Issue 29: Kelvin Corcoran


Priti Patel has determined that refugees should drown, I mean children and their parents.  The exact physiological mechanisms of drowning are complex, progressing through skin cooling to hypothermia and death by way of disorientation, amnesia, cardiac arrhythmias and ventricular fibrillation.  The temperature of the water of the English Channel ranges between 20 and 5 degrees centigrade.  In water below 28C the heart may spontaneously stop.  How long it takes to drown also depends on the size of the body and the volume of its fat insulation.  Immersion in water at 5C can result in drowning between 30 and 60 minutes. 

A small child would drown sooner,

in that narrow band of water

tightened to choke a nation.


Pavarotti is singing from Modena.  Pavarotti has removed all the stops.  Love, death and poverty, poets fainting in the arms of lovers – as is life.  Puccini has abandoned recitative in the sustained charge of the music, a song of songs pours forth.  Experiences come, one after another, and then more, and irresistible as if music, the stops removed, no recitative.


Sunlight patters through the market of Place Dumon,

arrayed on the gleaming fish, the fruit, vegetables and flowers.

At the Borek stall, the Japanese wife, toddler in arms,

pats the just arrived Japanese husband on the backside.

And he replies – Bonjour Madam, and the child, stars in her hair,

runs in circles whilst busking Eric Clapton busks about heaven.

And the eyes of the Turkish woman look like morning,

like the sun rising in another country.


A mantle of black feathers fell on my shoulders,

keep it plain here I thought, corvid feathers in a soft layer

of deepest darkness whispering flight from small pockets of air.

The adornment was matt or gloss in relation to how I turned

as if a state of mind made inescapable in the world,

as simple as the way you move in the light without thinking.

By then I expected the removal of parts of the body

rather than this sort of addition, its meaning unknown,

a soft mantle of feathers, flickering like electricity at every step.


Robert Hass is questioning a boundless poetics – ‘any poetics, any making, is bounded.’  And he talks of the energy and importance of gesture embodied in the work of art, finite but ongoing.  It was like breathing fresh air, restored and setting out over open fields. 

Then I did take a walk along the track to the park and lakes in the heart of the city.  The first air of Autumn all around and the slow turning of the season already known in northern Europe. That night was a Magritte sky and an almost full moon rising over the tall houses and dark gardens.  The scene was just given, just there, for a moment magnetic.

I remembered walking in Cornwall, in the compact fields, knowing where there were gaps and styles in the boundary hedges.  These stone hedges are Neolithic and still in use.  They are built of two sides of stone blocks with small interlocking stones and packed with sub-soil.  Grass and bushes grow on the top to be battered by the wind.  The fields and hedges hold and step onwards to the sea on the edge.


The Nansen passport was used by 450,000 refugees from 1922 onwards.  It allowed the displaced of the Russian civil war and Armenian genocide to cross borders and escape the threat of deportation.  Nansen stamps were required to renew the passport, the charge for which provided funds for refugee relief.

Ongoing.  Included in that 450,000 – ongoing:


Anna Pavlova


Robert Cappa


Flying, flying over the village.


And there’s a fruit fly, (there’s always an and,

the world’s at it, with or without you sweetheart,)

flickers around the open O of the Sainte Victoire.

Chords ascend, Bach processed as 32 minutes

of country soul, and it’s moving, that limited voice:

Showtunes, a voice, O, not an instruction, beautiful.

I would not have my friends go before me;

there are children in the house and fresh cognates

first conversations and fields green again.  

What is that light rises anew, writing a poem drunk to music? 

O light of little knowing, there’s a secret river

and a slow current for all of us to swim one day.





That Night

That night of Spring in Delphi stands

snow falling out of mountain darkness,

running from the taverna to the room

snow falling to fill the centre of the world.

As if the transponder signals – here we are;

as if two eagles on a shared trajectory

released from opposite ends of the earth

might meet to fix the co-ordinates of zero.

The wind makes a tuning fork of the passes,

the sky sounding the one note in everything;

we ran into the snow like a breaking wave.

And I saw your face turning towards me,

through the fabulous vectors of snow

in Delphi in the spring of the world.


Other nights stand – in Kato Zakros,

the silver jackal curious at the bins

frogs calling in the cisterns of the palace.

Thalassa Mavri young Greeks sing

from the edge of the Libyan Sea

Hale Bopp coruscating upper darkness.

Folded in sleep and awake

to the perfect tension of your skin

the colour of you on the air.


The midnight choir woke us at 2 a.m.

singing for the Panagiya on Tinos of the Orthodox.

Their voices rose to the balcony like waves

washing through stone streets after the festival.

Lady of the Way, the inner knowledge and the outer,

show us the way, restore the City.

Men in darkness walking home in song

the past unforgotten rising before them.

Sounding out the single note in everything

to find and abandon the co-ordinates of zero.





Ten Tall Youths

In the park in the heart of the capital

there’s an abandoned crazy golf course,

surrounded by trees coming into leaf,

bunkers, slit trenches, seeded with landmines.

Cartoon characters mouths open красивая krasivaya

point the way for you to shoot,

the fake fairway of empire calls,

the whole place clogged, smelling of rot.

To see this site of lapsed pastime fun

as a model of Putin’s war in Ukraine

is of course ridiculous, unavoidable and present,

as no metaphor can convey such brutality.

My name is Marko.  My name is Maksym.  My name is Alina.

My family is mother grandmother two cats

and not here my  . . . .

What is phylum?  What is function?  You say?

Above his head a picture of Descartes,

on the classroom wall scientists, writers

and by the door an account of the Nansen passport.

Ten tall youths listen, quiet and precise,

Kyril says – I want to go back to fight.

Outside small children dive into a hedge

and show each other how to shake a sapling.

My name is Marko.  My name is Kyril.  My name is Milana.

My family is mother grandmother two cats

and not here my  . . .





The Correspondence of Objects

‘Tween what we see, what be,

is blinds.  Them blinds on fire.’


On the cover of the Faber edition of The Dream Songs

John Berryman’s face stares out from a rectangle,

heavily bearded and wearing boxy glasses.

A look not improved by the empty wine glass I sat on it,

a magnifying glass on tiny stilts used by document forgers,

admitting a bright shaft of light on a life form trapped.

The process here, back and forth, between unfixed persons;

a glistening pearl stares back, blinks and flickers transformed

and the scientists run from the lab screaming – What the …

His father was a master maker of banjos – old school;

HH con banjo cranked out a lifelong aria on rusty strings,

hands shaking with beauty, spilling every other drop.

His, the laparoscopic vision on the far side of the bar,

the twists and turns he’d take like a long slow road snaking its way out of Oklahoma.


Against the window I can see the drop of saline,

a bead of sky falling into the tubular reservoir

adding to the pool of light every seven seconds.

The entire sky rolling westward descends in that bead,

over the towers and satellite dishes of Anderlecht

aerial aerial aerial – there is a correspondence of objects.

I would open that prosaic door and walk in;

at the edge of the garden blackbirds are calling,

they sing – when there’s nothing to say, say nothing.

And those long stemmed small white flowers

- what do you call those Melanie? floating like stars,

and far off, understated, the city traffic whisper.

The falling saline drop an image of mortality in flight:

tremble tremble bright bead of light.


Walking the track to the parks and lakes

the hour of going home sounds on the air;

deep on both sides leaf mould leaf rot,

deep enough to bury me, already occupied.

Craik craik said the metal rooks drilling the sky,

light thickened and the ground took a seasonal tilt;

high in the trees the rooks passed through the screen,

in and out of holes of the sky of sporadic vision.

There was a message – You’re not done with Orpheus yet,

music begins and ends in the body and constitutes the body,

which is why we Maenads tore the warbler to pieces,

looking for the music, elbow-deep, glutinous, bespattered.

Keep walking, see the four companionable foxes trot by,

see them sit and stare, to disappear when the dogs arrive.


Unfinished, incomplete, unresolved.

The burning blinds at some point catch both sides.

The space between what is and what we see – a conflagration.

At some point a scatter of ash, a shadow language reassembled.

An audible sifting, a first music without pause.

Tremble tremble bright bead of light.

[Kelvin Corcoran’s poetry has been published widely, with nine books from Shearsman in the list. Recent books include, The Republic of Song, Below This Level and Orpheus Asymmetric. He is the guest editor of the Shearsman poetry magazine and co-editor with Robert Sheppard of the forthcoming New Collected Poems of Lee Harwood. Corcoran’s Collected Poems will be published in 2023.]

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