Maryann Corbett is the featured poet for the fifth annual First Things poetry reading. Though she began her career in the academy as a trained linguist and medievalist, she left in favor of motherhood and a career in civil service. She turned to poetry later in life, and since her entrée into that world, has published four volumes of poems. Her work has also been featured in numerous publications.
Her latest collection, Street View(2017), presents readers with a pedestrian’s perspective on the world—from New York to Jerusalem and from Northern Virginia to Florence. The collection reveals just how assiduously a poet is always paying attention. Corbett takes us on foot as she considers, with an eye for even the quietest and most mundane of details, everything from a refugee’s first Midwestern winter, to the profession of Paolo Veronese before the Inquisition, to the West Side Y and Joshua Mehigan’s refrain that “West Broadway glitters in a mist of rain.” On the latter, she concludes:
I know now with exactness how the lights
conjure that disillusion in his brain
and yellow cabs whoosh past him, three
abreast. An image trumps a balky drain.
It plants Manhattan in the deep heart’s
a solidness I didn’t own before.
which is the reason I’ll be flying back
some spring to come . . .
. . . Yes, I’m Midwestern, fashion-senseless,
too slowly for this town’s up-tempo zing,
fuddled by subways, gawking and absurd,
but coming back, in spite of everything—
wired up and giddy as this longed-for
“Wired up and giddy” indeed: Corbett’s scenes are shrewdly observed, but not without deference to whimsy. Her poems bounce along, enjoining us to observe with her the spectacle of existence—“each day’s amazement blasting at our eyes.” Even as an urban commuter, Corbett eschews bleary-eyed indifference. Briefly elevated above the Charles River on the Red Line in Boston, she reflects:
Over the brilliance, floating beings,
each on a single wind-luffed wing,
slip as if barely earthbound. So
a glimpse of heaven, yes? I know,
I know. “Wings” are a stretch for sails,
and “heaven” overhypes the Charles—
but humor me. This time, this light
are all the paradise we get
before the lower stations’
less celestial destinations.
Such attention is, in Corbett’s words, “the catechesis / we need now.” For more of her observations, join us in New York City on October 27. RSVP here to secure a seat.
Moriah Speciale is assistant editor at First Things.