Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Corbett, "Sacred Harp Convention"

Progeny shenanigans are underway. My husband, having gone to Mt. Katahdin with a load of Scouts, turned around and zipped to North Carolina to fetch no. 1. And today I am washing for no. 3's departure... (No. 2 must stay home and work.)

So here's a poem not mine, as my "free" time has been devoted to award reading and housecleaning this weekend. It's by Maryann Corbett, from Breath Control (David Robert Books, 2012), which I plucked up while at West Chester Poetry Conference for a couple of days.

I picked this one in honor of that quick trip to Carolina and my mother, who sent up a chest of green peanuts and fresh black eyes (or lady peas or purple hulls or something--can't wait to see.) And it's Sunday on the porch down South, so here goes:

Sacred Harp Convention

Don't let it fool you. The careful Southern manners,
the primly white-walled church in its Baptist plainness,
the rigid etiquette of the square of singers--
nothing is tame here, nothing without its dangers.
Certainly not the sound. Tone like a bray,
pitch and tuning a bristle of disagreement,
dynamic range from freight train to tsunami.
You don't hear this: you quail before its power.
The fourths and fifths of its harmonies opening like jaws.
The words lying in wait for the unsuspecting--
all that wandering, all those wayfaring strangers,
everyone leaving, bound for the promised land--
and now the teeth of its meaning close on your throat
and drag you to earth: you're choked, you're stupidly sobbing,
remembering your dead, so that the alto beside you,
whose voice has already rasped away your defenses,
goes quiet and settles an arm around your shoulder.

If you don't know what sacred harp is, fly here.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.