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No Matter What:
A Note for Collected Poems

by William Corbett

A friend here had remarked recently that when he was in school, the proverbial one-room schoolhouse, in fact, they were taught to identify the local wild flowers and plants by means of large placards, the reproduction of the plant on one side, and the data relating on the other. So one could therefore walk out into a specific world of a shared and common information. Despite the fight now to save the environment, which word shares with 'world' a very wide application, there is little place indeed one is taught so to recognize and admit, to know by those ageless means of "habits and haunts," in Charles Olson's phrase, the particulars of where one physically is.

D. H. Lawrence had early nailed the wistful American aggrandizement of nature in his note on Crèvecoeur in Studies in Classic American Literature: "NATURE. I wish I could write it larger than that. N A T U R E. . . ." Such 'nature' is, of course, confined to the country and goes along with bears and bobcats and blueberries. But this is City Nature , what another artist of William Corbett's habits, Claes Oldenburg, had argued was just as actual as the rural kind and being intensively the fact of human nature, finally far more interesting.

The skills of this poet are so quietly and firmly established in his work that one is apt to forget about them in either reading or hearing—which is, of course, their mastery. If one takes as gauge the following proposal of Zukofsky, then the genius becomes apparent:

William Corbett, Collected Poems (Orono, Me.: National Poetry Foundation, 1984).


How much what is sounded by words has to do with what is seen by them, and how much what is at once sounded and seen by them crosscuts an interplay among themselves—will naturally sustain the scientific definition of poetry we are looking for. . . .


Corbett's factual love for words, his trust that they will say his mind and feeling, that they literally matter, is profoundly engaging:

A sleigh's wooshing hush
running fresh
jolly comice pear wobbles
on the table    white bells
let nothing you dismay
["Montpelier Biscuit"]

Nor has any poet more fixed a place in language, called it to be there as all that knowing it, and recalling, and having a life, lives, there, with all that these mean and have to mean—all that that ever can be. "February 29th," for one instance. Or the complex "Runaway Pond"—or "Vermont Apollinaire":

I cannot carry a tune
Not in a bucket one note. . . .

Whatever it is that poetry asks for, what it needs to survive and to be listened to, I can hear or see none of it without a human pattern, that stain or wear or humor or fear that it not last, that makes things said a hopeful enterprise, a whistling in the seemingly endless dark. Much like the story of the boy walking through the grave-yard, who sings because he is afraid, I need a company, even my own voice if there is no one else's. But how dear to hear another's! What relief to know that someone is truly there.

Waldoboro, Me.
July 3, 1984


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No Matter What: A Note for Collected Poems
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