Kelvin Corcoran
The Empire Stores
West House Anthology
A reading of Alan Halsey’s Dante’s Barber Shop (De Vulgari Eloquentia)

‘How can we sing King Alpha’s song in a strange land?’ (The Melodians)



We closed down the Empire Stores in the bay,
we don’t shop there now, only for our imaging
of the map of others and zero longitude fancy,
globally patched, then a rising tide at your door.

Or the ineluctable, brimful culture piled up
lettering every street, heaps of incoming names,
and even this is not my thinking,
see all this dirt fair clogs my eyes.

Be clear: we reject the old but new holy war,
the demographics of canonic fodder, new but old flags
— these colours don’t fade;
give me rivers of dirt and bring my poets back to life.

It’s those conversations I want, you speak
Oh England on slick rails to the dumb chamber;
put your ear to the ground, your hands in the air,
there’s a chance archival unity won’t rise and shine you.

If what follows is a metaphor then this is no poem
— Caspian oil sucked across the Stans to Karachi;
it’s not a silvery zero tube but ignition:
make the ordinary language good or die.


With grammar stocks rising on song
he sat opposite me at the big event;
— cosy up to them and push their hot buttons,
triangulate the Blairprint and common thought.

When Shelley arrived out of the ever living past
he checked in at the King Otto, Byron next door;
he saw dark figures rise before the liberals,
how the few valued the many and bought the government.

They dribbled conscience on the accounts,
we stare at the glaze mostly, eyes glued to the past
cold filtered through a grovel image voodoo,
clean up and apply to Concept House.

What scene unfolds in that domed snow shaker?
White boys on the road, zoot suits and patronage,
a limited view of human nature
in a medium of implacable pessimism.

To make us the object of such devotion
the secret voice print is calling,
in rank order, men, women, family groups,
our faces tipped into the light and locked.


If we could write an archaeology of the soul,
unable to speak in a barcode dancing,
the little birdies would sing for St. Valentine
with big light raining on a Vatican elsewhere.

But we came dark cloud boiling from white north
drawn by the smell of luxury goods;
the journey knocked narrative out of our poetry,
even pedants see it vanish as lives unravel.

See the red, the golden threads tied in secret knots,
slipped from your pommel into Scythian scrub;
the religious spillage in our wake is trash:
what other authority do you dream?

Such ingenuity we had kept those ships afloat,
allowed our parents to eat in that war;
she said learning English would make her free
and the perfect sentence dismantled Ilium.

To begin again, the girls coming and going
set their feet in the meadow,
in the red, the golden day, the invention of fair writing
in the meadow by the sea.


One day the secrets of the present war will be out,
— let’s have a positive idea on the topic Capitano,
I’m ready, I’m taking down the boss words,
I is dredging it up the homeland tunnel.

Give me the spoken order like balm in the air.
Give me the holy father dumb in Gilead.
Give me trade ban and big starey eyed kids.
Give me a cypher on two legs, clueless.

Anything but watching it live on t.v.
It’s not a cure for pain, that day, that morphine song,
you already know the colours, the palm tree cutouts,
sound off, text up — in B ghd t d y.

Talk to this wooden face, Marydoll, prissy lips,
they have tunnels under the desert, intricate and rich;
awaiting glory elevated in the sky garden,
the poverty of public discourse goes unsaid.

Who wrote the history of truth telling? What’s the ratio?
Without Shelley, MacSweeney and little TC?
Ye boys of England, from the midlands and the north,
clean up the abattoirs and each chartered grave.