Kelvin Corcoran lives in Brussels. He is the author of numerous books of poetry, including New and Selected Poems, For The Greek Spring from Shearsman, and most recently Facing West, 2017, the Medicine Unboxed sponsored Not Much To Say Really, 2017, Article 50, 2018, Below This Level, 2019 and The Republic of Song, Free Verse Editions/Parlor Press, 2020, and Orpheus Asymmetric, 2020. The sequence ‘Helen Mania’ was a Poetry Book Society choice and the poem ‘At the Hospital Doors’ was highly commended by the Forward Prize jury 2017. His work is the subject of a study edited by Professor Andy Brown, The Poetry Occurs as Song, 2013. He edited an account of the poetry of Lee Harwood in Not the Full Story: Six Interviews with Lee Harwood, 2008.
In addition, his poetry has been commissioned to accompany travelling Arts Council exhibitions of British modernist art. He has collaborated with various musicians and composers including Tria Kalistos and the Jack Hues Quartet, producing the CD A Thesis on the Ballad. His work has been anthologised in the UK and the USA and translated into Greek and Spanish. He is the guest editor of the Shearsman poetry magazine.
Tria Kalistos. Maria Pavlidou, Howard Wright, Kelvin Corcoran.
Several traditional songs are incorporated in the music.
Poem written and read by Kelvin Corcoran.
Music (“Thalassa Mavri”) composed by Ross Daly,
lyrics by Mitsos Stavrakakis,
arranged by Kelvin Corcoran, Maria Pavlidou and Howard Wright.
Saz and vocals: Maria Pavlidou.
Oud: Howard Wright.
Percussion: Howard Wright.
The text is ‘Alexiares in Exile’, here called ‘Yannis Told Us’, Kelvin Corcoran, from BACKWARD TURNING SEA, Shearsman, 2008 and FOR THE GREEK SPRING, Shearsman, 2013.
FOR THE GREEK SPRING is a selection of poetry set in Greece written up to that date.
After the last journey I began another,
though not exactly Ithaka, despite Cavafy;
I opened my instructions in a different country,
sailing blind in the sea lanes of Morse code.
The sun strikes the tower, a massive gnomon;
time is nothing here, over and out
the land running south in blue layers,
the villagers call it a promontory of song.
It rises as a sort of Egypt of now and then,
a land bridge of animals and plants
for Martin Bernal to dance across
so that imports follow in strict measure.
An early naturalism, alive and immediate,
the African Blue Lily or Agapanthus,
your name in a burning circle on the ground:
work it out by next dispatch.
Again last night the sun died red into the sea,
this is hardly news I know but the sky caps the black
and my mind is elsewhere over the singing water;
engine of the world, ace of ambition, floored me.
Thalassa Mavri they sing, well they might – Greeks;
I am in exile between textual variants,
head down in darkness dancing out such poems
would make the emperor of goats weep.
Here I barely stick to the rim of the world,
a brown river and a thin wall against the hoards,
they come screaming off the frigid steppes;
it is a strange form of exegesis I suffer.
On the sea’s bend sinister stands the bridgehead,
I hide behind the wall, holding a stick, shaking;
Athena – come, love me again, give me one more chance,
not this brightness pissed into a marsh under a black sky.
What am I doing here? How do I know?
I was sent out into this condition
with no secret gate east or west,
this is Tomis, Samos, London transit camp.
My body’s made invisible to me,
a shape inside a shape of nothingness;
I float on my neighbour’s language,
it leaves me undisturbed, untroubled.
They seem well disposed and incomprehensible;
the other morning they were up early,
before the sea had taken its colour
and went off singing in the woods.
Later, bread appeared on my window ledge,
it was cinnamon bread, I ate if for breakfast;
I am not speaking truth to power,
I watch the sparrows peck about the broken wall.
At night the sea piles up its sound,
no one will sail against this wall of water
and the mind falters, sliding off the wind
over the boats abandoned in the harbour.
Smoke thickens and songs by Xylouris go round,
– at one time all these songs were banned;
the little red tanks of the eager insurgents
arrive in waves, their eyes like heavenly spheres.
Will we survive the brilliant strategy?
security calculated in ships which sink;
they say the logos was constant in Athens,
all aliens thick-tongued barbarians: what nerve.
I held the idea of an island suspended
in the deep sea between three continents;
and this song can make you drunk,
just listen and you will be big time intoxicated.
When I walk through the streets of mud,
between the wooden palisades and nephos,
garish billboards cover the sky
sending the dumb dumb message mainstream.
I walk out of their dream, the war on abstract nouns,
and see we have fallen into the hands of thieves,
the barbarians who need barbarians
to make the bloody business spin.
After the blast I witnessed illumination;
the family photographs tattered but untouched,
poor souls they flew away at last
but nothing will replace the absence of your face.
A massive darkness sits on my shoulder,
I float in the broken signal of the short-wave;
all night the black sea spits out our first language
and the streets falter in earthy tracts.
I found co-ordinates to prehistoric creatures
lying frozen in rock pools, the first cuneiform;
a music like letters in polished scales
lifting up from the earth every spring.
I found the uncovered mosaic on the cape,
a ditch, a temple, a chapel and god
the model worked – but if the ground gives way
no bloody aroko of the Rebus tribe will save you.
Nor does the meaning of the sky vary
– trail of stars, boom: trail of stars, stop:
those who sent me don’t see the indifference,
how perfect syntax dismantled Illium.
And god the beautiful trees of the mountain
in banks and hills go rising up,
like promised countries around the world
the beautiful trees opened their arms.
Rain has released the smell of wild garlic
and splashed blue cyclamen across the path;
mosaic of light on the insect-laden air
bears the unfinished music of the small gods passing.
In darkness the outboard of the fishing boat
binds the edge of a black sea blanket
and marine white noise floods the frontiers of the world,
the work songs of the faithful at the final catch.
In these lost villages of the terraced mountains
the most complex ladders to the stars
were made by Ottoman musicians,
masters of the clarino, the sisters of amanes.
And all night I hear them shape from the air
the heavenly body of our starry queen,
they open a door in the endless sky
with Apollo’s bees dancing attendance.
The sun strikes the tower, a massive gnomon,
time is nothing here, over and out;
on the collapsed ramparts of the golden west
they have lost the power of naming.
What am I doing here? I don’t know.
My neighbours sing – the black wall of the far one
leans over us closely tonight – I would not surrender
one moment of happiness to explain this to you.
It looks like Apollo, the whole singing world,
laid out across the grey slab,
but there’s no end of feeling in the sky
and the lights of home are like poured honey.
The wind is looking to blow the village flat
and the sea boils in a white rage at the harbour wall,
a child in a wedding dress over her jeans and trainers
flits from door to door like a bird.
Poetry in this post: © Kelvin Corcoran
Published with the permission of Kelvin Corcoran