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Poem by Kelvin Corcoran

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome British poet Kelvin Corcoran (pictured) this Friday. I've been reading his Reality Street collection, Lyric Lyric, of late, and am very interested in how he thinks around and through the "English lyrical tradition" (in Rosmarie Waldrop's words) - sudden brilliance flashing "out against the grain, in the flaws" (Waldrop again). Anyone who wants to understand alternatives to straight-ahead mainstream poetics, and to yet enjoy how thoughtful & musically delightful these other roads can also be, should read Corcoran.

Corcoran’s work came to prominence with his first book Robin Hood in the Dark Ages in 1985. Eight subsequent collections have been enthusiastically received and his work has been anthologised in Britain and the USA. His New and Selected Poems is now available from Shearsman Books. The sequence Helen Mania was made a Poetry Book Society choice in 2005.

An interview with him is included in Don't Start Me Talking (Salt, 2007). A major new collection Backward Turning Sea was published by Shearsman in 2008 and includes an extended sequence on the work of the painter Roger Hilton. It was reviewed at Eyewear by Alistair Noon.

Corcoran is currently giving a series of readings for the Arts Council exhibition Geometry of Fear at galleries around the country.

Learning To Play The Harp

(for Andrew Duncan)

The lost poems of W S Graham written
as a boy in Govan and in all of his life,
the shipyard nightshift listens still
to John McCormack on Radio Eire sing
The Harp That Once at closedown.

Silent now, night tenor of silence
shed on the dark waters of the Clyde,
as if words might launch the boy across
the black river, another world, no more
at closedown and dawn, they’re gone, as the smoke.


Have you ever heard anything as sweet as that?
though Sydney’s radio was not bought at Spicer’s shop.

And that would be my dad around the house somewhere
singing the same song, he drones in and out of the tune.

It was all taken from us you know, by the English, the war
of loss and burnt letters, the despised and disappearing past.

His voice steps in and out of the tune, up the stairs
making still the house, the garden in deeper silence.

Fixing the boy in place counting down he sees
the grain in the black wooden chair deepen.

The anti-Orpheus, darkness spilling from his hands,
pity the man in the alcohol box: you can do nothing.


Of course it was the morning
up early for apprenticeship
when the radio played the harp
before the train to Glasgow.

My good mistake at first light
to sing the song I didn’t know,
the boy dreamt the night before
the poem unwritten in the shipyard.

Andrew - your term, migrating
over the border and awa’ for
Scotland and the Duncan generation,
the savage survival flight path.

Turning back on itself, the past
a brown river running through town,
invisible the dead crowd the banks
made quiet under a ribbon of mist.

I remembered walking home
in the early hours thinking of her,
her mouth made me dumb
- will you come across the water to me.

The moon sat on the top of a hedge
at the end of her dad’s garden,
half the night we lay there
her face in victory in a square of light.

Of course that was the morning
walking by the closed shops,
the river is green not brown
and above the weir it widens.

It speaks and slips its rhythm,
and I launch the One Hope off the map
from the mud and flattened reeds,
the sky wheeling and released.

poem by Kelvin Corcoran; photograph, reproduced with permission of the artist, by Jemimah Kuhfeld.


Alan Baker said…
A wonderful piece by Corcoran, who seems to get better and better. Interesting that people often mention 'Englishness' when discussing his work (I assume you and Waldrop meant England, as opposed to the English language). I think Corcoran talks about England as opposed to Britain because the latter is hopelessly linked to Empire. He's also attempting to keep alive the radical tradition - dissenters, ranters, levellers - and republicanism, and link this to a local sense of community.
(Though I realise Kelvin himself had Irish parents and this poem is discussing a Scottish poet).

Alan Baker.
Unknown said…
Second read for me, I really, really like this poem and am going to try getting my hands on more. Thanks for featuring Corcoran (with a name like that, chances were he would have Irish blood in him).

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