Lucie lives in comfortable decadence in the Upper West Side, quite near Columbia University where she teaches. She welcomes me in her apartment and the luxurious red of the chairs and wall hangings suffocate me. Sweet William, a Maine Coon cat scampers away as I arrive, but he gets used to me quickly and is a major part of the interview, sometimes fielding questions for Lucie, sometimes just batting his powerful front paws at some of the wires and cords that keep my recorders and cameras running.
Although Lucie's been at Columbia for 10 years (she directs the program here, as she did a decade ago at Harvard), this is the first year she's not spent part of the time in her much-beloved "castle" in Cambridge, MA. She misses Cambridge because for years that is where she's written all of her dense and beautiful lyric poetry. She's rented her place out, and on two occasions has made the drive up just to sit in the driveway. She picks up mail from her boarder, but turns down the opportunity to go inside.
We drink powerful coffee and chat away a lot of a sunny winter afternoon. She talks with great fondness about her students, about their poetry. And she talks forcefully about how important it is for her to help them in any way. She went to Columbia years ago as a student, so she knows what her students face and she's a partner to them as they work.
I ask her a bit about her beautiful, haunting - but too infrequent - books, just three collections in almost 15 years, and she's candid in her response. She has a rigid writing season that begins in October and only lasts until early winter. The cold - cold that hurts - inspires yearning in her, and that in turn allows the poems to come. (To say her work is long-awaited puts too much emphasis on the 'long' and not enough on the 'waited.')
She's a rare beauty, a rare talent, and when afternoon moves to early evening, I feel forlorn in leaving. I say my goodbyes to William, and he tells me a secret. Lucie walks me down to the street, and I wander off - intoxicated - toward my car (somewhere) near Riverside Park.