Tag Archives: Maryann Corbett

Poem: ‘City! Oh City!’

Cities–once all smeared with grime,
rich but dirty, full of crime–
clear the excess cars and dust
if their governments are just,
house the homeless, and among
their cares: clean water, healthy young.
Gorgeous buildings grow and twist
through a river’s gentle mist;
trees in leaf for urban hikes:
sculptures, cafes, books and bikes…
children run wild in the park
till theatre signs light up the dark;
music spills from bars at night–
the well-run city’s a delight.

*****

This poem was published (in 2021 or 2022, the Bahamas Post Office seems to have lost my copy so I’m not sure yet) in The Lyric Magazine, Jean Mellichamp calling it “a breath of fresh air”. I wrote it to be an upbeat view of the modern world in contrast to a lot of the more worrying future issues that I’m often concerned with; and when I put together the ‘City! Oh City!’ Potcake Chapbook, I included the poem to balance some of the less rosy views of urban life–though my poem is nowhere near as skilled as the pieces in the chapbook by Maryann Corbett, Amit Majmudar and others.

Photo: “le quai river cafe on seine” by grahamdale74 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Using form: Couplets: Maryann Corbett, ‘Fugue in October’

Baroque chamber ensemble and homeless encampment, Saint Paul

Perfect: the singers, strings, and keyboards. Perfect
Bruised sky above the tents of the squatters’ district
the little jewel-box church, its bright acoustic
calm in the year’s last mildness, the only music
softened a little in the candles’ lighting,
the mumbling underpass. The wind. No fighting
for this is God’s mind, woven of harmonies
for once. Tonight, for once, no one ODs—
and our souls thread through the flame of the vigil lamp
someone got lucky at the entrance ramp
as we hold, hold to Monteverdi’s line
(panhandling, on this warm day, with a sign)
and stop our breath until the last string dies
and parcels out his manna of salty fries
in the last great chord of his Beatus vir
while sirens wail some sorrow, far from here.

*****

Editor’s comments: “In case it isn’t clear from whatever device you are reading this on, each couplet here is comprised of a line about a musical ensemble in a church followed by a line about a homeless encampment under a highway. You can read it straight through as a soft-voiced line followed by a harsher one; or you can read every other line in one voice and the remaining lines in a different voice; either way, you are blending two very different aspects of city life into a larger, richer picture of community sharing, whether in glamour or squalor. This is an unusual and remarkably effective use of rhymed couplets of iambic pentameter.
The contrast built into the poem, and the skill with which it was done, made it a natural poem for inclusion in the ‘City! Oh City!‘ Potcake chapbook. It first appeared in Measure Review; and is included in the collection In Code.

Maryann Corbett writes: “Events that trigger a poem need not be as simultaneous as the poem makes them seem. The choral concert in this poem took place on a subzero night during the Christmas season; the rise of homeless encampments occurred at a warmer time of year–but both could be happening in my city at any time, and they probably still are.”

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: http://maryanncorbett.com

Photo: “sleeping on the rock of ages” by waferboard is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Maryann Corbett: ‘The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death’

Crime scene dioramas created as teaching tools by Frances Glessner Lee
Renwick Gallery, Washington, D.C.

Well-behaved voyeurs
bend above these exquisite
dollhouse miniatures

where the small-scale poor
die in ’40s dailiness.
Blood speckles a floor

tiled in one-to-twelve
scale. Ditto bath fixtures, beds,
plates shocked from a shelf—

Here’s a girl’s sliced neck.
Here’s another, legs jutting
from a tub, freaklike.

Is this Dresden head
brush-tipped with the purpling
livor of the dead?

To appreciate
such intently crafted pain,
one must contemplate

finger-cramping care:
quarter-inch-high postcards, penned
with a single hair.

A close eye for sin’s
rigor vitae: tiny socks
hand-knitted with pins.

Strict detail is key.
Look there for the rage of God.
Search for that and see,

sisters. As will I,
taken with the pains by which
quiet women die.

*****

Maryann Corbett writes: “In the autumn of 2018, I visited Washington, D.C. to speak at Catholic University, and while I was there, my sister-in-law took me to visit the Renwick Gallery. Its permanent displays are all lovely, but what stayed with me was a visiting exhibition: the Nutshell Studies. The quaintness of the doll-sized views and the perfection of craft in the recreated period interiors contrasted eerily with the bloody crimes laid out in them. They all stayed with me for a long time, and I did more digging about their creator and her work. The resulting poem—in haiku stanzas, because a small form seemed appropriate—was first published in Pangyrus. It’s included in the book In Code, which centers on my years in the Revisor’s Office but talks about all sorts of social evils.”

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

Photo: “Murder is Her Hobby Exhibition” by massmatt is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Launch: Potcake Chapbook 12, ‘City! Oh City!’

City! Oh City! – poems on the light and dark of urban life. Thirteen of the best contemporary English-language poets present their wildly differing takes on the glamour and squalor, the joy and heartbreak, the varied people and the hidden wildlife of our modern cities.

Five of the poets are new to the Potcake Chapbook series, and I’m delighted to be adding Kate Bingham of England, Francis O’Hare of Northern Ireland, Pino Coluccio of Canada, and Quincy R. Lehr and J.D. Smith of the US. They join eight returning poets. Amit Majmudar and Maryann Corbett deserve special mention for their brilliant use of form to capture contradictory situations: Majmudar’s static street scene which suddenly changes pace to a hectic chase, Corbett’s interwoven Baroque chamber ensemble and homeless encampment with their separate realities in a shared evening in Saint Paul, Minnesota. In addition: Michael R. Burch, Jerome Betts, Terese Coe, Marcus Bales, Martin Elster and myself; everyone contributes to this memorable capture of the complexity of the modern city.

Bios, photos and links to read more of their work can all be found on the Sampson Low site’s Potcake Poets page, while all the chapbooks in the series, showing which poets are in which, are here. Each of the 12 chapbooks is profusely illustrated (of course) by Alban Low, and can be yours (or sent as an intriguing gift) for the price of a coffee.

Value the city – citification is civilisation!

Sonnet: ‘Ultimate Control’ (from the series ‘Voices from the Future’)

If you’ve the aptitude and love the role,
the Army’s always been the place to be.
Rise in the ranks, absorbing strategy:
coordinate, consolidate, control.
And what a blessing when those new implants
gave mind-to-mind awareness… and command.
Like the unthinking fingers on your hand
you can maneuver thousands with a glance.
The battle then’s to see what you can wrest
from other leaders, fighting mind-to-mind;
you have to grow, or you get left behind:
can you control ten million, like the best?
Of would-be kings there’s never been a dearth…
will it be only one who rules all Earth?

*****

This sonnet has just been published in Pulsebeat Poetry Journal’s 3rd issue (thanks, David Stephenson!) It is one of a series written in response to a comment from Maryann Corbett (a brilliant formalist poet) about the bleakness of my vision of the future. Well, she’s a Christian, so she has a totally different take on humanity’s future from my irreligious SF-infused speculations. Another sonnet in the series, ‘Exiled Leader‘, was published by Star*Line.

I don’t find it bleak to think that there will be unprecedented individual and planetary disruptions. I’m not distressed at the thought of humans being supplanted some posthuman higher intelligence. Should the earliest rat-like mammals of 145 million years ago be upset to learn that their human descendants build cities and kill any rats they find in them? Should they identify only with the familiar rats and wish that evolution had stopped there, or instead be proud that they have also developed into humans (and dogs, and whales, etc)?

For myself, life is a wild ride, and I long to see where it will take humans in a hundred or in a thousand years. Because of the current revolutions in genomics, robotics, AI and nanotechnology, I doubt we can reasonably forecast even a hundred years into the future. We can speculate all we like but once we merge a human with AI, create a cyborg, all bets are off.

20120401 – Hand – IMG_2898” by Nicola since 1972 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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