Book Review

Dissonance by Maryann Corbett. Louisville, KY: Scienter Press, 2009. $8.50

Reviewed by by Judy Swann

Good poetry is a lifeline in the face of harsh terrestrial conditions, the dissonance of lives hamstrung by abundance. Maryann Corbett’s slim volume Dissonance is good poetry. Only 19 poems long, with no fancy binding or an ISBN, in a 100-copy run, it easily displaces bigger, fancier books on your shelf.

Although she tells stories, Corbett is not, at heart, a storyteller. Her approach to poetry is through the craft. Take, for example, her sonnet “Fist” (p. 20):


It looks like knucklebones, the way the lines
fist up in fours, each rhyme a hardened stud
under a leather glove. Or meat-fork tines.
You stab with them; the puncture holes ooze blood.

It’s built for doing damage. It’s compact.
It lays its weapons down in ordered rows,
puts on its ninja costume, silk and black
and disciplined, adopts its kung fu pose,
waits. Is silent.

                             Then it whirls around,
flips on its superpowered X-ray glance,
and THWACK! Your nemesis is on the ground.
(And, God, the satisfaction when he lands.)

You feel like watching someone’s entrails twist?
Write one of these. A sonnet is a fist.

Is there anything more unexpected and wonderful than this marriage of Elizabethan decorum and the play-station mentality? It is tap dancing to Vivaldi, it is the barbaric yawp transcribed for harp.

Corbett is also good when she’s less showy, though. The collection’s opening piece, “Winter Exercise,” (p.3) conquers any lingering fear of rhyme one may have. With its extraordinary ordinariness, it celebrates two middle-aged women walking their daily three miles on communal asphalt:

On a walk with a friend,
the cheerful topics run thin:
Her children’s marriages end;
my children’s fail to begin.

But we walk, though we may be fools
to walk when the wind chill stings

The poem ends with the poet’s characteristic wry wit:

We are walking to save our lives.
We are waiting to find out why.

There is not a failed piece in the collection. Every poem deserves to be cited, but I will limit myself to one more. This is one to read aloud when visiting your aging parents or to forward to friends at work by email to lighten up a cheerless afternoon in the office. Quick, accessible, perfectly patterned, its 3-foot lines and 3-line stanzas flesh out the contrast noted in the title, “Bluejay, Singing” (p. 19):

Bluejay, Singing

One note—then it descends
a major third—then two.
Splashed on the ear, it blends

the feel of wet and dry,
a liquid with an edge
to slice humidity

in August morning heat.
This newness, from a bird
I thought I knew about.

So many years, so wrong.
I only knew the scream.
I never knew the song.

In this piece, Corbett is easily Dickinson’s peer, but fully modern, and sitting on a tree in your yard. Wonderful!

Judy Swann’s work has appeared in LilliputDanse MacabreTongues of the Ocean, and Tilt Poetry Magazine, as well as other print and online venues. Her work at The Waters has been repeatedly honored by the judges at the InterBoard Poetry Competition. She is an Iowan who lives in gorgeous Ithaca, NY.