The evolution of the poet Thérèse Broderick and her acute sense of sensory detail


ALBANY — Therese Broderick was walking around her neighborhood of Pine Hills recently and spotted something she had never noticed before: a bird singing excitedly while holding a long piece of straw in its beak.

Broderick stopped short, pulled out a handmade notebook, and jotted down the sensory details.

“I’m going to let this image seep into my mind. It could end up as a metaphor in a poem someday,” said the 62-year-old poet, whose writing practice blends elements of Buddhist meditation and the discipline of a journalist’s deadline.

Broderick, a staple of the local poetry community for two decades, let nothing stand in the way of finishing the draft of a new weekly poem on Saturday. She shares the poem in progress during a sacrosanct Sunday morning critique session with fellow poets and University of Albany faculty members Jil Hanifan, Sarah Giragosian, Juliette Gutmann and Jonathan Dubow. The sessions, which last 60 to 90 minutes, have been going on for 11 years.

“Everyone needs an editor,” Broderick said.

Broderick and I spent Friday morning deconstructing a definition of poetry and what living a poetic life means to it.

She quotes the late great Irish poet Seamus Heaney, who called poetry “language in orbit”. She quibbled with poet and critic Elisa Gilbert’s column in the April 17 New York Times Book Review, an edition devoted to poetry. Gilbert postulated that words with rhyme and meter are poetry, but they also “omit something” and have an ineffable quality. “The poem is a vase; poetry is liquid,” she writes.

Broderick does not dwell on the distinctions between poetry and prose. She feels that poetry at its best embodies in words an almost mystical experience. “You don’t listen to a poem as much as you feel the poem is listening to you,” she said.

“I try to live a poet’s life,” she says. “Poetry makes me more aware. I pay more attention to sensory details. I express myself in a deeper way. This is part of my poetic evolution.

As National Poetry Month draws to a close at the end of April, she came up with a modest proposal. Broderick has turned his personal collection of 400 books of poetry, anthologies and collections of Capital Region poets into a lending library. She invites anyone to contact her to borrow the titles.

“I support local poets and share the beauty of poetry with others,” she said, a stunning figure who chooses her words carefully and speaks in a soft whisper.

For 20 years, Broderick purchased the work of local poets from bookstores, poetry readings, library book sales, and local poetry presses. They fill a bookcase in her adult daughter’s former bedroom upstairs which she has turned into a writing space.

She cataloged the volumes, most of which are limited editions, and listed them alphabetically in a bibliography on her blog. The collection ranges from “Mermaid in Metamorphosis” by Eddie Abrams to “Three Sides to the Looking Glass: A Poem for Albany” by Rachel Zitomer. Broderick includes many of his own works, including a 2011 self-published chapter book, “At April’s End”, printed by The Troy Book Makers, and a 2021 volume, “Crosswinds”, a self-published chapter book and sewn by hand.

There are several entries for poet Dan Wilcox, dean of the local poetry scene, whom Broderick describes as “the hub of the wheel, working tirelessly to make poetry visible”.

“We’re the silent majority, all those people who write poetry,” said Wilcox, who has hosted local open mics and a variety of poetry readings for more than 30 years. He amassed an archive of thousands of images of local poets, which he dubbed “the world’s largest collection of photographs of unknown poets”.

“I love Thérèse’s idea of ​​a lending library,” he says. “She is a solid poet who has longevity. She is calm, withdrawn and very involved in the poetic community.

Wilcox and Broderick have long been active with Albany Poets and the Hudson Valley Writers Guild. The two groups merged under the auspices of the guild in 2021.

Despite the ups and downs over the decades, the current local poetry scene is thriving, Wilcox said. “Ease of publication caused an explosion of poetry,” Wilcox said.

Broderick graduated in 1977 from Columbia High School, where her mother, Jane Broderick, taught English. His father, Laird, was a commercial artist. Her first-grade English teacher, Ilda Lyon, submitted Broderick’s poem, “Essence,” and it was published in a National Poetry Press anthology when she was 15.

“I’ve always liked to play with words,” recalls Broderick. Her father recited poems, including “Casey at the Bat,” and her mother read her classic children’s literature.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in English from Holy Cross, she earned a master’s degree in information science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She spent 20 years as a reference librarian in the public libraries of Troy, Albany and Bethlehem.

She returned to graduate school at age 45 and earned a master’s degree in creative writing in 2006 from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky, a low-residency program.

“I lived my life as a poet from then on,” she said.

“She’s serious about her job,” said her husband of 33 years, Frank Robinson, a retired state administrative law judge, expert numismatist, author of “The Rational Optimist” blog and author of five books by no -fiction. He writes his wife a poem for her birthday, holidays and special occasions. Their daughter, Elizabeth Robinson, 29, is completing a Masters in Education and International Development at University College London.

“She’s the best writer of all of us,” her mother said.

Broderick often returns to lasting poetic influences, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Jane Hirshfield and Gregory Orr – whose book “A Primer for Poets & Readers of Poetry” she finds indispensable.

His practice of Buddhism and poetry converged towards a sort of vanishing point. “They both have to do with mystery and impermanence, the yin and yang of life,” she said. “I guess the ultimate poem is silence.”

To borrow works by local poets from the Broderick Lending Library, check out the bibliography at and email him at [email protected] Here is one of his poems.

Mr. Canada admonishes the poets

again this month

one of you post

a new poem

horns and V’s

more praise for that

most common bird

in ink

like in the sky

but how true are you


who named them

Canadian gray geese

not belonging to any land

I loved it too

their couplet


and their Alexandrian flights

Paul Grondahl is director of the New York State Writers Institute at the University of Albany and a former Times Union reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

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