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On Thursday, November 14, students in Mr. Babstock’s creative writing class attended a poetry reading at the 92nd Street Y. They met with poets Lucy Brock-Broido and Henri Cole and got a chance to discuss their work.
Right on the corner of Lexington Avenue, the 92nd Street Y sits in spitting distance of some of the city’s most notable attractions, just around the block from renowned institutions such as the Guggenheim. While the 92nd Street Y may not be as much of a New York icon as other attractions in the neighborhood, its legacy isn’t as modest as one living outside of the city might assume—in fact, 150 years of philanthropy and patronage of the arts is summed up well by its surprisingly immodest architectural presence.
“Stepping into the huge, brilliant looking building amazed me. We were escorted into a room adorned with high windows and pretty paintings,” wrote sophomore Julliette Paul, reflecting on the experience. Julliette and several other students were given the opportunity to participate in what can only be the stuff of dreams for aspiring writers: getting to meet published writers and interact with them.
The students were treated to pizza, complimentary signed copies of the works of the authors that they were going to meet, and a round of intellectual discussion ranging in everything from the styles of the writers to the New York educational system.
“We were playing in the adult world for an evening,” wrote junior Sarah Iqbal afterwards with obvious deference. The night soon reached its acme, as writers Lucie Brock-Broido and Henri Cole arrived.
Broido published her latest book of poems, Stay, Illusion this October, and Cole released Touch in September. Both works are critically acclaimed by publications such as The New Yorker and Publisher’s Weekly. The students, breaking out of a stupor induced by the star presence of the two acclaimed writers, asked their questions. The students enjoyed the clear colloquialism of the two writers. Noted was how they constantly interrupted each other, supplementing various answers; the familiarity was indicative of a warm camaraderie.
The conversation grew intense when the group discussed Broido’s poem, “Of Tookie Williams.” The poem described a man who was given the death penalty, and the line (“last night here on earth, he only took milk”) struck a chord with the students. Broido explained that Tookie, the title character, had a low IQ, and that the Constitution claims that a person is not allowed to be killed if they don’t understand what is being done to them. The power in the line was that Tookie only asked for milk as his last meal because he could not understand that he was having his last meal. Broido was visibly passionate about the work and the subject.
After this session, the group was escorted to the actual reading, the audience mostly composed of adults. Broido commenced the reading, her voice loud, commanding, and mesmerizing. Cole followed, his timid voice drawing a stark contrast between the two writers. The poets spoke evocatively of the struggles of sexuality and death, but the bleakness of the topics did not faze the students.
The nighttime hour shifted into the double digits, but the students who attended agree that the experience was worth staying up late to finish their homework. “I’ll remember it always, as snug a memory in my brain as their books on my shelf,” said Juliette.