The Poetry of Maryann Corbett

Claire Bateman Weekly Hubris Banner 2017

For such gifts, love (forgiving/their cost, and your digs at performers’ egos, and in hommage/to whatever shakes you wakeful at four a.m./on a May morning to gather a birdsong barrage)/I will bend my bony knees, while I am able,/to the chilly and unforgiving floors of churches/with patience, gaffer tape, and a hundred feet of cable./Wired up before these singers, we might dare/pluck loveliness out of the air.”— Maryann Corbett

Speculative Friction

By Claire Bateman

Poet Maryann Corbett. (Photo: Mims Photography.)

Poet Maryann Corbett. (Photo: Mims Photography.)

Claire Bateman

GREENVILLE South Carolina—(Weekly Hubris)—1 January 2021—Poet 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 35 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. In 2005, she returned to writing poetry after 30 years away from the craft, and is now the author of two chapbooks, four full-length collections already published, and two forthcoming books. Her books are: Breath Control (David Robert Books, 2012); Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter, a finalist for the Able Muse Prize (Able Muse, 2013); Mid Evil, winner of the Richard Wilbur Award (University of Evansville Press, 2015); and Street View, finalist for the Able Muse Prize and runner-up for the Hollis Summers Prize. Her fifth book, In Code, contains poems about her years with the Revisor’s Office and is due out this year. Her work has won the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize and has appeared in many journals on both sides of the Atlantic, including Able Muse, Barrow Street, Christianity and Literature, The Dark Horse, Ecotone, Rattle, River Styx, Southwest Review, and Subtropics. It has been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, American Life in Poetry and the Poetry Foundation website and is included in anthologies such as Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters and The Best American Poetry 2018.

Microphone Litany
By Maryann Corbett
            for John, sound guy

Wacky and various though they are, I praise them:
The sort shaped like metallic ice-cream cones
     (sturdy, utilitarian, everywhere)
along with the wand-like, pricey as small cars.
The impossibly tiny, glued unseen against cheeks,
     tucked into wigs or hair
(their wires always succumbing, always demanding repair).

Those dangled from ceilings on squint-invisible strings
or on booms, swaying in acrobatic danger,
hung at distressing heights from spindly stands,
swaddled in foam against windy buffetings
or strung up in weird cat’s cradles of rubber bands—

I praise them all and their magic, which lets me loll in bed
and summon a peal of bells in Normandy
or an ache of countertenor, ages dead.

For such gifts, love (forgiving
their cost, and your digs at performers’ egos, and in hommage
to whatever shakes you wakeful at four a.m.
on a May morning to gather a birdsong barrage)

I will bend my bony knees, while I am able,
to the chilly and unforgiving floors of churches
with patience, gaffer tape, and a hundred feet of cable.
Wired up before these singers, we might dare
pluck loveliness out of the air.

An Ancient in First-Year Greek
By Maryann Corbett

Well, yes, it’s odd.
Past sixty-five, with more gray hair than a Sistine-ceiling God,
mildly I face the board, among
these shining-faced and slightly nervous young,

bumbling along with them, in kindergarten lisp and stammer
through bafflements of grammar

and strange opacities of alphabet.
Already I think their shoulders slump a bit beneath their debt,

but in this room, we equally ignore
the susurration of the rising sea, the roar

of Syrian bombers, the drowned children on the beaches,
the looming dark-age misery that teaches

despair and skull-numbed fear.
But here, here

we are, poor dreamers, laboring at the lore
of tongues that have seen the world collapse before

and that will know, when all comes crashing down, when dire
becomes most dire,
old stories, good to chant around a fire.

From In Code (Able Muse, 2020); first published in The Arkansas International.


Mayday By Maryann Corbett
                                    remembering “Make Way for Ducklings”

From the small safety of their storm-drain puddle,
two bird-brained birds
puzzle across four lanes at seven a.m. They bob and waddle
—there are no other words—
his iridescent head, green beyond mistaking,
blazing a way for her dull brown. Unhurried,
they preen at the midline, pecking
at air. I pause mid-step beside the roadway, worried,

because my childhood faith, set on the sacred texts
read to me, read to my children, still blessing the shelves
of the branch library, holds that some love protects
such innocent selves.
It wants a policeman to materialize,
whistling and gesturing with white-gloved hands.
Slim chance: in less benevolent guise,
he stands

above with radar gun, in dark blue interdiction
while cars bomb down the pavement toward our couple, forty-fiving
in a thirty zone. The gods of children’s fiction
appear not to be driving
this plot. (Do I expect them to hold sway,
or the grown-ups’ god, the Stillness in the Dance?
The Ground of Being, who let the ground give way
in Port-au-Prince?

Two bobbing question marks.)
Above the creeping-charlie’s faultless blue,
a chalk-white smudge of contrail arcs
across a sky by Watteau. Everything stills.
                                                                   For now,
driver-attention holds, and brakes are firm and good.
Ducks cross in danger and care, those ancient, storied laws.
Early light spangles the cottonwood.
A flowering crab confettis its applause.

From Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter (Able Muse, 2013); first published in The Chimaera.

To order copies of Claire Bateman’s books Scape or Coronology from Amazon, click on the book covers below. Bateman Scape Bateman Coronology


About Claire Bateman

Claire Bateman’s books include Scape (New Issues Poetry & Prose); Locals (Serving House Books), The Bicycle Slow Race (Wesleyan University Press), Friction (Eighth Mountain Poetry Prize), At The Funeral Of The Ether (Ninety-Six Press, Furman University), Clumsy (New Issues Poetry & Prose), Leap (New Issues), and Coronolgy (Etruscan Press). She has been awarded Individual Artist Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the Surdna Foundation, as well as two Pushcart Prizes and the New Millennium Writings 40th Anniversary Poetry Prize. She has taught at Clemson University, the Greenville Fine Arts Center, and various workshops and conferences such as Bread Loaf and Mount Holyoke. She lives in Greenville, South Carolina. (Please see Bateman’s Author’s Page for links to all her publications.)
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