At an age when some careers and dreams start winding down, Lucille Broderson took up a pen and found her voice.
Broderson, “a poet of brilliant detail,” died Feb. 7, after a writing career that spanned the final three decades of her life. She died, her family reported, “from complications of being 98 years old.”
Broderson was in her 60s when she and her husband, Philip, walked into a creative-writing class at the University of Minnesota. But it wasn’t her age that made her stand out.
“She was magical,” said professor emeritus Michael Dennis Browne, one of Broderson’s many admirers in Minnesota literary circles. “She was a natural writer, one of the most natural writers I’ve met in 45 years of teaching. … She would dip into her memory, into her images and come up with very honest and surprising writing.”
She had an ear for the music of the language, he said; as well as the ability to pick out the details “that make poetry a living thing,” Browne said, pointing to one of her poems, “Alone at the Old Cemetery,” where she threads between children’s headstones, past the eroded nose of a stone lamb, toward the graves of two little girls she once knew.
“How I envied them, pretty and blonde, with zipper overshoes, a live father and a white muff,” she wrote. “Dead at twelve, drowned. And I envy them still. I’ll always envy them.”
Broderson kept taking classes, and kept writing. She won a poetry fellowship from the Minnesota State Arts board in 1987. She published two books. Her book of poems, “But You’re Wearing a Blue Shirt the Color of the Sky,” came out 2010 when she was 94.
She loved the writing process and the excitement of being around other creative people, said her son, Eric Broderson. He remembers watching his mother at a poetry reading at The Loft, reading her works without a trace of nervousness about the size of the crowd before her, all her energy focused on the words.
“There was some magical creativity within her that just came from who-knows-where,” he said. “I have a hard time reading some of her poetry, because I get so moved.”
Browne also remembers her “blazing away” at the podium during readings.
“She was wonderful as a performer, and the poems were wonderful,” he said. “Her heart was very open, she was very affectionate. … She had a fierce side, which was part of her wild mind. She astonished me.”
Born Ethel Lucille Mourer in 1916, she was the seventh of eight children of Bessie McGee and John Andrew Mourer of Willmar, Minn. At Humboldt High School, she wrote side by side with her future husband, Philip J. Broderson Jr. One edited the newspaper, the other the yearbook.
But after college at the University of Minnesota, where she studied English and library science, came marriage, and five children — Philip, Stephen, Arthur, Eric and Mary — and little time for writing. She held onto her love of literature, helping to establish the Dakota-Scott County Library and serving as president of the library board in its early years.
She leaves behind five children, 11 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren — plus her poetry, which has been published in anthologies, journals like Poetry magazine and read aloud on the Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor.
She wrote about life, death and the shifting landscape between. In “This Is Your Old Age, Lucy,” she describes the days when “your teeth find white bread tough and apples cut into your gums.” In “Requiem,” she wrote: “The children tiptoe past my sleeping room, past the chair I drowse in. The days go like April’s daffodils and now the asters wither too and I haven’t even seen them.”