Tag Archives: Maryann Corbett

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Maryann Corbett, ‘The Vanished’

 In the autumn of 2015, the production of paper cards for library catalogs ceased.

No matter how long ago they completed their disappearance,
I still expect them,
perhaps in a sort of narthex just past a pillared entry,
or off to the side
as if in a private chapel, or straight ahead like an altar.
Shrined in the silence,
modest and single, or ranged in ranks and banks and rows,
the gods of Order
lived in their tabernacles of honey and amber maple
or oak like chocolate,
darkened at times from the touch of a hundred thousand fingers.
On every drawer-front
the face of a tiny gargoyle waggled its brazen tongue out.
And so we pulled them.
And the drawers slid waxen-smooth, and the fingers flicked like a weaver’s
through card upon card,
and above the drawers were our faces, our heads all bobbing and davening.
A kind of worship
it was, with an order of service. A physical act of obeisance.
Its cloudy replacement
(perfect in plastic efficiency, answering almost to thought,
near-disembodied)
hurries us past the notion of order itself as a Being
worthy of honor.
So here I am, misplaced as a balky fourth-century pagan
mulling conversion,
but nursing doubts that the powers should be called from the general air,
seeking the numinous
still in its tent of presence, and longing to keep on clutching
the household gods.

Maryann Corbett writes: “This was one of those poems that spent several years stewing at the back of my brain as soon as I read the factoid that actually library catalog cards were no longer being produced. It’s a disappearance not likely to be noticed much by younger people, and I wanted to give it attention. What eventually let my brain’s stew boil over in images of all the card catalogs I’ve known, I can’t say. But it did so in a rush, a rush and roll that took the form of very long lines. I’ve written several other poems in hexameters–lines with six stresses–and I wanted to do something a bit different–and to leave space to breathe!–so I decided to alternate the hexameter lines with much shorter ones: dimeters, or two-stress lines.

 ‘The Vanished‘ appeared first in Alabama Literary Review, was anthologized in The Orison Anthology, Vol. II, and was included in my most recent book, In Code.

Maryann Corbett lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she worked 35 years for the Legislature. Poetry: Breath Control (2012), Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter (2013), Mid Evil (2014 Richard Wilbur Award), Street View (2017), and In Code (2020). Past winner, Willis Barnstone Translation Prize. Work included in The Best American Poetry 2018, as well as in the Potcake Chapbooks Families and Other Fiascoes and Robots and Rockets.

Photo: “Catalog Cards” by Travelin’ Librarian is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Launch: Potcake Chapbook 9, ‘Robots and Rockets’

I’m very happy to announce that the ninth in the series of Potcake Chapbooks has been launched into orbit: ‘Robots and Rockets’ is an SF issue (could you guess?) and has poems by five newcomers to the series: Bruce McGuffin, Juleigh Howard-Hobson, F.J. Bergmann, Julia Griffin and Geoffrey A. Landis – many already known outside SF through Light poetry magazine and other places. Returning poets are Maryann Corbett, Nina Parmenter, Marcus Bales, A.E. Stallings, Martin Elster and myself.

Copies can be ordered from Sampson Low for four or five Pounds or Dollars, including postage worldwide. Enjoy it! It is, of course, a blast(-off)!

Launch: Potcake Chapbook 8, ‘Houses and Homes Forever’

Home is where you hang your hat, as they say, but it’s more than that. It can be a place of endless work and frustration, or a place of peace and relaxation and deep, strong memories. Houses and homes are part of what makes us who we are.

These poems–all formal, of course!–are as usual in a variety of forms. They were authored by Potcake newcomers Melissa Balmain, Kate Bernadette Benedict, Kathy Lundy Derengowski, Nina Parmenter and Jennifer Reeser, and returning contributors Marcus Bales, Maryann Corbett, Ann Drysdale, Daniel Galef, D A Prince, A.E. Stallings and Tom Vaughan. And well illustrated, as always, by Alban Low.

For the price of a fancy greeting card you can, through the wonders of PayPal, get this 16-page chapbook online for £2.60 + £1.20 P&P to a UK or European address, or £2.60 + £2.20 P&P to a Worldwide address; the seven earlier chapbooks in the series are available as well.

An overview with photos and bios of all the Potcake Chapbook poets is here, all having a home in this big, rambling house.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Maryann Corbett, “Dutch Elm”

Maryann Corbett

That trees would die
yearly, we knew. The columns of the nave
of Summit Avenue, the architrave
of openwork where canopies unfold,
green or briefly gold,
the arched, leaf-dripping limbs
backlit with sky—

in every year, some go.
Some ends arrive with force: the papers warn
with pictures, after every storm,
of fallen branches, hollow at the heart,
or great trunks snapped apart,
battering cars and houses with the blows.
(We knew, but now we know.)

Some ends are quiet: the red
stripes appearing, like a garotting wound,
on trunks where the inspectors found
beetles in bark, bare limbs lurking in shade.
The tree crew and the chainsaw blade
will come—we know now—soon—
The stripe says, This is dead.

They make short work of things
with sweat and cherry pickers, saws and zeal
rope and rappelling acrobatic skill
and limb-shredding machines.
Only the stump remains
and is soon sawdust: nothing left to chance
but next year’s fairy rings.

No help for it, then.
This cut to sky, this coring of the heart.
These trees too far apart.
This just delivered balled-and-burlapped stick,
its trunk two inches thick,
decades from beauty. What we always knew:
We start again.

Maryann Corbett writes: “All day today I’ve been hearing, and sometimes watching, the process of the removal of my neighbor’s enormous elm, which peeled apart suddenly in a recent storm, exposing a hollow core. I was reminded that I’ve seen this process so many times in my city that it prompted a poem over a decade ago, and it’s a poem I’m happy to remember. It first appeared in The Lyric and is included in my second book, Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter.”

Maryann Corbett earned a doctorate in English from the University of Minnesota in 1981 and expected to be teaching Beowulf and Chaucer and the history of the English language. Instead, she spent almost thirty-five years working for the Office of the Revisor of Statutes of the Minnesota Legislature, helping attorneys to write in plain English and coordinating the creating of finding aids for the law. She returned to writing poetry after thirty years away from the craft in 2005 and is now the author of two chapbooks, five full-length collections already published, and a forthcoming book. Her fifth book, In Code, contains the poems about her years with the Revisor’s Office. Her work has won the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize, has appeared in many journals on both sides of the Atlantic, and is included in anthologies like Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters and The Best American Poetry 2018.

Her web page: maryanncorbett.com