What shapes of wildness and fecundity does a woman cultivate in the plot of world available to her? What home does she un/ravel for herself in the overlooked places of the house? In Comfort, Sarah Heady dares to uncover a poetics of domesticity that is vibrant with sensuality, texture, and mystery—where the mundane life of details becomes a world pulsing with pleasures, dangers, and questions of embodiment and the deep interior. Drawing compellingly on found text and histories of rural America, Heady casts a rapturous spell dug up from the past, conjuring formidable incantations of the everyday: “scratching along the riverbed for finds...roaming the pomological fair, pressing into the skins...detecting a thickness to the season.” In this way, Comfort keeps time according to the cadence of the hours while also letting it loose, surprising the reader with an intimate, strange, and epic vision that makes its way by “scattering night across the floor of the house” and casting “projections across the plain.”
Jennifer S. Cheng
Comfort is a taut poetic synthesis of female embodiment in history. Combining women’s journals of the 1910s and 1920s with testimonials about Great Plains agriculture, Sarah Heady seeks through found and invented language to harmonize these lived realities (and fictions) with the artifacts of local custom and lore. Imagine Emily Dickinson not as an Amherst resident but as a settler of the American Midwest: the lyricism and vision of Comfort confirm Heady as an astute reader of human experience and transmitter of an understanding deeper than one encounters in typical histories or chronicles. It’s the voice of the body encountering life on the Plains, a woman with eyes wide open finding words to imprint the soil with her presence. And it’s the story of female agency negotiating the mythic, often male frontier past, opening it to the profound insights of dailiness and embodiment.
Sarah Heady’s Comfort is a long, clear, clean moment. It is beautiful in many ways—beautiful like “a prairie zephyr,” but also like “dissolving lye in rainwater” and “a truly formidable list,” fancywork and tornado. The poems spread wide across the page, opening “seeds for the eyes,” but also compact themselves into “tight little island[s]” of prose. Comfort is a long moment—its three sections titled “sunup,” day,” and “dusk”—but of course, sunup and day and dusk are not set times, but rather actions, shifts, and transformations. What might be a comfort? A “water tank filled with smoke” perhaps, “knotted hair” and “a halo of silt in the sink” definitely. Comfort was the title of a magazine for rural housewives published from 1888 to 1942, and Heady notes that, for these readers, “it might be months before they heard another woman’s voice.” Comfort is a study of women in solitude, and of what beautiful work is made and seen there.
Sarah Heady is a poet and essayist interested in place, history, and the built environment. She is the author of Corduroy Road (dancing girl press, 2021); Niagara Transnational (Fourteen Hills, 2013), winner of the 2013 Michael Rubin Book Award; and Tatted Insertion (2014), a limited edition letterpress chapbook with artist Leah Virsik. Sarah is also the librettist of Halcyon, a new opera about the death and life of a women’s college, currently in development with composer Joshua Groffman and producer Vital Opera. She is the recipient of residencies and fellowships from the Corporation of Yaddo, Asylum Arts, the Home School, Art Farm, and Summer Literary Seminars. Raised in the Hudson River Valley region of New York State, she now lives in San Francisco, where she co-edits Drop Leaf Press, a small women-run poetry collective. More at sarahheady.com.