Thursday, February 23, 2006

Kelvin Corcoran

One of the reasons that the perpetual divisions in British poetry don't make sense any more is that so many good poets languish in obscurity, unread and therefore unenjoyed by the readership they deserve.

One example of this has to be the poet Kelvin Corcoran. I first came across him by accident: a copy of one of his early books in Frontline Books, a radical bookshop co-operative that used to exist in Manchester. It was either TCL or Qiryat Sepher which I bought first, and later I found Melanie's Book in a second hand bookshop. Yesterday, I obtained the New and Selected Poems, published by Shearsman Books, and it's an absolute delight.

The division is often ridiculous because it is assumed that all non-mainstream poets must be terribly difficult and extreme. But there's as much - and in many ways, very much more - variety in the non-mainstream as the mainstream. Kelvin Corcoran is - supremely and unashamedaly - lyrical in his concerns. Take this example from Melanie's Book:

Hilversum

Saxon mouth, telling us how to live,
over the scabby allotments back there
but for the warmth in the name
even my sister, what do you expect?

It leaps up from the long table into your face:
at 1.20 dread wind slips into town,
at 1.20 total loss holds me.
There's no stepping back from here.

Standing outside the house I
thought we were dark bodies
walking, through the light of facing windows;
another family lives there now.

It means don't believe that broadcast,
the time of your life or.

Roll the sylables around your head for awhile. It's even a sonnet; not one that gives out its meaning too easily, it needs some working out; but it's as good as anything I've read this year. It's lyrical and it has a mystery about it that you want to explore. His use of the unrhymed sonnet throughout this collection is noticeable; I think he has a deep awareness of form, of that Poundian sense of condensare, of every word counting to the whole.

There's a political edge to his poetry which doesn't impinge or preach but which is a quietly insistent pulse of care throughout the book; or at least, the poems I've so far read. The latest poems have a Greek setting, and often invoke or write about the gods. This might seem old-fashioned, but it perhaps reveals something of his roots in modernism and his interest in Greek poets such as Cavafy. There are poems that refer directly to the refugees who regularly wash up on the shores of Europe, drowned through unscrupulous traffickers or upturned boats.

His earlier poetry is perhaps slightly too concerned to establish his non-mainstream credentials. No-one but a non-mainstream poet would talk of "the hot symbolism of dawn", for instance: a line too proud of its own awareness. But he soon grows out of that. The politics are perhaps a little too earnest early on; but they're a young man's poems so we can forgive him.

I haven't finished reading this book yet, so these are only interim statements. There are some terrific poems in this book: poems like The Empire Stores and A Shelley Poet. He makes me think; but he also makes your head sing with sound. And to think, if I hadn't found him in a small radical bookshop that no longer (alas!) exists, I would have missed him. That's why it's important to step out of the mainstream: just think of what jewels you're missing by sticking to the tried and the tested!

1 comment:

Alan Baker said...

Dear Steven

Nice to see the write-up of Corcoran. Thought you might like to know that Leafe Press has published a new sequence subsequent to the Selected: it's called "Roger Hilton's Sugar" (see http://www.leafepress.com/catalog/corcoran.html). It's among his best work I think (altho I am biased - I run Leafe Press).

cheers

Alan Baker