgundy velvet and is heartbroken and heartbreaking with grief is obvious and famoused. That she cannot write about anything except herself is not true—in Stay, Illusion, her fourth book, there are good poems, triumphs of empathy, on Tookie Williams and Ricky Rae Rector (two executed black men), Osip Mandelstam, Stanley Kunitz, Glenn Gould, and a grandmother’s Canadian maid, along with a poor one on Trakl. But it's true enough that they roundly reflect her own feeling of being condemned to live after life is no longer a living thing. “It is not volitional,” she says of her predicament of being pegged to the dead. It is, then, what it is. Don't ask her to write as Mary Hasalife. But what she does about it, her hold on a minute, is in its own way adamant, persistent. She plies and confronts it with language that is like nothing else on earth, give or take a dog-eared corner called Dickinson, another called Plath. Against a biographical fatality so deep that it is the same as ontological (and melancholy is our ontology), she pits an extravagance of beauty and surprise, a signature idiosyncrasy, an imaginative and stylistic cunning so arresting, inveigling, and with such a delicate burn that it may well carry the poems forward as long as lyricism braves the ascetic Will to Truth. The will Nietzsche predicted would characterize the coming centuries. Will inhumane toward the aesthetic ideal and its justification of existence. Inevitably, ascetics have complained about Brock-Broido's supposed self-pampering fancifulness. But a dialectic of Truth and the imagination's essentially un-sugared “Untruth,” to recall Nietzsche's term, plays itself out in her poetry. On the one hand, she's “told you / Of the truth and nothing but”—courtroom lingo, except for the equivocal “Of.” She is indeed “heroic” in Nietzsche’s sense: her will to truth, however wrenched, is “hard, strict, abstinent.” In the new book, frequent self- hurting statements index this heroism, their plainness deviating dramatically from her unremittingly gorgeous second book, The Master Letters. “Don’t be so fanciful,” she instructs herself. “If you’d add those mustard-family vegetables // To the pot roast it would feed so many more.” (The gap in the line is a pause for nausea.) Well okay. “I loved with all my heart my fear”: is that plain enough for the general reader? But, again, B2 is precisely double, a wild system of contraries. She is the dark stallion in the film The 

Misfits, the one “kicking going down.” She counters dead-in-the-desert Truth not only with a wild variety of guises, if not disguises, but also with sweet water language-flows, stunning figure-unfoldings, sonic magic—“exquisite things.” These are her kicks, her strokes. Her imagination moves, in both senses. To borrow an image from Hazlitt, she doesn't jump out of the balloon as it begins to ascend; she goes up with it in style, launched upon the unmarked air. Aesthetic heroism. Her “wild usages” (Tom Moore)—e.g. eccentric diction, startling adjectives—are self-inflicted fillips; wake ups. One such consists in humor, including self-mockery, as in the following example of linguistic fluency: 

                 In the pamphlet on page seven you will find me

                 As a tiny odalisque on the endless blanket


                 Of the bower of my mother’s bed, coquettish,
                 In a poplin nightgown and my mallow-color shoes


There is a rousing wonder of life, also, in the concord of opposites—hiding out versus an extravagance of promised life and death—in this further example of fabling flow, linked to another display of fabric (fabric be my Beatrice, I am so fond of covering):

                 There I slept in the gold folds of the executioner's robe,
                 All that fabric spilling
                 Out before him like unbundled honey from its jars.


In addition, there are felt felt-soft runs of assonance and alliteration (“My life had been smooth as a Prussian ship gliding on the bridegroom // Of her Baltic waters in a season of no wind”), nubby vocabulary, rug-pulling line breaks (“Unfold for me but do not leave me / Wise, or full”), paradoxical wit (“I miss your heart, my heart”), series of splayed adjectives and nouns (Isadora Duncan’s “school of silk, batiste, and hurrying”), rhyme both hidden and full (“My little gun’s a Lady one”), fresh natural observations (“Barges of coal bloomed in heat” and “Ring fingers fattened for a spell”), astonishing metaphors and conceits, oxymoron (“A girl in gentle murder in the bowl of being there”), and epigrammatic wit (“What is not ever said you can’t take back”)—to make a stop. All such language-play in excess of Truth’s stalemates, released from its utility bill; every flight basketed in the imagination's Untruths (its will to power), relieves the dull sense that “The animals are ironed, docile now, flat at my feet,” the instincts finished, or the sickened sense of pushing a “toy / Pram filled with slippery mice.” Throughout, controlled rhythms stitch together, patiently, a continued identity. There is a witching, compelling transformation of the “as is.” There is fortitude of mind and felicity of genius. The work leaves a classic determinate impression. It achieves a complete reality. It has more originality than anyone has a right to expect. Unpurgeable pathos. And beauty inconceivable, except that Brock-Broido has conceived it. 

                                                                                                 —Calvin Bedient 





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