a eulogy delivered at Story Chapel, Mt. Auburn Cemetery, March 12, 2018
I’m heading for the kiosk in Harvard Square after an editorial huddle with the Chinese-born writer Ha Jin when Lucie Brock-Broido comes clicking out of the Paradiso (the city’s brimming with poets) and says she’s just received the galleys for her first book, so I follow her back to the little round glass table and drink black coffee while feeding on the poems in A Hunger.
The first time I saw Lucie, at a poetry reading, she was wearing a skin-tight red leather jumpsuit. She looked like a flamboyant Catwoman or a blond Emma Peel. Her appearance signaled the arrival of a different kind of presence on the buttoned-down Boston literary scene. Even half-peeled, her suit hid more than it revealed. You didn’t need to talk to Lucie very long before you recognized a true original, artfully defended, who dressed like she was waiting for Christopher Marlowe to swing by on his Harley. Her poetry glinted with likeminded force.
“We are of imagination all compacted,” wrote that other visionary poet William Blake. And no one knew better the stuff that we and dreams are made on than Lucie, who was one of the only people I know able to bend the space-time continuum to her will. In Lucie’s company, time disappeared. The spaces she inhabited she dreamed into existence. Gothic arches, gargoyles, even thrones began materializing in multiples on Sargeant Street in Cambridge. Lucie’s oncologist made house calls, driving hours from New York to see her. The only other beings I’ve met endowed with this capacity have been Tibetan lamas.
The last time I saw Lucie was at the Star Market in Porter Square. She had called me a few weeks earlier to say she had a brain tumor and was dying. She said it in the same way as she had said many things over the last thirty-plus years, with characteristic theatricality. Lucie appeared so elaborately shuttered you might not realize her heart was always wide open. During dark nights of the soul there was no better company. She’d been there, and arrived equipped with a miner’s headlamp. At first I thought she was kidding. Lucie was famously a connoisseur of the inappropriate remark. I didn’t put it past her. But she wasn’t. That night I texted her to say I wanted to drop by. Receiving no answer, I called, but her mailbox was full. Frustrated, I went shopping, instead, at the supermarket near where we all lived in Cambridge in the eighties, before the end of rent control. I headed for the soda aisle. And there was Lucie, eyeing paper towels. She was for some reason lately obsessed with Bounty. We hugged. I rested my head on her shoulder and did not want to leave. The decades tumbled together. She was, for me, the early days of literary life: frenzies at the copy center, clutching black binders brimming with drafts; Lucie and Marie at Stanley’s eightieth; Lucie and Bruce partying with Lucie’s mother in Somerville; Lucie with Susan Dodd and Jill McCorkle at Bennington; Lucie, Liam, Tree, and Alex at Bouley Bakery in New York. “Sorry I didn’t answer the phone,” Lucie said, calling me back to the moment. “I’m feeling a little dizzy,” she explained. I nodded. We said our _love you–love you_s and she went off to meet Eileen. I watched her walk, a little unsteadily, down the aisle.
Askold Melnyczuk is the founding editor of AGNI and contributes a series of essays called “Shadowboxing.” He is professor of creative writing at UMass Boston. Excerpts from his anti-memoir in progress have appeared recently in The Threepenny Review and Epiphany. The Epiphany excerpt, “Turbulence, Love,” was cited as Notable in The Best American Essays 2010. His third novel, The House of Widows (Graywolf Press), won the Editor’s Choice Award from the American Library Association as one of the outstanding books of 2008. His second novel, Ambassador of the Dead (Counterpoint, 2001) was called “exquisite, original” by The Washington Post, and his first, What Is Told (Faber and Faber), was a New York Times Notable Book for 1994.
In 1997 Melnyczuk received a Lila Wallace-Readers’ Digest Award in Fiction. Winner of the McGinnis Award in Fiction, he has also been awarded grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. He has published stories, poems, translations, and reviews in The New York Times, The Nation, The Partisan Review, Grand Street, Ploughshares, AGNI, Poetry, and The Boston Globe. His poems have been included in various anthologies, including The McGraw-Hill Book of Poetry, Literature: The Evolving Canon, and Under 35: The New Generation of American Poets. He has edited three volumes in the Graywolf Take Three Poetry Series, as well as a volume of tributes to Father Daniel Berrigan and a livre d’artiste on painter Gerry Bergstein. He also coedited From Three Worlds: New Writing from Ukraine.
He previously taught at Harvard University, the graduate Bennington Writing Seminars, and Boston University, where he edited AGNI until its thirtieth anniversary year in 2002. A research associate of the Ukrainian Institute at Harvard, he has served on the boards of the New England Poetry Club and PEN New England and has been a fellow of the Boston Foundation. In 2001 he received PEN American Center’s biennial Nora Magid Award for Magazine Editing as well as PEN New England’s “Friend to Writers” Award.
Melnyczuk founded AGNI in 1972 as an undergraduate at Antioch College and Arrowsmith Press in 2006. (updated 10/2022)
See him interviewed on New England Authors.