Leafe Press, 2005 - £3.50
Poems inspired by paintings can be a turn-off for me, so at first sight this chapbook was something of a daunting prospect. Too often such poems tend to exclude the reader who isn’t familiar with the particular work of art, but Kelvin Corcoran is far too experienced a poet to make that mistake.
I read the collection through twice before doing any Googling for Roger Hilton (although the cover of this nicely presented pamphlet carries a Hilton drawing), and it works well regardless of whether or not you know that he was one of Britain’s leading 20th century abstract and avant-garde artists, associated with the so-called St Ives school, and renowned for his female nudes.
Corcoran pulls this off by looking at his subject from a variety of angles, some clearer than others, examining Hilton’s motivations (‘The Hilton Biography—A Selection’), his own response to the paintings, and, in ‘The Unpainted Hiltons’, by applying the artist’s particular way of viewing the world to his own life. Many of the lines paint their own picture:
I’m in the pathless dark with the spooks
doing the low drift over the smoky roofs.
The whole thing shrinks to a few acrylic strokes,
congealed and pulsing momentary scribble…
None of this is ‘difficult’ though—Corcoran has a gift for memorable phrasing (“As is your life, so is your line/a fragment made abstract and broadcast), and the form of the poems is often very traditional. He uses sturdy but unobtrusive rhythms too, but what makes his poetry particularly enjoyable is its openness. There’s no attempt to tell you what to think, so the whole experience becomes rather like walking round an exhibition of an artist’s work, with themes only very gradually becoming apparent.
The litmus test, I suppose, might be whether the collection makes you want to know more about Roger Hilton. I did.