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Kelvin Corcoran’s Radio Archilochos (Marquette Press 2014)

Kelvin Corcoran’s Radio Archilochos (Marquette Press 2014)

The shadowy background to this carefully judged sequence of poems by Kelvin Corcoran is provided by both the Greek lyric poet Archilochus, from the seventh century B.C., and the Aegean island of Paros on which he possibly lived and died in battle with the men from Naxos:

‘Archilochos, his voice broken, sits collapsed,
legs splayed on the soft bed of summer dust;
a spear sticks out of his chest, its black length
rises and dips with his last breath and the next.’

In the Loeb Classical Library’s volume of Greek Elegy and Iambus the translations of J.M. Edmonds from the existing fragments of the work of Archilochus present the reader with a figure of humour and pathos, realism and a lyricism which echoes down the centuries:

‘I love not a tall general nor a straddling, nor one proud of his hair nor one part-shaven; for me a man should be short and bowlegged to behold, set firm on his feet, full of heart.’

The fragments of the Greek give us a man from over two thousand years ago ‘stood on the edge between sea and wind’. Kelvin Corcoran gives us a present-day world where ‘The whole place is out of season, buried, / the crested grey wave curls under a grey sky.’

There are of course other shadows in the background, poetic ones. I detect a voice of Robert Browning behind the spat words

‘Above all else I swear bad poetry will do for me,
the lickspittle decrepitude of our lolling tongue;
after invasion and the markets going yoyo mental
etymology alone counts, crooks make snots of words.’

There is the haunting voice of the folk ballad ‘Barbara Allen’ transferred from Scarlet Town to Candid Town and there is the uncompromising ‘I’ of Barry MacSweeney’s Ranter ‘calling / on VHF’:

‘Then I am a man.
One third, warming
the fipple.
His flute song.’

(Ranter, Slow Dancer Press, 1985, p. 11)

‘I am The Man I am I claim
to please the boys in the clinch;
think all the dirty work we did
tropes cast in blank memory?’

Most of all of course there is the voice of Kelvin Corcoran whose poems are ‘dense, intense, filled with sharp fast thought’ (Lee Harwood) and for whom myth is a living presence:

‘The ancient landscape overlays the modern and I see the mythology as local and useful and not detached from the everyday.’

(from an interview with Andrew Duncan published in Don’t Start Me Talking, Salt, 2006 and quoted in Andy Brown’s introduction to his indispensable Corcoran reader, The Writing Occurs as Song, Shearsman 2014)

The chapbook Radio Archilochos confirms one’s opinion that Corcoran is at the front of contemporary poetry: the lyric grace of his language is threaded with an historical perspective that raises the poetry far beyond the world of a localised present.

Radio Archilochos is published by Andy Brown’s Maquette Press and is the first in a new series of chapbooks which will soon include The Hospital Punch by Sally Flint and A Plume of Smoke by Jos Smith. Copies can be obtained from the Press at 7 Grove Terrace, Teignmouth, Devon TQ14 9HT.

Ian Brinton 21st November 2014

Lee Harwood’s The Orchid Boat

Lee Harwood’s The Orchid Boat

Enitharmon Press (www.enitharmon.co.uk)

I recall a moment, a few years ago, when I was at a dinner given for a colleague of mine who was moving to another school. Some of us were talking about how much we were going to miss this particular colleague and one person said ‘You cannot register absence in presence’. It was a clear statement which focussed upon the meaning of the word ‘loss’ and it brought to mind a wonderful early poem by Lee Harwood which I had used in the classroom, ‘As Your Eyes Are Blue…’. It is a poem of parting and the vividness of the experience is heightened by the inclusion of direct speech, echoes in a room after the parting has taken place. In an interview with Kelvin Corcoran, published in Not the Full Story (Shearsman 2008) Harwood referred to ‘little intense scenes shifting round…You do get these moments of goodness, whether it be in some of the pastoral scenes or a landscape of suburban railway tracks and oil refineries.’ When talking about his education at Queen Mary College, University of London, Harwood placed the reading of literature firmly in the world of the objective:

‘I did a degree in English literature and language. I had this terrific thing of walking from Mile End tube or Stepney Green—I was living in Stepney anyway—to lectures and then coming out of the lecture and walking back along Mile End Road. So all that business of maybe going to a place like Cambridge where you would float out of your lectures in your gown and walk to the quad, and you could keep on living in that world was avoided. It was knocked out of you because you immediately had reality in your face and you didn’t go to high table. You had bubble and squeak at the local transport café. I think that gave me a lovely sense of the importance of literature but also in the world, not in some isolated, privileged world. So you’d always have the measure of what you’d read, of the poetry existing in a working society.’

In the same interview he referred to a poem as ‘a bundle of stories’, ‘this building with fragments and suggestions’, ‘building up, like a chemical build up’, ‘a bundle of voices’, ‘getting to know the building bricks’, the ‘heaping up of fragments’.

This new volume from Enitharmon Press opens with precision:

‘A hot summer night,
the sound of rain in the courtyard.
A satin breeze sways the curtains’

We are given direct speech, itself quotation from a translation of an eleventh century Chinese poet; and we are given a picture ‘that maps / the wear of years’; a letter referred to ‘will reach the other side of the mountains’ and the present is placed as the poet plods ‘along the mountain path’

‘drifts of rain, streams sweeping across the path,
clouds so low you can barely see the path
as you stumble on loose rock.’

There are echoes here of Hardy’s ‘Poems of 1912-13’ and of Pound’s Cathay in which an ‘Exile’s Letter’ is sealed and sent ‘a thousand miles, thinking’.
In a landscape which merges Europe, China, Mexico, a history of the library in Alexandria destroyed by Christian fanatics, ‘A dense history of such deeds’, the poet recalls his father in 1940 having to shoot one of his own men who was begging to be put out of his agony, ‘his stomach ripped open beyond saving’. The moment of direct speech questions the narrative that we make of our own lives (‘We deceive ourselves with our stories’) and a clear statement follows…. ‘Not this one’.

Mark Ford wrote in The Guardian: ‘Harwood’s poetry is not only not “difficult”—it is open, moving and exquisitely delicate in its attention to landscape, mood, and the pressures of time and history’. It also looks forward as well as back:

‘I don’t intend to sit here waiting in my coffin,
gathering dust until the final slammer,
adjusting my tiara.

I’ll stamp my foot
and, checking the rear-view mirror,
head for the frontier.’

The Orchid Boat is a terrific new volume! As readers we are invited to look at the ‘Objects on a Polish Table’

1.

Four books, two newspapers,
an ashtray, a pack of cigarettes, matches.

2.

when visitors are coming
some poppy seed cake or doughnuts
or fresh baked makaroniki
placed on a plate on the table

a lace table cloth beneath the coffee cups

3.

a ceramic salt bowl with a lid

4.

an empty vase in the centre of
the oil cloth

Come and sit down

Ian Brinton 6th October 2014

Hughes & Corcoran new from Shearsman

Hughes & Corcoran new from Shearsman

Kelvin Corcoran’s For the Greek Spring consists of a selection of his poetry about Greece, combining new work with poems from his previous collections. An air of presence and mystery; a roadside shrine:

 

‘As if by arrangement four figures are spaced evenly in the foreground of the photograph; a road sign, an old man seated on a bench, an empty bench and a shrine. The road runs around the southern slopes of Parnassos. The view drops into the deep river valley, make one mistake and you die. Beyond, the mountain wall of silence rises out of the frame as you stand with your back to Delphi….

You stand with your back to the sanctuary. The road is empty on a morning in Spring. scattered with scrub and gorse, the white mountain rises.’

Interviewed by Andrew Duncan, published in Don’t Start Me Talking (Salt 2006), Kelvin Corcoran referred to the importance of Greece for him: ‘…spending time in Greece, visiting sites, and wanting to know something about the timetable a few thousand years before, which has led to patterns of behaviour we see as political now, I think it’s all prefigured, I don’t think that much has changed.’

For the Greek Spring gives us an ancient presence in 2013.

Peter Hughes has his own Greek poems of course and they appear in the newly published Selected Poems. As with Kelvin Corcoran this poetry explores the geography of living presence and in the selections from The Summer of Agios Dimetrios we can feel ‘the feral sea-nymphs nudging the rudders’ and note ‘the darker sound / of the sea far below which almost gasps / almost continuously & so it should / carrying for miles & years through the scrub / of this old basket of litter & stars.’

 

 

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