Heather Corbally Bryant is a Lecturer in the Writing Program at Wellesley College. Previously, she taught in the English Department at the Pennsylvania State University and at Harvard College where she has won awards for her teaching. She received her A.B. in History and Literature from Harvard College and her PhD in modern British and Irish literature from the University of Michigan. She lives in the Boston area with her family.
Author photograph by @ Heidi Lynne Photography
Thunderstorm has just been nominated for a Massachusetts Book Award!!!!
Island Dream Songs, a full-length collection and my eighth book of poems, has just been accepted for publication by the Finishing Line Press!!!!!
Follow me on twitter @heathercbryant3 and medium.com Heather C Bryant
Contact me at: email@example.com
Poetry Reading for the Wellesley Alumnae Club, 7:30 pm on February 6, 2019 at the Green Man Pub, Riding House Street, London.
London Launch of Eibhear Walshe's latest book, The Trumpet Shall Sound, Handel House, 25 Brook Street, London, 6:30 pm on Thursday, February 7, 2019.
Poetry Reading with Lynne Spigelmire Viti at 4:30 pm. on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 Slater International House, Wellesley College.
Recent Poem (from James Joyce's Water Closet)
On our last afternoon, sky gray and full with rain, I set out again
For a place I have yet to find; twice before, I’ve been unsuccessful;
Once, I turned the wrong way and went too far, meeting up with
The main road before finding my left; a salty man waylaid me and
Explained to me what I might find there; he lay down in the grass,
And wanted me to as well; instead, I stood while he told me talk
Of long ago when the archeologists came to the place and he hid
The grave, and misled the experts about the location of the bog
People—no sense in getting the know-it-alls involved anytime
Soon; they would just make a mess of things, nothing more; but, if
I looked past the last graves, there I would see the mound, hidden
Under the burrs by the part that has not been mowed in years;
In Ireland, nothing gets in the way of the story, not one thing; in
Between splashes of wetness, my feet soaked from the wet grass
Soaked with dew, I fork left, then left again; two white pups
Follow me for a short while, until they become distracted by
Another passerby—I lift one gate over the stones, untie the bow
Knot at the next one, the iron which keeps the cows, horses, and
Sheep out—here, all is simplicity—long grass, tall stones, wedged
Against the winds; the head markers face towards the water so as
To get the best view over the land, to the hills beyond; whole
Families are buried here, and young, too—by the dates, it looks
As though you’re doing well if you get past thirty—infants too, and
A young boy as well as a young girl, a son and a daughter together,
No mention of a mother—a few black flies buzz around me--
I tour the perimeter, having put the camera away—it doesn’t seem
Write to photograph the dead—besides, I have just read something
That says, once we photograph something we cease to remember it;
Here, I notice the artificial flowers, blue, green, yellow, and pink--
Too bright to be real, set against wedges of stone, rectangles dug
Into the earth; some graves homemade, stucco decorated with
Seashells, for those lost at sea; I close the gate behind me—and
Walk back to the cottage, watching for rain from the darkening sky.
Most Recent Work:
I am delighted to announce that my seventh book of poems, James Joyce's Water Closet, has been published and is available from the Finishing Line Press and Amazon. It has won honorable mention in the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Competition for 2018 and is being nominated for a Pushcart Prize!
"Heather Corbally Bryant has given us the gift of traveling to beloved places and the people that inhabit ancient lands with wisdom and dignity. With a luminous language the poet brings us to Ireland and with her verse that is deep and melodius we accompany her to Ireland. A land, a place that in Heather Bryant's poetical imagination conjures a world of inner and outer beauty. Each poem is crafted with beauty and wonder and we the readers travel through land and sea and imagine Dublin and James Joyce with the poet's eye that is generous in its understanding of the places we inhabit in our soul: A book that one can read so many times and find in each poem always something new to wonder and reflect.
--Marjorie Agosin, Professor and Poet, Wellesley College
I am also delighted to announce the upcoming publication of my work of creative non-fiction, You Can't Wrap Fire in Paper, a reimagination of my grandmother's years in Shanghai during the 1920s, will be published on August 15th from the Ardent Writer Press. It will be available on amazon and www.ardentwriterpress.com. It is being published in connection with the reissue of Irene Corbally Kuhn's 1938 autobiography, Assigned to Adventure, about her years as a pathbreaking journalist.
"Heather Corbally Bryant captures the heady, mysterious atmosphere of Shanghai in the 1920’s in her moving novel of her grandmother’s life, career, and romance during this era. "You Can’t Wrap Fire in Paper,” transports you to the fabled city of Shanghai in the 1920’s as viewed through the eyes of a young American reporter whose life will be forever altered by her years there."
Jean McCormick, Journalist, Washington, D.C.
Heather Corbally Bryant is a Lecturer in the Writing Program at Wellesley College. Previously, she taught in the English Department at the Pennsylvania State University and at Harvard College where she has won awards for her teaching. She received her A.B. in History and Literature from Harvard College and her PhD in modern British and Irish literature from the University of Michigan. She lives in the Boston area with her family
Recently, Nicole Miyashiro updated Grace Schmidt's previous biography of Heather Corbally Bryant for the Pennsylvania Center for the book. The link can be found here: http://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/bios/Bryant__Heather_Corbally.html
Through Your Hands, her first novel, won the Rising Star designation from the publisher.
Her academic book, How Will the Heart Endure: Elizabeth Bowen and the Landscape of War (University of Michigan Press) received the Donald R. Murphy prize from the American Conference on Irish Studies.
Her first poetry collection, Cheap Grace, was published in May 2011 by the Finishing Line Press.
Lottery Ticket, a second poetry collection, was published through the Parallel Press Series of the University of Wisconsin in November 2013; Caroline Collins wrote the following review of the collection for "Verse Wisconsin":
Book Review of Heather Corbally Bryant, Lottery Ticket, Parallel Press, 2013, by Caroline Collins
Heather Corbally Bryant’s latest volume, Lottery Ticket, quietly ponders the many risks inherent in living and loving, balancing love and loss in poems that build slowly and powerfully, pulling us in with a steady, calm voice. Her deceptively simple style, reminiscent of such American poets as Edward Taylor and Emily Dickinson, draws deeply on the metaphysical tradition. This is a philosophical, meditative poetry, rich in irony, wit, and paradox, as the book’s title poem aptly demonstrates. There we encounter an elderly woman, moving alone in “Late afternoon November gloom,” to trade in her dollars on a vain hope:
One by one, she scratches each
Digit with the rounded edges of
A shiny nickel, eyebrows knitted
And knotted, she turns up a loser
Five times over.
Bryant ends the poem on a ruefully ironic note: “who was to think / that she would be so lucky?” (39).
“A Baptism” opens the volume with details that immediately catch the reader off guard: “What do we do with the things of the dead-- / Glasses, rings, shoes, pants.” The next lines bring death and life together, balancing the sensory experiences of a funeral with the equally striking imagery of the ritual that often marks the beginning of life: “At the baptism, sunlight pours through purple glass, / The priest passes around incense and pungent oils.” Such ceremony is lost on the child: “Dressed in a white christening gown, the black-haired / Baby sleeps deliciously through the ceremony— / Arms raised up high once in startled reflex // As if surprised by all the fuss“ (8).
“Curator of Clouds,” a narrative elegy that follows “A Baptism,” is a remarkable recollection of the poet’s childhood wish for her mother’s immortality and the parent’s subsequent promise: “she would stick around as / Long as she possible could /. . .Corbally women are strong of heart and mind” (10). Later, her mother asks for a similar assurance “when we first started hearing / The words: hospice, mass, metastasis.” The daughter replies in kind: “I said, if I possible could, I would be / With her at the end. I used to calculate how fast / I could get there, if it were snowing, or clear.” Subsequent lines eloquently detail what the mother has provided, mingling the ordinary with the intangible in an eloquent catalogue that becomes a moving tribute:
Gave me strength, sarcasm, words, and books,
Always more books, and tiny packages of tissues;
She gave me humility, honor, and grace; she
Gave me life, she gave me everything. Eventually,
She showed me how to die.
The origin of the poem’s title is unveiled only much later in the poem: “She / Always told people that in her next life she / Wanted to be the Curator of Clouds so she / Could invent their shape and form.” The poem closes with a paean on the nature of grief:
all I could do was usher
Her body out the door where I knew my
Children, Phoebe Elizabeth, Douglas William,
And Walker Bryant, were waiting to catch
Me as I stepped back into our lives.
Clearly proficient with narrative poetry, Bryant is equally a master of the lyric moment, especially in describing encounters with the natural world. Indeed, the marvelous imagery and lyric intensity of these entries underscore the volume’s recurring themes of death, loss, and rebirth. “Winter Berries” finds the poet gathering red fruit against the coming winter, “knowing / Their last blast of fire will keep / Me warm, hold some brightness when heavy snows come” (36). Another poem, “Cicadas,” relates how the poet’s youngest son moves beyond his fear of the singing insects. His acceptance means growth for her as well:
Him for letting me see clearly again--
A universe, beautiful and new,
Filled with cacophony of life, one
Brittle shell left on the pavement.(20)
A similar poem, “Daffodil Bulbs,” begins in memory, as the poet voices the hope that “the four brown globes / In my hands, wrappers / Crinkling, edges wrinkling / Like paper lunch sacks” will become “just like / The ones my father admired / Amidst snow’s remains.” No less than the blossoms themselves, the father’s declaration has become a harbinger of spring: “When he proclaimed the first shoots / of April to be glorious, remarkable” (32).
Throughout Lottery Ticket, Bryant aptly handles the timeless themes of death and infidelity, but she is mindful of other losses, too. “First Leaf” records another kind of leavetaking, opening with a wonderfully evocative line: “And the first things will be the last” (31). On a morning walk alone, she finds a gorgeous maple leaf, newly fallen: “red and orange / Around the edges, best to announce / The season of death.” Such beauty cannot allay a mother’s mixed emotions and inevitable loneliness, as she recalls the day’s earlier events: “heart in / My mouth, / seeing a small boy trudge / Onto a big yellow school bus, without / Looking back at me.” Here as elsewhere, Bryant’s careful balance of contrasts splendidly recalls John Keats’s concept of “Negative Capability,” as she voices both the pain and the acceptance of letting go:
Of my body born,
These children of mine, I know they have
To go, just as fall follows summer, they
Must find their way. (31)
The poem’s closure is calm, yet fittingly still of two minds: “cherishing the quiet, / I long for their return to our house” (31).
“Mirror” presents a similar kind of letting go that brings readers full circle, back to the gifts bequeathed by the poet’s mother in “Curator of Clouds.” Here Bryant shares her own gentle, sage advice:
if I had only one wish for you, it is that you learn
To look inside yourself for strength, love, passion,
Joy, peace, and tranquility—it is all already there,
As if waiting for you to turn your gaze
Inward to receive just what you need. (37)
The mother’s timeless wisdom on gazing inside evokes the title’s many meanings: “By staring long enough at who you are, / / You will know who you want to become” (37). Splendidly reversing the mirror with which we usually associate the act of looking, Bryant memorably enacts exactly the kind of turn prized by metaphysical poets.
Lottery Ticket will puzzle readers pleasantly, again and again. These are poems to turn over in our minds, poems that begin in quiet splendor, gather weight and emotion, and build to a kaleidoscopic beauty. Like the woman in the book’s title poem, readers of Heather Corbally Bryant’s Lottery Ticket are likely to wonder just how we can be so lucky over and over again.
Caroline Collins is an assistant professor of English in the Humanities Department at Andrew College. Her poems have appeared in such places as Fox Cry Review, Wisconsin People and Ideas, and Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies. Her chapbook Presences is just out from Parallel Press.
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