Kelvin Corcoran


Orpheus/If I could

Morning of birds and sea sound
on three sides surrounds us,
the sun lays a path through milkwort and daphne;
barely on land at all, a ruined country at our backs
where some lives survive.

Morning of birds, pigeons of the tower,
bonny sparrows and various warblers
weave and chip the air of sea sounding;
walk along the spit from the peninsular
face west, catch the literal song of spring.


                of the scattering
                of song
                of the power over beasts
Orpheus, wry-necked 
from the underworld.

Which is what we know
not the closed mouth mystery,
the torn sounds of song.

Separate scattered singing atoms
that blackbird this morning
and once I heard . . . .

There was a child in a garden,
once I heard that long note
was it the air in a long note?

Like the boundless young sky,
Or phe us
of the bloody spouting tree.


Son or pupil of Apollo,
husband to Eurydice,
son of the muse of epic poetry:
name of obscure origin.

Orphne: darkness or night;
his journey to the underworld,
his initiations conducted by night,
origin of the English word – orphan.*


*(Thus, for instance, Frank O’Hara
discovered his genius.

‘If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out, I am
an orphan.’

And it’s always crowded
behind those trees,
all of us orphans dancing
– and the trees dancing.)


Mycenaean tholoi tombs
stationed across the hills
radiant bones, gold, weapons.

An entrance, a passage, a chamber
ritual of crossing points,
ritual of what is done.

We went down into the fields
to talk the quiet word
to feed them and lay gifts.


Orpheus walked the dark path
through black trees arching,
their bloody roots like shadows
seeping deep entangled underground
where the light collapsed in stripes.

The earth gives way at every step,
foot sinks, birds stop singing;
in that silence Orpheus said to himself
– My heart’s a stone, I cannot speak,
I don’t know what I’m doing.

Worse than falling into a heavy sea,
worse than the biggest wave of the sea,
to be smashed down again and again,
face broken, head empty, staggering,
propelled into a wall of obsidian.

Hit the mantle, then fixed and dumb,
caught in the mineral density of loss;
katabasis to the core, the shadow zone
then turning, her hand on his shoulder
lighter than – gone, and then turning, gone.


If I could assemble the shadows and light
which lie in the folds of your discarded clothes,

the pink jacket with pearlised buttons,
the red jacket for work, the black dress like a wave;

their syntax would speak the life we hold in our hands,
show the shape of you I know and slow the running film.

If I were a lark and could rise to sing
I would write my love a letter we all might understand.


Awe fee us
               sing it
out of dancing darkness
               sing it.



Kelvin Corcoran has published fifteen books of poetry and been anthologised in the U.K. and in America. New and Selected Poems is available from Shearsman Books along with two major collections Backward Turning Sea (2008) and Hotel Shadow (2010). For The Greek Spring, a selection of Kelvin Corcoran’s poetry about Greece was published in 2013. The Writing Occurs as Song: A Kelvin Corcoran Reader edited by Andy Brown was published in 2013. Ongoing projects include a series of interviews with poets for the Shearsman Review, performances of A Thesis on the Ballad with the Jack Hues Quartet and a new collection, Sea Table, from Shearsman in 2015.