Scottish Poetry Library & Mariscat Press
First published in 2010 by
Scottish Poetry Library 5 Crichton’s Close Edinburgh EH8 8DT www.spl.org.uk and Mariscat Press 10 Bell Place Edinburgh EH3 5HT ISBN 978 0 946588 53 4 Introduction © 2010 Hamish Whyte & Robyn Marsack Individual contributions © 2010 the authors Design & illustration © 2010 Iain McIntosh The rights of the individual authors and the right of Iain McIntosh as illustrator have been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without permission in writing from one of the publishers.
The publishers are grateful for the support of Culture and Sport Glasgow, the School of English and Scottish Language and Literature at the University of Glasgow, and the Scottish Arts Council towards the production of this book.
Printed and bound in West Yorkshire, England by The Charlesworth Group
Contents Introduction Jim Alison Paul Batchelor Moira Burgess John Burnside Ron Butlin Liz Cameron Ian Campbell Jim Carruth Gerry Carruthers Ken Cockburn Stewart Conn Robert Crawford Christine De Luca Anne Donovan Carol Ann Duffy Lesley Duncan
1 4 5 6 7 8 10 11 12 13 14 16 17 18 19 20 21
Helen Durndell Sally Evans Marco Fazzini Alec Finlay Janice Galloway Douglas Gifford Alasdair Gray Andrew Greig Seamus Heaney Diana Hendry Richard Holloway Brian Johnstone Jackie Kay Stuart Kelly David Kinloch Claudia Kraszkiewicz Tom Leonard Eleanor Livingstone Liz Lochhead Catherine Lockerbie Gerry Loose Alan MacGillivray Bernard MacLaverty Aonghas MacNeacail John Maley Willy Maley Bill Manhire
22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 32 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49
Brian McCabe 50 Peter McCarey 51 Kevin McCarra 52 Margery Palmer McCulloch 53 James McGonigal 54 Iseabail Macleod 55 Adam McNaughtan 56 Angela McSeveney 57 Andrew Motion 58 Joe Murray 59 Colin Nicholson 60
Liz Niven Donny Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Rourke Benno Plassmann Tom Pow Richard Price Ian Rankin Tessa Ransford Alan Riach James Robertson David Robinson Dilys Rose Michael Russell Suhayl Saadi Alex Salmond Michael Schmidt Ali Smith Donald Smith Mark Smith Alan Spence David Stenhouse Gerda Stevenson Valerie Thornton Marshall Walker Gavin Wallace Roderick Watson Brian Whittingham Christopher Whyte
61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88
Edwin Morgan? He is the most wide-ranging, expansive and inclusive poet Scotland has ever had. Contributors to this collection of tributes on his 90th birthday generously acknowledge his own generosity to them and others. They applaud the breadth and scope of his work as poet, dramatist, translator and critic. His multifariousness is terrific. But there are perhaps other aspects of Eddie’s character that are not so often touched upon. He is famous as a yes-sayer. But he can also say no on occasion, and very firmly, where questions of integrity are concerned: for example, his refusal to share a platform with Irina Ratushinskaya, the Russian dissident poet; or his turning down a request for a poem to celebrate the refurbishment of the ‘poets’ pub’, Milne’s Bar in Edinburgh (with fake nicotine-stained walls) because he ‘wasn’t part of that crowd’. Thrawnness is a quality typically more admired by Scots than Sassenachs. That famous twinkle can also be a steely glint (for a hint of this, see the entries by David Kinloch and Gavin Wallace). And he has a fair notion of his own worth – again, not a bad thing – which has coloured dealings throughout his career with publishers, promoters, editors et al (without benefit of agent). In fact, an abiding passion is his hatred of injustice, in small or large matters. Edwin Morgan has achieved much in his life, but arguably at a cost. He early on decided to dedicate his life to work: singlemindedly, and as a single man, he has succeeded. One regret we know of is that he had no children. In his ‘Letter to Baron Munchausen’ (in Tales from Baron Munchausen) he mischievously lays claim to a son conceived in wartime Cairo: a real what-if yearning lies
hat more is there to say about
cover detail From Saturn to Glasgow: 50 favourite poems by Edwin Morgan (2008) Painting by Alasdair Gray * *
behind the story. Story, of course, is the key word – at the heart of all his art. His words to Liz Lochhead when handing on the Glasgow laureateship were: ‘Keep the story going.’ With ‘Change Rules OK’, these are good precepts by which to live and write. There’s Eddie the stoic, Eddie the – but enough. There is more to be said about Edwin Morgan, and more will be, not least in James McGonigal’s eagerly awaited biography. We privately asked ninety people for a birthday greeting for Eddie, but for various reasons we ended up with just eighty. If we had made a public request, we could have extended this collection from here to the moon (or Saturn). He is loved by the Scots, not just for his poetic gifts but because he has so unstintingly shared with them his vision – heartening, challenging, bracing – of what it means to be a human being. A few thank-yous are in order: to the Scottish Arts Council, Culture & Sport Glasgow and the School of English and Scottish Language and Literature (University of Glasgow) for their support of this book, reflecting Eddie’s national role as well as the affection of his city and within that, his university, for their poet. To Iain McIntosh who, having worked on the print for the Edwin Morgan Archive at the SPL, jumped at the chance to design and set this volume (his own tribute); and to Lindsay Sharp from Edinburgh Napier University who helped with its production. ‘Unknown is best’ was the title we took for the booklet we produced for Eddie’s 80th birthday, from his own poem about fearlessly going forward. ‘The boy is coming on’ he wrote for the scholar David Daiches at 90, and they shared a youthful mindset. Perhaps, once again, there are no words more appropriate here than Eddie’s own:
‘it’s hard / to go let’s go.’ Robyn Marsack & Hamish Whyte Edinburgh, April 2010
Jim Alison Secretary, ASLS, 1998-2003 THE BOY IS COMING ON n 2002 the Association for Scottish Literary Studies invited Edwin Morgan to compose a poem honouring David Daiches on his ninetieth birthday. As always, Eddie discharged his commission promptly, noting in a covering letter that it was a ‘tribute from another ancient’. With the help of Jenni Calder, David’s daughter, an informal little ceremony was arranged at David’s beautiful Edinburgh flat on the grand curve of Belgrave Crescent. There were 10 guests, mostly members of ASLS, some of whom had been students of David or Eddie. Happily Eddie, accompanied by Hamish Whyte, was able to attend. Standing by the windows overlooking the Dean Gardens, he vigorously gave the poem its first reading and presented the delighted David with a framed copy of the text. Toasts were pledged, Margery McCulloch sang Burns songs, photographs were taken, and reminiscences circulated. Genially the two distinguished literati sat couched together sampling the 12-year-old Glenlivet, which David had once declared ‘may be as good as it gets’. Eddie’s 60-line octosyllabic tribute, which later featured in the Association’s newsletter ScotLit, impishly plays with Daiches’s wide Scottish, Jewish and international cultural interests. It starts:
‘He must be ninety if he’s a day’ – That’s what I heard Methuselah say As he scoured the internet with a glint (Not nine hundred yet though, eh?). ‘The boy is coming on. Let’s print Congratulations in hard copy, Nothing stinted, nothing sloppy.
Speaking of the course of Scotland’s history, the poet praises the generous scope of Daiches’s imagination:
The spirit of that land survived In senses you may think contrived, But David takes this in his stride And casts his net both deep and wide. A spirit well distilled, unique, Fragrant as mist, treasure to seek –
Personally, Eddie, on your ninetieth birthday I am moved to recall that earlier happy moment, and I should now like to turn around these lines in order to celebrate the spirited vitality of your own unique achievements.
Paul Batchelor Poet
APRIL For Edwin Morgan
The apple trees let fall their burden early this year: April blossom â&#x20AC;&#x201C; and here, picked out on the dripping verges, the blowzy petals of the rhododendron.
Moira Burgess Writer appreciation
he knows that’s the thing about the dark in the Green the shadows on the moon piranhas on the subway cats, p m r k g n i a o u a pheasant in the mist, on the train he’s been out east in the snack-bar at Central Station in the video box in the computer’s brain on Mercury of course he knows what Columba said and Kentigern replied what the porter said how forty-metre gannets buzzed our ship how a chaffinch sings he knows about the guy on the bus with the tattoos about strawberries about love he knows about that he knows so we know that’s the thing
John Burnside Writer Sunday in East Fife
for Edwin Morgan
Tonight, it seems the rain will never stop: late in November; Scotland; the purblind houses tuned into gossip and gospel on Tollbooth Wynd where slick-faced boys come out, from chips and tea, with slick-faced girls, to dance the night away. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s much as it always was, just a different way of letting someone else be pure, or true, the heart inopportune, or self-defeating, and, sometimes, a glint in the dark, like the east side of Mars, where a woman is closing a shop, at the end of the day, her lipstick gone, the cold air blunting her fingers, a psalm of desire in her veins, like a Mystery Play.
Ron Butlin Edinburgh Makar e were young poets back then in the Seventies. And very lucky young poets indeed to have such genuine Scottish ‘Makars’ to look up to as yourself, Norman MacCaig, Iain Crichton Smith, Sorley MacLean and Robert Garioch – Scottish, and world-class. And to rub shoulders with too! We young poets read with you all, drank with you, talked and laughed with you. And did our best to learn. So what a joy it is that you’re still with us, Eddie! Though you can no longer offer us illegal absinthe when we call round, there’s always a big grin of welcome and the invitation to good conversation both serious and frivolous – just like when you still lived in Whittingehame Court and would play host to a handful of us Edinburgh Boys. We’d provide the precooked chicken, the olives, baguette, minimal salad and no fruit and you’d provide the wine. Lashings of it. Such happy times! I first met you a couple of years before the publication of From Glasgow to Saturn – a book that blew my young mind, as
we used to say. My notions about poetry and its possibilities were deftly taken apart and, I’m glad to say, have never been the same since. Quite simply, you showed me a new and far richer way of seeing – and writing. You encouraged me to stick my intellectualism where it belongs, and reminded me that imagination is the true lever to move the world. Here were deeply personal poems cheek-to-jowl with the singing of Loch Ness Monster, and everyday life in Glasgow was set side by side with intergalactic whimsy, wit and wisdom. From Glasgow to Saturn is crammed with vision, passion and Olympian playfulness. Thank you for it – and for all your poetry. Thank you also for your kindness, your generous friendship and inspiration over many decades. It has meant more to me than you can ever realise. Really. No wonder you are so cherished by everyone who knows you, and your work is so highly regarded all over the world!
, Y A D H T R I B ! Y ! ! P ! e P i HA Edd * *
Liz Cameron Chair, Culture & Sport Glasgow have always loved the poetry of Edwin Morgan, and, as a former Lord Provost of Glasgow, I am proud that he was our first Poet Laureate and that he is so much part of the fabric of life and literature in Glasgow. I am especially – and fiercely – proud that I am able to say that I was taught by Eddie Morgan. I remember the first time I heard him reading his own work at Glasgow University Literary Society. It was probably the first poetry reading I had ever attended and I loved it. I particularly remember the poem I liked best. Years later when asked to read a tribute to him for another birthday on which he handed the baton of the City’s Laureateship to Liz Lochhead, I chose to read this very poem. It is ‘One Cigarette’ and it means as much to me today as it did on that occasion when the young woman I was found it the height of romance and informed by many of her own feelings at that time (for I had fallen in love with the boy who took me to that reading). This
somewhat louche young man smoked, glamorously, Black Sobranie and Gauloise. The poem was a ready-made fantasy for an imaginative young girl! – ‘ No smoke without you, my fire’ – I suppose the exhilaration – and yes the poignancy – I experience still when I read ‘One Cigarette’ are bound up with memories of youth and hope and lost romance. This is a fine and moving poem about love – its joy and longing and the pain of parting. Eddie’s work has been really important to me in my years of teaching English. In all those years, however, I have never discussed this work in any of my classes. It’s hugely important to me – and while I positively exhort others to read it for themselves, it remains, selfishly perhaps, my special poem, a unique experience for me – and an evocation of an incomparably happy yet overwhelmingly complicated time in my life. Thank you, Eddie, for your dedication to your students, for your words, for your love of our city – and for ‘One Cigarette’.
* 10 *
Ian Campbell Emeritus Professor, University of Edinburgh dwin Morgan is a brave man, and with every visit to him in Crow Road it becomes clearer and clearer. As deafness further closes in a world cruelly narrowed by pain and incapacity, you might expect a drooping of the spirit, but nothing doing. A few months ago, he said in my hearing that he left pessimism to others, he himself was still an optimist. That positive view on the world is something he has shown since our first contact many years ago, contact usually involving teaching in one theatre or another. Edwin Morgan had an ability I knew in no other practising writer to energise a room full of younger people of school or university age, and his reputation as reader of his own verse is justly widespread. The poem of his I most enjoyed teaching is the confrontation between the first humans to land on Mercury and the Mercurians whom they patronise appallingly till the tables are turned as the poem goes on. The gibberish the Mercurians speak (not quite gibberish) turns to English, the English to gibberish, and Morgan used without a tremor to reproduce both as the balance shifted from earthman to alien. But then he could ventriloquise many voices, Glasgow ones and ones from all over the world. And he could project himself into the minds of
people all over this world and far beyond, the gift which made him a great teacher, writer, performer, inspirer. He had the gift of colliding different voices (Stobhill) or different situations (the instamatic poems) and looking at the collisions coolly: the variations in voice from the video-box are quite superb. The sonnets, read aloud, are electric, the concrete poems, approximated aloud, funny but full of intriguing ideas about the nature of words. Words, words â&#x20AC;&#x201C; translations, prose essays (shamefully out of print, and not seriously enough known), constructions of ideas, juxtapositions of words and images, Edwin Morganâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s universe has always seethed with energy. Something of that energy, friendly, unthreatening but obviously well-informed and disciplined, must have conveyed itself to the thousands who were energised by his poems, read, heard read, heard read by the man himself. After ninety years, the courage is even more obvious, the private man a little better known, the public achievement at last recognised by a much wider public. The archive is there, the man is still there. The crackle of life is still there, and he is still writing.
* 11 *
Jim Carruth Poet Wonderful journeys took a while to join your wonderful journey – my teachers were only interested in dead poets. And though I went to the right University to bump into you, you never taught us scientists in the geology department. It was not until 1985 I picked up a copy of your selected poems and a little later met you at a reading. You were a great encourager of my early attempts at verse. Among the most important things you taught me is to love words, trust my own voice and release my imagination – and in you there is no better role model. You have been generous, too, with other poets – and we were delighted when you agreed to be the first honorary president of our new Glasgow network of poets, St Mungo’s Mirrorball, five years ago. Even now new poets still get a buzz from having one of their poems sit along side one of yours on the web site. But your influence is not just among other poets or academics, you have a universal appeal. I remember one time picking you up from Johnstone station in a storm for a reading in the local library. Standing there waiting, soaked in your long coat, your plastic carrier bag and your smile. The small library room was packed with all ages from primary school kids to pensioners who had made the effort to come out on a horrible night to hear you. I have great memories, too, of the city celebrating and embracing your work as
part of the Morganathon – the 36-hour non-stop reading of your poems with a cast of thousands. At around 3 a.m. on Saturday 26th January 2008 I vividly remember reading your poetry to some Goths who were hanging around the steps at the Gallery of Modern Art and the one who came back later and asked to take away a collection of your poems – telling me that he didn’t realise poetry could be like this and that it was the first poetry book he had ever owned. I said at the time, ‘Today we celebrate a man whose imagination and words have started in Glasgow and taken us on wonderful journeys.’ I feel this is just as apt today: may we never stop reading your words. Thanks for the lift, and the wonderful journey.
* 12 *
Gerry Carruthers Reader, University of Glasgow ince first meeting Edwin Morgan seventeen years ago, I’ve always judged other poets that I meet against him. Ted Hughes, Liz Lochhead, Les Murray and Iain Crichton Smith, among others, are poets that I’ve been privileged personally to encounter. Like these writers, at readings and elsewhere, Eddie Morgan produces something more. Less flamboyant than some other performers, it is in performance that he especially exudes energies that seem out of proportion to the still centre that is the man, or any one man! The variety of his subjects, of his modes, is satisfyingly head-spinning. He has an eye for the trivial and for the important in equal measure: imagined dwarf-throwing contests, sperm banks, Scottish saints (whether St Columba or Robert Burns), television, American literature, Russian Futurism, space travel, the nuisance of starlings in Glasgow’s George Square, modern jazz, making love on the Cathkin Braes (I tried to see how many lists of ten I could make of Eddie’s subject-matter – I stopped after my fourteenth). Happily, it would be pointless to set an examination question for students: ‘What are the main themes in Edwin Morgan’s Poetry?’
Eddie is perhaps the most poetically and culturally promiscuous poet that Scotland has ever produced. It took me a bewildered while to realise that his range of interests had to do, in fact, with his awe in the face of experience, what happens and what we think about, whether ‘serious’ or ‘popular’ culture. In a sense, there is no ‘trivial’ or ‘important’, it is all just human living. In recent decades, other ‘Glasgow’ writers have been lauded, quite rightly, for their political commitment. Eddie has his own views on many things, of course, but he is a quiet, insidious activist of democracy, a soft, sensitive sage of existentialism. Human life and thought is everywhere, all to be admired and sometimes ridiculed (though even then through a lens that loves the eccentricity, even the folly, of the species). When I taught at the University of Strathclyde, and like many colleagues in the Arts sometimes felt swamped by a prevailing technocratic ethos, I saw Eddie read there one lunchtime. As ever, he treated his audience to a cascade of philosophical, artistic, cultural, scientific comment and delight. He was too much of a gentleman, to read his ‘Pleasures of a Technological University’ that day, but I went straight back to my office and did so, my morale raised for weeks to come.
* 13 *
Ken Cockburn Poet
Right in the Van: for Edwin Morgan on his 90th birthday
hen the Scottish Poetry Library bought a new van in 1997 we thought it should have poems outside as well as inside, and so we thought to ask you to write something suitable. Which you promptly did, and we had affixed, white lettering on blue paintwork, on the rear panels: a list of place-names, contemporary, archaic and mythical, and a six-liner playing on the word ‘van’ as both motorised vehicle and an abbreviation of ‘vanguard’, which ends: ‘the poets are always right in the van / of whatever invigorates mortal man’. I drove the van for seven years the length and breadth of Scotland, reaching some of the places you’d listed on the side (Wick, Dundee, Stonypath, Taynuilt, Moniack Mhor), not reaching others (Ercildoune, Uddingston, Raasay, Langholm, Whithorn), and dreaming of those not listed in my Routefinder (Xanadu, Arcadia, Shangri-La, Parnassus, Tir-nan-Og). The van contained your books – I remember increasingly dog-eared copies of Tales from Limerick Zoo, and Star Gate: Science-fiction Poems, plus a copy of the old Carcanet Selected Poems, with its seriesstandard red cover and its perfect-bound pages freeing themselves from imperfect adhesive.
The poets were physically in the van from time to time – yourself, after a reading at the Edinburgh Science Festival; visitors from abroad I met at the airport, Francesc Parcerisas from Catalonia, Gösta Ågren from Finland, Arne Rautenberg from Germany; and Scots I had occasion to take from here to there, Tessa Ransford, Liz Lochhead, Alec Finlay. In 2003 the van brought what is now the SPL’s Edwin Morgan Archive from Glasgow to Edinburgh when Hamish Whyte moved house, along with your Wild Hawthorn Press collection which you donated to the Library. The SPL sold the van in 2004 , and the last time I saw it, de-liveried, but with the poems still legible, was at a summer fair on Leith Links, when someone was selling potted plants from the back of it. You will know the Patrick Geddes phrase, inscribed on the threshold on the SPL, ‘by leaves we live’, and it seemed not such a bad reconfiguration.
* 14 *
* 15 *
Stewart Conn Poet
ore than any writer I can think of, Edwin Morgan defies pigeon-holing. Rather, his transmigratory, intellectual and linguistic achievements, and technical mastery comprise a mesmerising Doocot of Delights. Erudite and gnomic, explorer and liberator, he has in his writings mapped inner darkness and scanned far constellations; while, by example, redefining the contours and extending the frontiers not only of what
had been perceived as â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Scottish poetryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;, but of Scotland itself. Dominant in his armoury is an endearing and enduring blend of energy and integrity, curiosity and humour, and circumscribing all, compassion. With thanks, congratulations ... and warmest birthday wishes.
* 16 *
Robert Crawford Writer, University of St Andrews
belong to a generation which was often taught Edwin Morgan’s poetry at school in Glasgow. You were meant to like it. I didn’t much. T. S. Eliot was my favourite poet, and Morgan’s work seemed light and frivolous in comparison. Yet over the years I have come to value its ludic qualities more and more. What is playful in Morgan is often fused with what is serious, and gives the verse a vital mobility. This means you can read his poems in a wide range of contexts, and they will retain their energy. Is ‘The First Men on Mercury’ a Cold War poem, or a poem about class, or about translation? It’s all of these, and more. Is ‘The Loch Ness Monster’s Song’ a sound poem or a sonnet in rehab? Both. I owe a personal debt to Eddie Morgan who tutored the group of students I belonged to in my second year of studying English Literature at Glasgow University. I don’t remember his teaching any Scottish literature, but I recall his enthusiasm for Milton’s ‘Areopagitica’ and for Wuthering Heights. These were related to his poetry, but that poetry was never alluded to. I liked that. There was a kind of professionalism to it. When he was an Eng Lit tutor he was an Eng Lit tutor, and when he was a poet he was a poet. Morgan’s generosity is legendary, and I know it at first hand. At the end
of one tutorial he gave me a copy of MacDiarmid’s Collected Poems and I read it with great excitement. Yet his tenacity also deserves tribute. Born on its outskirts, he has stayed in one city for almost all his life. Having studied at Glasgow University, he returned to teach in its West Quadrangle and spent the rest of his lecturing days there. His commitment to Scotland and to Scottish independence has remained strong for decades, through thin and thick. Some might see these adherences as parochial, but in Morgan they have spurred a counterbalancing and tenaciously prized sense of adventure. He has registered and built on the resources of Scotland, but never exclusively so. When I remember my schoolboy thoughts about his work, I realise that some of his best poems had then what they still have: the ability to be more youthful than their readers.
* 17 *
Christine De Luca Poet Learning your lines There is now â&#x20AC;&#x201C; and there is the future You feel you keep the waste and darkness back The vale of tears is powerless before you The gates are high, large, long, hard, black We let the day grow old along the grass And the darkly breathing green Lurched into the soul with such a push What laughter and pleasure rose in the rare lulls Waiting for the minute of joy To keep that contact sparking Longing for the wild woods and the sky Out beyond everything belonging But I am left with reminiscences Not paradise, but a throb of the great paradox Would you meet me there in the waste places? I think we must just be ourselves at last Mist the glass, dreaming a minute lightly. Pure strontian! It is heaven on earth. Is it true we come alive not once, but many times? The parts cohere, like petals of a flower. I did not keep back what I had to say. No voice is lost. Forgiveness, thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the thing. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s like a second life. Persisting patience Of the undefeated. Open the doors and begin.
* 18 *
Anne Donovan Novelist ’ve always loved Edwin Morgan’s poetry and, when I was a teacher, read many of his poems with my pupils. So I was thrilled when he came to visit to our school. His reading was, as always, a magical and inspirational experience for the students and staff. I had been reading some of his instamatic poems with sixth year students, and encouraging them to use newspaper articles and photos as inspiration for their own poems. After his visit, they produced several poems I thought were very good. One I remember vividly (based on a short news article) was about a hippo called Hilda. She had escaped when a lorry, in which she was being transported from one zoo to another, broke down on the motorway. The poem dealt with her brief moment of freedom and was both poignant and funny. I liked it because it seemed the kind of incident which might have inspired an Edwin Morgan poem. I wrote to Edwin Morgan, thanking him for coming to the school, and included a few of the students’ poems; I did not expect any reply but thought he might be interested in their work. I was amazed and delighted when he wrote back, having taken the time and trouble to read the poems, commenting on them in a positive way. The students were absolutely thrilled by the letter and I was deeply touched by his thoughtfulness.
* 19 *
Carol Ann Duffy Poet Laureate
POETRY for Edwin Morgan
I couldn’t see Guinness and not envisage a nun; a gun, a finger and thumb; midges, blether, scribble, scrum. A crescent moon, boomerang, smirk, bone; or full, a shield, a stalker, a stone. I couldn’t see woods for the names of trees – sycamore, yew, birch, beech – or bees without imagining music scored on the air – nor pass a nun without calling to mind a pint untouched on a bar at the Angelus.
* 20 *
Lesley Duncan Poetry Editor, The Herald TO EDWIN WHO LECTURED ON PARADISE LOST
Good on you, old man, Still hanging in there, In spite of pain and loneliness, While the circling Apache Obituarists (myself among them) Wait to scalp you posthumously. Youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve played their game In recent years, taking The fulsome admiration And false compliments With stoical enjoyment, Maybe smiling wryly at The premature tribute books. But in the dark hours Do you think of your Own Lost Paradise, Fumed with cigarette ash, Lit by intimate contact? Your vulnerable heart Gives power and candour to your art.
* 21 *
Helen Durndell University Librarian, University of Glasgow From a Whyte Christmas, mixed with the ‘green fairy’ to a treasured collection: thoughts about Edwin Morgan very Christmas one of the highlights for Kenny and Christina Whyte, when they were children, was the annual visit to Eddie’s flat near Anniesland. I still have a vivid picture of an Aladdin’s cave full of treasure, from their descriptions. This scholar and bachelor seemed to know exactly how to engage and delight them, offering entertainments, festive treats and wee drawings to take home. I don’t think the children were ever offered absinthe so the green glow on the Joan Eardley paintings in my mind’s eye must be from Hamish’s glass! Now the paintings are held by the University of Glasgow’s Gallery and, in the University of Glasgow’s Library (where I have worked for 30 years!), we feel privileged to hold the Morgan Papers.
This collection began with the purchase of 1,000 handwritten poems together with 16 Scrapbooks from Edwin Morgan in 1981 with financial assistance from the Scottish Arts Council. Several thousand additional papers, including correspondence and poetry reading notes, have been donated to the library since then by Edwin Morgan, who continues to add recent current material. I am sure that the archive contains hidden treasures to be discovered by scholars yet to come. We are planning to unveil a few pages from the scrapbooks on the web to celebrate his 90th birthday. An online exhibition developed by library staff in 2001 to mark the 550th anniversary of the funding of the University of Glasgow called ‘Treasures from Two Millennia: Fifty Treasures from Glasgow University Library’ begins with a Papyrus Fragment of St John’s Gospel Third Century (MS Gen 1026/13) and ends with Edwin Morgan’s ‘Mutation’ from the Colour Poems Glasgow 1978 printed on esparto paper (Sp Coll HX 132).
* 22 *
Sally Evans Poet and Editor In This Life
for Edwin Morgan If you were lucky enough to keep on writing, and publish poems over decades, I heard you say that in the end they’d start to ask you in, to where we ultimately hold your books, turn the big pages of A Second Life, unpuzzle I am rife in Zion or take on an alternative religion. Others will catch these leaching tales not of obstreperousness or bravado, but standing on a pavement with your wine glass -a fire alarm in the middle of a dinner, a dinner at which you were to be awarded a joint share in a literary prize, telling the radio reporter, ‘You never know in this life what will happen next.’ Did ‘this life’ mean Scotland or poetry? Gilgamesh, time capsules, a library? In the mind, such quiet remarks can shed long screeds of meaning. We, others, you. The personal pronouns shift, mill among detailed memories. These are the readers equal to your work. It is a game for society. * 23 *
Marco Fazzini Translator and Critic
* 24 *
Alec Finlay Poet and Publisher E–D–W–I–N–M–O–R–G–A–N
pErjink barD, Whose brIghtness shiNes, diMmer nOw; youR aGe An eoN redEfining scotlanD’s Weeness wIth soNnets Mercurial visitOrs, hoRsiemen, starlinGs And chaffiNches, strangE Dialects tWinned wIth toNgues froM hOme, woRld lanGuages mAking frieNds; dEftly benDing Words Into infiNite forMs, cOnstructions foR holdinG And loviNg, poEms openeD With happIness, penNing anagraMs Of youR orGan And hymeN, sharEd iDeograms Within whIch Nothing becoMes pOetry: foR nothinG sAys somethiNg, dEsires worDs Which staIn, iNking Memories, retOuching pResbyterian Grey, reveAling raiNbows, mEanings transmitteD With tIme’s passiNg – instaMatics, space-pOems, computeR-greetings, video-boxinG, orAcular techNician – thosE Dipped straWberries stIll shiNe, reMembered Over-and-oveR aGAin. Dying kNots lifE’s enD: We persIst iN reMembering – pOems aRe messaGes, trAnsmitting oN-and-on-and-on–
* 25 *
Janice Galloway Writer was depressed, anorectic and in my Junior Honours year at Glasgow. A withdrawn and distinctly unclubbable fish, I was out of water big-time. I missed my extravagantly supportive music teacher from secondary school and his encouragement to learn by composing rather than analysing. I missed playing Purcell and Britten and stuff by my friends. I missed plunking off English to read what the hell I liked and found Dryden and Pope emetic. Added to which my period was four weeks late and counting. Nearing the end of a much-chewed tether, I kept rolling up for tutorials, but increasingly unsure why. I missed too much; could not, would not, fit. It must have shown. Dr Edwards, a gentle, very kindly chap with whom I had one-to-one music tutorials, eventually pushed the Monteverdi aside and spoke to me like a person. Maybe I needed a year out, he said, finally. Speak to Professor Morgan. Now, although he was my English tutor, the Professor and I had never conversed. There were shovelfuls of people at those tutorials for a start, and since HELP seemed both unprepossessing material for a first chat and impossible to effect as nonchalant, I did not approach. He wrote poetry, though. Safe – or so I thought – inside a book, I might at least approach the work. I bought three, avoided lectures, and sat alone in the Chaplaincy Centre, reading. It was then the sheer breadth of connection in Eddie’s work hit me: the humour and playfulness, the brio,
energy, tenacity and warmth. That cleareyed contact with both the starkness and the boundlessness of reality, a fusion of the soaring and the downright appalling. Inanimate objects spoke and people transfigured: some dangers, I read, were far worse lost than run. So I took my nerve in both hands and knocked on his door. We talked about poetry. And I left with three things; 1) it didn’t matter where I read and thought so long as I read and thought at all; 2) everyone was a person, not a functionary or a thing apart; and 3) words might give me back what I so dreadfully missed. After that, it was all paperwork and pregnancy test and I was clear of trouble on both counts. A year out, no strings: the rest of life to brace for. I lost the music, the boyfriend, the notion of cloisters as a possible future. But the gains, won slow, were worth waiting for. You never know what you give people or when. The important thing is to offer anyway. And be human. Thanks, Eddie. It lasted.
* 26 *
Douglas Gifford Emeritus Professor, University of Glasgow lasgow University, 1959; I remember a chilly lecture room in winter, and a not-too-awake gathering of second-year students – who are suddenly to be jolted out of lethargy and into modernity as a very different lecturer appears, a youthful, unassuming, disarmingly un-academic, and genuinely enthusiastic Edwin Morgan, who will introduce us to Jack Kerouac, the Dharma Bums and the Beat poets. With Morgan’s enthusiasm (and, it must be said, that of his contemporary in teaching modern literature, Jack Rillie) a new world opens up. Yes, there were inspired teachers like John Bryce on Milton and the Metaphysicals; but Morgan was a poet, and whether dealing with Byron or Burns, he lit up his hearers with his slightly breathless yet utterly convincing commentary – and inspired a generation of postgraduates and fellow poets. , Thus, from the 60s and his bookcrammed, airy flat off the Great Western Road, he produced his astonishing output of poetry, translation, criticism and drama. Retirement has merely been from his Glasgow post; if anything his working life as speaker and teacher greatly increased, with huge demands to read his poetry at home and abroad. And then the many honours national and international, among them the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2000; a dozen Arts Council awards, ending in 2003 with his receiving (with the novelist Robin Jenkins) the firstever joint Scottish Arts Council-Saltire Society Lifetime Award for outstanding
achievement in literature – and at least seven British university honorary degrees, and an OBE in 1982. Perhaps the most poignant award for Morgan himself, however, has been that of 1999 which made him Glasgow’s Poet Laureate, reminding us of his huge inspiration for writers like Gray, Leonard, Galloway among others. It’s especially moving today to consider Sandy Moffat’s 1968 painting of the outstanding Scottish poets of the twentieth century in their timeless Poets’ Pub. It is a picture whose meaning has gradually changed, with something of Dunbar’s ‘Lament for the Makars’ as the intervening decades have taken their toll. Gone is the founding father, MacDiarmid; gone too Goodsir Smith, Garioch, MacCaig, MacLean, Mackay Brown, Crichton Smith, poets of Borders, Highlands, islands, Edinburgh. Still formidably with us, and arguably, with Seamus Heaney, the greatest living poet of these islands – is Edwin Morgan. Of all Scotland’s poets, he is widest and richest in his range of subject and perspective, indefatigable in his regenerative visions of Scotland and the Western world yet endlessly compassionate towards the human condition.
* 27 *
Alasdair Gray Artist and Writer n the early 1960s I was a part-time school teacher and painter with a poem published in Lines Review and the start of a novel completed 25 years later. I did not feel wholly isolated, knowing other creative Glaswegians were in the same nearly hopeless situation. Some poets were reading their verses between jazz performances in Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Ian Hamilton Finlay was publishing Poor. Old.Tired.Horse., his own poetry magazine. Bill MacLellan, Glasgow’s most avantgarde and least successful publisher, had published A Vision of Cathkin Braes, poems by Edwin Morgan, lecturer in English at Glasgow University. I then rented a flat at the high end of Hill Street, the end later gouged away and replaced by a concrete canyon holding the M8 motorway. I first met , Eddie here in 1962 or 63 and discussed a book he wished me to illustrate, which Hamilton Finlay’s Wild Hawthorn Press
considered printing. It was called The Whittrick, a sequence of dialogues in verse – conversations between folk known to history and legend. Each mentioned a wee, unexpected, easily-forgot word or event stimulating wholly new ideas or thoughts. Eddie called these Whittricks, a Scots word for curlew, also for a white rat, weasel or ferret – a rodent usually glimpsed disappearing into a hole. He probably thought of me as illustrator, having seen Faust in his Study, my black and white print crammed with tortuous supernatural imagery. Part of The Whittrick was a talk between Faust and Hieronymus Bosch. I would have loved illustrating that poem and the rest whose intellectual scope was equally surprising. But I first needed money to live on while working on the job for five or six weeks. Nobody could pay that. The Wild Hawthorn Press (magazine apart) finally published only Hamilton Finlay’s work. A select bibliography on edwinmorgan.com says Eddie’s first considerable book of poems was Starryveldt, published by a Swiss press in 1965. In 1973, Eddie got the Scottish Arts Council to help work on my novel Lanark with a grant of £300, then as valuable as , £3000 today. In 1983 and 84 Glasgow’s Mariscat Press paid me to design jackets of Eddie’s Grafts/Takes and Sonnets from Scotland. In 2003 the Scottish Arts Council and Saltire Society commissioned a portrait of Eddie for which I received £2000 – the most I had been paid for a portrait. At 90 he is still a good man to know.
* 28 *
Andrew Greig Writer He considers the rising waters
for Eddie, on his 90th
What floats my boat today? How are levels rising behind the curtains beyond our walls within these walls outside this skin or within are they come for me alone today mounting behind the mirror lifting through the floor forcing aside the sandbags What for Godâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s sake are these waters how wide how wide how deep? These are the waters behind the curtains beyond these walls within this room outside this body and within for you and everyone today behind the mirror rising through floor boards elbowing aside sandbags stacked around the heart Oh for Godâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s sake these are the calm, tumultuous waters of a tidal wave the size and shape of a world flooded with itself through you my waking friend
* 29 *
Seamus Heaney Poet COLLO QUY IN GLASGOW he first time I heard Eddie read I was moved by his plain, unpretentious approach. He did not come on as ‘the poet’ though that was how he immediately came across. He introduced his poems briskly and included ‘The First Men on Mercury’ for a bit of a laugh, but this was a makar in earnest, one who kept his eye – as Patrick Kavanagh once recommended – on ‘the parish and the universe’, surveying mankind ‘from Glasgow to Saturn’. In that combination of shyness and certitude, his intellectual and artistic authority were unmistakable. By then, I owned From Glasgow to Saturn, was familiar with the concrete poems, and knew him to be a poet with a gift for eliding the distinction Auden makes between the Ariel poet, who is mostly song, and the Prospero poet, who is mostly sense. Eddie can write the encyclopaedic poetry of science and the world that MacDiarmid asked for, can take in the full geological and galactic sweep yet still manage to have his fun with phonetics and macaronics (I love ‘Colloquy in Glaschu’), sport himself in both vernacular Scots and R P (if it still survives) English, and in the experimental Babel-babbles of his space invaders and Caledonian wild things. He has the true poet’s ability to convey innocent joy while maintaining the highest seriousness. Some years later, Ted Hughes and I were editing The School Bag, an anthology where each poet included was to be represented by a single poem. For Edwin Morgan, Ted presented me with ‘The Unspoken’, a work which deepened my sense of what this poet is capable of: not only has he a Copernican vision that encompasses The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, he also possesses a Cavafian courage and tendresse when it comes to the involutions of the human heart. So when I had the privilege of visiting Eddie one morning in 2005, sitting with him in his room in a colloquy with Karl Miller and Andrew O’Hagan – the three of us there out of personal fondness but intending also to pay formal homage to Scotland’s poet laureate – I recognized the unpretentiousness and shyness I’d seen in him three decades previously. But now I was shy myself in the presence of one who had done such magnificent work as poet and translator, whose mind and hand went together, who cast a warm eye on life and whose achievement shines fuller and steadier as the decades pass.
* 30 *
Diana Hendry Writer Dear Eddie
Today you’re ninety and I wonder if you remember that lunch we had at Yes? The Glasgow restaurant’s name seemed just right for a poet so poetically dauntless as you. That day, excited and nervous you arrived with the whole ms of Love and a Life. Fifty poems typed on your Bluebird with barely a tippex that – was it before starters or after pudding? – you gave to Hamish of Mariscat Press. Such a slim folder! Full of more love and life than anyone there could guess. Eddie, you did us proud. Here’s happy birthday, laldy, loud. From Glasgow to Mercury and the other way round, here’s wishing
you many returns of happiness.
* 31 *
Richard Holloway Writer and Broadcaster hough I have met Edwin Morgan a couple of times, I do not know him, and I doubt if he would even recognize me. That does not bother me in the slightest, because it is his art that has challenged and nourished me, and that is gift enough. It is in my own thinking and the writing that has flowed from it that I have found him to be so helpful. One of my preoccupations has been in trying to account for the emergence of compassion in a meaningless and indifferent universe. Some philosophers have described the lifeforce as a pure will to power that achieves in us the expression and consciousness of its own nature. Because we are creatures with aims, we ask about the purpose of this extraordinary process, but the universe itself gives us no answer and there may be none to give. Nietzsche was convinced that the universe itself had no meaning:
‘Becoming aims at nothing and achieves nothing,’ he wrote; it simply is. Even if we accept this, it does not mean that we ourselves are destined to lead pointless lives: we could hear it as a challenge to give our own lives meaning and purpose by the way we choose to act. Nevertheless, the waste and aimlessness of the universe can sicken us, and for those who want to believe in some kind of purpose behind it, its immense indifference is disturbing. That is when another paradox attracts our attention and finds a voice: human compassion. In an aimless universe, the emergence of compassion like that in his poem ‘In the Snack Bar’, is an evolutionary miracle, a shock as remarkable as the sudden jump into life of the primal gene. I am grateful to Edwin Morgan not for explaining it, but simply for expressing it. It is more than enough.
* 32 *
Brian Johnstone Festival Director, StAnza, 2001-10 ack in 1998, planning the first StAnza Festival, we needed a headliner. We had already made our claim to be Scotland’s own poetry festival but had, with equal insistence, positioned StAnza as international in content – so in looking for such a major figure amongst Scotland’s poets there was really no choice. Who else but Edwin Morgan could possibly top the bill? Put simply, Eddie’s work is characterised by the very diversity, individuality, playfulness and depth that we instinctively felt had to be the core of the festival we were founding. And, of course, added to that is what amounts almost to an alternative career – the internationalism embodied in his work as a translator from a mind-boggling range of languages. Taking over as a director myself in 2001, with the Byre Theatre as our new and larger main stage, we couldn’t wait to invite Eddie back once again to headline the already growing festival. In those days we featured music as a short introduction before each poet and I still recall, with something of a cringe, that I strode out onto the Byre stage, gave Eddie a big build up and launched into, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Edwin Morgan!’ only to be brought up short by a voice behind me saying plaintively, ‘But what about me?’ In my eagerness to welcome Eddie back to StAnza, I had completely forgotten about the musician who was to precede him! The power of Morgan had me in its spell – but nothing daunted, I hastily backtracked and we enjoyed some excellent lute tunes which Eddie followed by one of the most engaging and inspiring readings we have ever had at the festival. Over the 12 years of StAnza, we have been privileged to feature Edwin Morgan both as a live reader and as a presence in exhibitions, films and other events. Almost a poetry festival in its own right, Eddie’s work seems to embody the spirit of celebration which we feel is central to StAnza. For me, this is best captured in the wonderful cartoon by Gerald Mangan featured in exhibition at StAnza 2001. Still to be seen on our website, this shows Eddie, resplendent in tails, with a thistle in his buttonhole, juggling above his head words and letters from the languages of the world. Nothing less than the Edwin Morgan we all know and love.
* 33 *
Jackie Kay Writer BIRTHDAY TEA (for Edwin Morgan)
The time before the last time I saw you, In your new old people’s home, My mum and I bought you a strawberry meringue, A vanilla slice and a cream fancy And round your bed we three Had our own wee tea party A nice auxiliary, Nancy, brought the tea, And we thought of words to rhyme with meringue, Did you say harangue, am I right or am I wrang? The old Home used to take you to Dobbies On Mondays where they did marvellous meringues, You said, your boyish eyes gleaming. Then you asked me if I’d read Orphan Pamuk’s Snow, or Red, which was open on your bed, And told me of a poem You were translating from the Russian. And asked after my son, and Carol Ann. ‘Love,’ you said. ‘Ah love,’ wistfully. ‘If you can be friends you’re doing not bad.’ In your room today are perhaps a dozen books And a few favoured paintings, life pared down, Clean as an uncluttered mind, to the essentials: Friendship, dear Edwin, a scone, a meringue, And your poems hovering like old friends too, Or old lovers, Strawberries, that last thrilling line, About the storm, was it let the storm wash the plates? Nancy puts the rest of the cakes In the fridge for you for later. You are ninety! Happy Birthday Edwin. Your head is buzzing with Variations, And what is age but another translation From curious boy to astounding man. * 34 *
Stuart Kelly Author, Literary Editor of Scotland on Sunday encountered Edwin Morgan in the 1980s, on the page rather than in person, at school; and I didn’t like him. We were taught ‘In the Snack-Bar’ alongside Norman MacCaig’s ‘Assisi’, and by taught I mean that the word ‘gaberdine’ was explained to us, and the moral driven home with all the subtlety of an eighties pop video. The ‘message’ of Morgan and MacCaig was reduced to ‘Don’t mock cripples’. I recently had to read local newspapers from the period, and they bizarrely echoed that moral – every second human interest story appeared to use the word ‘cripples’. That there might be any subtext in the lines ‘Without embarrassment or shame / he must announce his most pitiful needs / in a public place’ was certainly unthinkable and literally unsayable. Indeed, four years later, by which time I had become a fervent enthusiast for Morgan’s work, I had an argument with a friend at Oxford about Morgan’s sexuality. The girl in question was adamant that in the poem ‘One Cigarette’, there are traces of lipstick on the cigarette (even if there were, it hardly proved her point). What changed my attitude to Morgan was being introduced to works like ‘Message Clear’, ‘Pomander’ and the Newspoems. Everything supposedly transparent about language became tangible; words took on a thinginess I had never realised. It was at
the same time that I had the epiphanic moment of understanding a cubist picture for the first time. I remember writing a Morgan-inspired analysis of Hamlet’s lines ‘I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw’, much to the exasperation of my tutors. The poem I return to most now is ‘The Whittrick’. Such ambition, such verve, such dazzling ventriloquism and pyrotechnic intelligence – it still makes so many poems seems mundane, solipsistic and kleinstadtisch. It’s a tour-de-force that contains many of the themes and methods that his later poetry exemplified and amplified. I can’t remember when I first met Morgan in person – did he read at a sixth year English conference? was it at a Saltire Prize? at a Book Festival? – it somehow seems less important; though I do recall he could be far more cutting about the work of other writers than his reputation for bonhomie might suggest. What matters is, should I live to be ninety, I will still always be meeting him.
* 35 *
David Kinloch Poet, University of Strathclyde Edwin Morgan is eating an orange
Edwin Morgan is eating an orange. ‘Tasty, zesty orange’, he mutters. Edwin Morgan folds the segments back and shrinks to the size of a pip. Edwin Morgan cradles each piece of peel in the small of his bony hand. Edwin Morgan steps into the orange and zips up the liths behind him. Edwin Morgan’s taxi driver and Edwin Morgan’s interviewer step into Edwin Morgan’s room. The journalist lurches off again, mystified, disappointed, and the taxi-driver pockets an orange.
Edwin Morgan lectured to me at Glasgow University when I was a student in the early 80s. Shortly after that I started up a poetry magazine with Robert Crawford and we asked Edwin if he’d review an anthology of ‘alternative’ British poetry published by a small French press, edited by Jacques Darras. It was a beautiful looking book and I only had one copy. I took it with me on the first occasion I ever went to Edwin’s flat and remember discussing it with him over tea and biscuits. At one point I mentioned that as I only had this copy I’d be grateful to have it back after he’d reviewed it. There was a silence and Edwin straightened in his chair before gently but firmly informing me that this was just not done. I think he realised that I was terribly green and hadn’t a clue about this kind of thing because he relented pretty quickly. I ordered another copy and Edwin got to keep the book. It sticks in my mind for a number of reasons: partly because it was the first time I got to see where some of the poetry was written and because it set a pattern for our future encounters, which have always been characterised by enthusiasm shared and interspersed with the silent awkwardness that often attends meetings of the shy. However, it is difficult to speak objectively and without some sentimentality about a body of work that has kept me company in intimate and inspiring ways over the course of thirty years.
* 36 *
Claudia Kraszkiewicz Editor, Edwin Morgan Website First Meeting y lecturer had written to you through Carcanet Press because I was looking for a suitable subject for my MA thesis in 1994, and we were thrilled when your answer came asking me to get in touch with you as soon as I got to Scotland in the late summer of that year. How surprised I was when you suggested I come to your flat in Whittingehame Court! I’d read many of your poems, read through the secondary literature, I’d drawn mind-maps, taken notes, jotted down first ideas and questions, and could not wait to finally meet you in person! So there I stood on the 24th of August at that entrance with those many doorbells – no names, just figures! – so nervous that I forgot which bell to ring. It was a prime number, smaller than 20. 17 or 19? 17 or 19? 17 or 19? In the end I pressed 19, and a friendly sounding voice asked me to take the lift. There I sat on the wee couch in that corner room, a cup of tea and biscuits in front of me, too nervous to ask a single question, in fact even too nervous to catch my breath on a regular basis. When you finally asked me what I’d like to know, I started to twitter away on how much I liked your work, and how much I loved this or that poem, ended up stammering mid-sentence, and finally just said: ‘How can you do that?’ - And began to wonder if you’d consider throwing me out within the next five minutes for asking silly questions.
You didn’t throw me out, in fact, you looked much amused and started to tell me a little about your Glasgow poems and also about your Concrete poetry, and by and by I calmed down and was able to form some halfway decent questions (even though I still stammered quite a lot). I always meant to tell you how thankful I was that you sensed my nervousness and had the patience to wait until I’d calmed down a bit. Over the years, there were so many other occasions and situations that I also treasure, like the time you showed me places in Glasgow that feature in your poems or the way you ‘made’ me translate my first poem. But these are other stories, and shall be told at one of your next birthdays. – How about the 95th? Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag und alles Liebe, Eddie!
* 37 *
Tom Leonard Poet for Eddie as always, on his 90th
yi dancin ur izzit jist thi wey yir stonnin
yi stonnin ur is it jist the wey yir dancin
the wey yir dancin the wey yir stonnin
dancin eddie eddie dancin
stonnin eddie eddie stonnin
happy birthday eddie dancin happy birthday eddie stonnin
stonnin dancin eddie morgan
* 38 *
Eleanor Livingstone Artistic Director, StAnza
’ve been fortunate in hearing Edwin Morgan read several times and it’s hard to single out one occasion, but probably the most memorable for me was about ten years ago at Kellie Castle near Pittenweem. It was a wonderful evening, full of energy and warmth. I remember especially enjoying ‘The Mummy’, and being moved by the poem ‘Cinquevalli’, lifted up by it, just as Cinquevalli had been in his unsteady box. When the reading ended at about 11 pm, I left with a friend. Driving away from the castle, we were so engaged by the reading, enthusing about it, that we missed our turning. We ended up circling the back roads of Fife for an hour or more, alone in the soft summer darkness with the insect nightlife lit up in the car headlights, happy to be lost in the poetry, sure that it would lead us home eventually. What a wonderful gift, the ability to write poems which shine with their own light. And how lucky we are to have such a writer as our National Poet. Happy birthday!
* 39 *
At his desk by the window is Eddie in a red shirt.
He likes a red shirt, does Eddie – you should’ve seen him last year on his 89th birthday when he came over to Edinburgh to the Poetry Library for the opening of his Archive in a scarlet-trimmed mock-Warhol T-shirt embossed with a metallic gold, silver and red-striped applique of an iconic Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer with, instead of the brand-name, Glasgow. He’s wearing a red shirt in the photograph on that page from March 2005 in the Herald that turned up the other day during the long-overdue big reddin-out of my study. I smile. Article’s about his newly-published Tales from Baron Munchausen. Here Morgan comes out, again. This time about his folklorist son Mahmoud he had to ‘the enchanting Leila I met in Cairo during the second world war’. From whose whispering lips, apparently, the pillowtalk was of the One Thousand and One Nights – initiating him to this long storytelling life of a poet...
* 40 *
Liz Lochhead Poet Laureate, Glasgow
But, see, I was wanting to talk of that day back in the Autumn of 2004. I’ve come down to see him with the embargoed e.mail version of his poem for the opening of the new Scottish Parliament Building. From the photographs he’s seen, and celebrated, Eddie loves it. Petals...curves and caverns, nooks and niches... syncopations and surprises. Leave symmetry to the cemetery. But he’s too shaky on his pins these days and, next week, I’ve to read it out loud and clear for him on the Big Day. Terrifying honour! Four minutes of tongue-twisters. What do the people want of the place?... A nest of fearties is what they do not want. A symposium of procrastinators is what they do not want. A phalanx of forelock-tuggers is what they do not want... Well, we’ll rehearse it and mibbe I’ll get it right. He’s a good director. ‘Liz, not wholly the power, not yet wholly the power, but... you’re not getting enough out of the not yet...’ Try again. I’m standing in the open door of the bathroom, declaiming. There’s amazing Eddie, mild at his neat desk in this nursing home on the Crow Road. There’s the dialogue between the cancer cell and the healthy cell, here’re Cyrano, Cathures, Saturn, Glasgow Green, Cinquevalli, Jesus and Gilgamesh. Randy apples and red shirts and starlings and strawberries.
* 41 *
Catherine Lockerbie Director, Edinburgh International Book Festival, 2001-2009 he love affair has been intense and long; and like all the best romances, it began by chance. At school in Stirling in the early 1970s, the real world out of reach beyond some unattainable horizon, I was sustained by words, aching for their unfolding universes. I had an embarrassing habit of winning unwanted school prizes. These were often medals – essential accoutrements for any adolescent girl in an emergency – but also, blessedly, book tokens. Clutching one of these, aged 13, I wandered into a book shop to browse and casually picked up an unusual tome - squarish, a burst of surreal sunflower on its cover, different coloured pages. I opened it idly. What was this? A poem composed entirely of the letters “s” and ‘z’ – ‘Siesta of a Hungarian Snake’, snoozing along the bottom of a page. A garbled Christmas card from a computer. A riot of rambunctious Scottish syllables in something called ‘Canedolia’. A gorgeous, rhythmic litany of affection and irritation – ‘what I hate about the twins is their three gloves’. An achingly beautiful song to humanity, a passing encounter with three young people and a wee dog in a Glasgow street. That was it. My teenage brain was in tumult. I was in thrall. I had never heard of the poet – though at that tender age I had heard of no-one, poetry not being high on the priority list of our particular comprehensive. Trembling with anticipation and exhilaration,
I handed over my token and became the intoxicated owner of The Second Life. Was that the moment which determined my future as literary editor, book festival director? Entirely possible. After I met Eddie as an adult, I never ceased to marvel at the polite, unfailingly generous, slightly shy scholar whose intellect exploded in such capacious, protean, endlessly ludic and luminous streams of invention. Some poets one visits for specific moods or moments; Edwin has voices for everything and everyone, brimming over with the joy and stuff of life. The translations, the plays – oh, the swashbuckling brio of Cyrano – the robust defiance of age and encroaching physical frailty (‘Push the boat out, companeros!’). I turn to him at all times. Leaving a huge and weighty job, I was sent his poem about the scaffolding being removed from a building, revealing the sky – ‘The Release’. ‘So now that we are so scoured and open and clean/what shall we do?’ Read Edwin Morgan and rejoice in him, always, is the obvious answer.
* 42 *
Gerry Loose Poet and Botanist Gramercy
for Edwin Morgan at 90 for hoodwinking jackassery in the laugh of love for chaff & for chiff for topsy & for turvy for the swift & swervy for sidereal skulduggery for diggery & jaggery for jiggery & pokery for bringing in burly & hurling it & twirling it for not failing or flailing for panky & hanky & hocus & pocus for balder with dash for tommy without rot for tara & diddle for flim & for flam for no pecksniffery for keeping the bilge sweet for keeping boloney meat for the hood & the wink oh the wink for hornswoggling for mindboggling for kit & caboodle for foxing & gulling
* 43 *
for the gammon & the razz for matazz & finagle for finesse & outguess for the scam & the trim for the devil & the deep for the rampageous & riotous for the anfractuous & haywire for the pell for the mell for the zig & that zag for the grody & raunchy for the dash & the slap for the shod & the slip oh the slip & the wink for skelter & helter for vice & for versa for songs in the verse for concerto & cantata for rhapsody & romance for the floozy & boozy for the bam & the boozlery for not falling for not buckling or bawling for not submitting or mitting for the brannigan without beefing for the treasure & pleasure the wink oh the pleasure the slip & the wink
Alan MacGillivray President, ASLS, 2002-2006 t is a summer evening in Old Aberdeen. The year is 1970. In a student hall of residence, a concert is in progress and in front of an audience of foreign teachers of English, a group of Scottish teachers of English is giving a performance. In chorus and duets, with questions and responses, the magic words ring out.
who saw? rhu saw rum. garve saw smoo. nigg saw tain…. what do you do? we foindle and fungle, we bonkle and meigle and maxpoffle… The foreign teachers look pleasantly bewildered. In their midst sits a short toothy middle-aged man in a white jacket. He laughs a lot and is clearly delighted. He is the visiting poet and these are his words, from ‘Canedolia’. This was the occasion of my first meeting with Edwin Morgan. Over the years since, both at Jordanhill College and Strathclyde University, I often met Eddie Morgan. At poetry readings where I introduced him to students who probably knew him only for one or two standard school texts, like ‘In the Snack-bar’ and ‘The Computer’s First Christmas Card’, I was always struck by the instant rapport he created with his easy, modest manner and his lucid, accessible presentation. Once I introduced him as the poet most fitting to become the Scottish Poet Laureate. Prophetic words! At the time he shrugged off the idea with amiable diffidence.
When Eddie was a Visiting Professor at Strathclyde University, I had the privilege of sharing an office with him on the sixth floor of the Livingstone Tower, where we used to have coffee and friendly chats together when our visiting times coincided. In a drawer of my desk at home, I have a souvenir of that period, the plastic plate with his name and title, which I unscrewed from the office door and illegally kept after his departure. By using his poems as the basis of classroom teaching of literature with student teachers, and lecturing on his work on Strathclyde University Scottish Literature courses, I hope I have played a part in helping to make Eddie Morgan’s poetry known to young people in Scotland. I take some pride in having been involved, through the Association for Scottish Literary Studies, in the campaign that resulted in the naming of Eddie as the first Scots Makar of the new millennium. Congratulations, Eddie, on your ninetieth birthday! You are the visible proof that Scottish literature is vital, relevant and rightfully part of every Scottish person’s education.
* 44 *
Bernard MacLaverty Novelist CHRISTMAS JUNKET
Last year I read this short piece to an audience at the Scottish Poetry Library. Hamish Whyte remarked that it had a similar feeling to Eddie Morgan’s wonderful poem ‘Trio’. If only.
t’s a Friday night in Glasgow around Christmas time and I stand waiting in the Underground. A young student and his girlfriend come down the steps, the girl’s high-heels clacking loudly. Using both hands, he is carrying a smoked-glass bowl covered in cling wrap. They stand beside me. The bowl is full almost to the brim with white, jelly-like stuff. I see it tremble when he makes the slightest movement. White clabber. A very pale egg custard? Junket? The girl whispers to him and they kiss. Their body language is so strange. He should put his arms around her but can’t. He holds the bowl towards me and kisses her sideways, almost out of the corner of his mouth, the way a convict is supposed to talk. They must be going to eat with friends and this is his none-tooexpert contribution. The chinking from her poly bag sounds like full bottles of wine. Getting on the train I momentarily lose them in the crowd but they turn up again and sit beside me on the bench seats, facing the crowded seat opposite. Almost everyone notices the boy’s bowl. He doesn’t rest it on his knees but sits with it held out in front of him – using the principal of steady cam – its surface jiggling. The train gathers speed and the gel’s surface goes choppy. The boy’s mouth tightens and the girl laughs hysterically because now she is aware that everyone is watching. Someone says, ‘Will I tell the driver to slow down?’ The boy nods his head and smiles. Two stops later and they get off leaving everybody in the carriage smiling. The train passes into the dark of the tunnel as the pair begin carefully to climb the steps. Neither wants to spill any of the precious joy of what it is to be young and loved, on a Friday night near Christmas, going out to eat and drink with friends.
* 45 *
Aonghas MacNeacail Poet s an aspiring poet, I was drawn to Glasgow University in the late 1960s because an unusual range of poets taught there. Derick Thomson chaired the Celtic Department, Alex Scott headed Scot Lit.; there were at least two serious poets in the English Department – Philip Hobsbaum and Edwin Morgan. Scott and Hobsbaum had their local pubs where student writers often met them; Thomson I knew from lectures, but Morgan seemed a more elusive figure. The name apppeared in magazines and anthologies, and in our reflections on fellow poets. Curiously, the man who always appears in print as Edwin Morgan was invariably identified as Eddie – even by those who’d yet to meet him personally. And I think that dual identity is reflected in reading the poems: one of our leading experimental poets is also one of our most accessible. The ‘voice’ is infinitely mimetic, yet entirely specific. Who else but Eddie Morgan could have articulated the Loch Ness Monster’s Song, which is not afraid to ask questions – literally, in Nessie language, and linguistically, inviting us to accept the provenance of that wonderfully onomatopoeic language? A sense of challenging the significance of language underlies much of his verse: a process of cultural assimilation nicely observed as ‘The First Men on Mercury’ encounter the natives: it’s fun, but delivers undercurrents of unease. ‘Canedolia’, that aural celebration of Scotland, on the other hand, is pure joy.
Long before meeting him, I learned that Eddie might have an interest in bona fide languages, when browsing in a second hand bookshop I found a faded textbook, Russian for Servicemen, which bore his signature on the flyleaf. That his interest went beyond curiosity is clear from the poets he translated into English, or Scots (in which he has also written eloquently) including Montale, Brecht, Neruda, Pasternak, Tsvetayeva, Mayakovsky, Martynov, Yevtushenko, Weöres and Juhász. I was intrigued recently to read that he regretted not having been able to learn Gaelic. Give his voice a geographical launching pad? It has to be Scotland; more specifically Glasgow, where Gaelic has provided an insistent undercurrent, navigating, policing, nursing, teaching. Mercantile and industrial, Glasgow in its prime was always multilingual, has always drawn in and reached out. Whether on the page or in performance, conversationally confidential and quietly theatrical, the inexhaustible Eddie Morgan has drawn on his native city’s character, to create an encyclopaedic and endlessly enriching body of verse.
* 46 *
John Maley Poet STRAWBERRIES: A SUITABLE CASE FOR TREATMENT
i Makar Morgan kiss your lover’s lips in Strawberry Oz ii In Bergman’s Wild Strawberries an old man journeys towards some late applause iii In Lennon’s Strawberry Fields did wee weans weep for their missing maws? iv In my school a tight-trousered teacher was nick-named ‘strawberry baws’ v Makar Morgan tender are his fingertips in Strawberry Oz
* 47 *
Willy Maley Professor, University of Glasgow HEART TO HEART WITH EDWIN MORGAN, PROFESSOR POET
rofessor Morgan, you were here before my time. I never knew you as a colleague, only as an inspiration, a breath of fresh air that had blown through the tower. In Muriel Spark’s children’s story, The Very Fine Clock (1968), Ticky the clock keeps time in Professor John’s house, and John and his four friends – Professors ‘to a man’ – decide to honour Ticky by making him a Professor. Ticky declines, saying: ‘Professors, there is an old saying that my grandfather told me: “Heart speaks to heart.” And this is true of us all in this house. And so my dear professors, I must decline to be Professor Ticky. My fellow clocks would never feel the same about me. They would think I had become too grand for them to talk to, while I would feel very much left out in their company. Please do not think me ungrateful.’ This short passage captures many of Spark’s concerns – home and homely wisdom, time, fellowship, affairs of the heart, the risks of becoming too grand, solitude. Professor Morgan, you, like Spark, like Ticky, speak to the heart. Yet you accepted the title of Professor without losing it. You gave your name to the Creative Writing Centre at the University of Glasgow as a hugely influential writer, but the University claims you too as a distinguished academic: a don as well as a bard. Reaching for my favourite novel, the Oxford English Dictionary, I see that ‘professor’ has several meanings, including:
A person proclaiming or publicly declaring something; who makes open declaration of feelings, beliefs, or allegiance to some principle; who professes (sometimes opposed, implicitly or explicitly, to one who practices); who makes open profession of religion; a university academic of highest rank; the holder of a chair in a specified faculty or subject; in extended use, a professorlike person; a professional sportsperson, as distinguished from an amateur; as a grandiose title or mock title: assumed by or applied to professional teachers and exponents of various popular arts and activities, as dancing, performing, etc.; a piano player in a saloon, brothel, dance hall, etc.; an orchestra leader. Reflecting on your professordom (noun, chiefly humorous or depreciative: the realm of professors; professors collectively; also the quality or condition of being a professor) makes me increasingly aware of my status as a professorling (noun, humorous nonceword, a petty or insignificant professor), or as H. G. Wells put it, ‘A provincial professorling in the very act of budding’. But as William James urged Henri Bergson in a letter, ‘Can’t we cease “Professor”-ing each other?’ I believe Eddie is current? So as you tick your way ninety times around the sun let me say ‘Happy Birthday Eddie’, and profess my love for your poetry, but also for your criticism, for there’s great art in both, and I take heart from reading you.
* 48 *
Bill Manhire Poet, Victoria University ne of the real pleasures of my life as a teacher has been the occasional opportunity to introduce Edwin Morgan’s poems to undergraduates. The best one of all has been ‘Message Clear’, a poem that (year after year) baffles a hall crammed with 300 first-year English students, and then comes to life – and clearly into view – when they hear it read to them. It’s as if you’ve done something magical, simply by saying the words aloud. The poem that stays with me most, however, is one called ‘Cinquevalli’. I think I first heard Edwin Morgan say the words aloud in Edinburgh in 1981, and that the reading was somehow associated with an exhibition based around Alexander Moffat’s Poets’ Pub painting. Can this be true? I certainly heard him read the poem a decade later when he was a guest, 12,000 miles away from home, at Writers’ and Readers’ Week in Wellington, New Zealand. Maybe the poem goes on being present to me because I liked so much hearing the word “Cinquevalli” being repeated over and over in the poet’s Glaswegian accent. The sound itself was both exotic and homely.
Of course, I liked the poem’s subject matter and its central figure. Cinquevalli is an acrobat and juggler, and the poem plays with all those ideas of performance that we like to associate with poetry and perhaps especially with the extraordinary range of Edwin Morgan’s own writing. We watch Cinquevalli contrive all sorts of dazzlements. He can twirl a plate of soup on his forefinger, fly from a trapeze (he sometimes falls), and juggle disparate items like a bowler hat, a walking-stick, a cigar and a coin. Yet now that I look at the poem again, contemplating just how how many years Edwin Morgan has been juggling words, the line that strikes me most is a simple one, quite without dazzlement or display: There is no deception in him. He is true.
* 49 *
Brian McCabe Writer TOTEM de-luxe lock de-icer clamps booster cable clamps emergency traction plates limited slip lubricant idler wheels idler wheels tracks and sprockets remanufactured alternators primer bulb assemblies steel-belted radials shocks springs side rails cleats studs kill switches brake pucks hot grips telescopic weatherstripping snowthrowers EVERYTHING is survival Survival IS everything Is everything SURVIVAL Welcome to NEPTUNE (Saskatchewan)
* 50 *
Peter McCarey Poet A Golden Treasury of Multiverses Metropole Hotel, Brighton, 29 July 1993 ‘I am here with various papers, poems, letters, books, but not doing very much at the moment except look out at the rain-swept sea-front and a long beach with no one on it. As it begins to get dusky, a sort of virtual reality (I’ve been rereading your poems / manifesto) takes over. My window looks towards a large illuminated sign which says WEST PIER but the pier itself is now so ruinous it’s entirely cut off, islanded in the sea, a pier without a peer, unable to utter its true ex-pier nature under the civic lie of the light-bulbs (the lie is a proleptic hope, they say if you can donate a million or so the reborn thing will appear). I’d rather have the crazy wave-licked Victorian iron skeleton, gaunt in the gauntlet of winter Channel storms (trong’z ’mongsh, trong’z ’mongsh!), with a sign flashing WAIT HERE. For all their constructivities, poems can be seen as ruins too, since there’s such a cutoff penumbra of manifestations, mammoth-festations, that crowds round to lend power but won’t get seen, though it wants you to peer! That fax-info golem you mention is big, and whether you rub a lamp or read a report it spirals up very fast and speaks with tongues the wit of which ye may not wot…’ EM Frailty was the initial fear: the weakest link Might fail the chain of sense. But this was a web, Chainmail, more like; a toil of strategies that prevailed. Prevailed? They outstripped Napier’s apocalyptic longing, To rubble the Richter scale of Richter scales. But Every virtuality needs a toe-hold in the vicious earth, And every need begets a law. Here – reason, as in ration Or perish. Some did. One web realtor took this heuristic: Retain whatever utterance can’t translate to or from English, And every word that etymology can’t reduce – ‘gore’, for instance; ‘mardi’, which isn’t ‘Thursday’. These are the primes of language, the lauds of number. The server - their perishable emblem - might be A broken pier, a rig sunk in the bits it drilled for. Any Ruin fit for haunting, any sturdy poem To track the sun, to gauge its motor. * 51 *
Kevin McCarra Journalist tanding still is also a journey. All it takes is time. With the exception of war-time service in the Middle East, Edwin Morgan has spent his 90 years in Glasgow, witnessing a city’s transformation and contributing to it. In contrast to the sentimentalists, he is fascinated by everything that has whirled around him unbidden. If he were not so accomplished, Morgan would sound like a propagandist for the future. The fact that he never learned to drive might, admittedly, have helped protect his sense of wonder over the building of the M8 motorway that runs through Glasgow. The Kingston Bridge, which was opened in 1970, now carries 150,000 cars a day across the Clyde. True to his modernism, Morgan rhapsodised about the aesthetic glory of the engineering in his Glasgow Sonnets:
Meanwhile the flyovers breed loops of light in curves that would have ravished tragic Toshy – clean and unpompous, nothing wishy-washy. Vistas swim out from the bulldozer’s bite
That reference to Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who died from cancer in 1928, is also cunning. He has now become the stuff of gift shop merchandise in Glasgow, yet there was an element of modernism to the architecture and Mackintosh’s practice was not successful enough to survive in a faltering economy. Morgan’s longevity and security, thanks to the academic career, have let him press his case, particularly since Scottish children are now made aware routinely of his work and outlook. He has had the audacity to be an optimist in a calling where despair is more respectable. There is merriment, too, sometimes in unlikely circumstances. One of the Instamatic poems, based on actual events, describes an accused man in the dock suddenly throwing a knife. The judge ducks to his left, as if he had always understood that such a manoeuvre would be required sooner or later. Morgan writes, surely with pride, of the ‘striking absence of consternation’ in the Central Police Court. It is part of his purpose to bear witness to Glasgow while insisting that hope and realism need not be at odds. This is tricky work and all his talent is required to hold off glibness. Misery, violence, and pain are on the scene, but they will not be given the last word. While the poems deal with a great range of places in time and space, Morgan keeps coming back to Glasgow like a man turning the key in his lock late in the evening.
* 52 *
Margery Palmer McCulloch University of Glasgow y first contact with Edwin was in 1964 when he bought a small painting titled Sea Change by my husband Ian from the Young Glasgow Group annual exhibition at the McLellan Galleries. I’m ashamed to say that at that time I had no idea at all who ‘Edwin Morgan’ was, especially that he was a significant Scottish poet. I had forgotten about the painting until it appeared recently in a Hunterian Gallery exhibition of works donated by Edwin. What an excitement and pleasure it was to see it again. Now it could keep company with Ian’s larger oil painting Lilith, purchased by Glasgow University in 1963. My next connection with Edwin came in the late 1970s when I went to Glasgow University as a mature student and mother of two wee boys to undertake postgraduate research into the poetry of Hugh MacDiarmid. At this point I did realise that Edwin was both a poet and scholar, and I had many ‘in my head’ arguments with him about his early negative responses in the article ‘Jujitsu for the Educated’ (1956) to MacDiarmid’s long poem In Memoriam James Joyce , which I was finding most stimulating. Why I didn’t go across University Avenue and speak to him face to face I cannot now remember – perhaps the hostility between Scottish Literature and English at that time communicated the unspoken advice that such a visit would not be appropriate; or perhaps I was just too shy. But I have always regretted that
early missed opportunity to talk with such an imaginative creative writer and teacher. Edwin, of course, became one of the most perceptive commentators on MacDiarmid’s poetry, saying of the Joyce poem that ‘stuffed to indigestibility as it sometimes is with fact and reference, it nevertheless reveals the true passion of the author for the materials he has chosen to use’. Edwin’s own poetry ‘reveals a true passion for the materials he has chosen to use’ as well as for the ideas and intellectual and social concerns which his chosen poetic forms and language bring to life. He himself is the true heir to MacDiarmid, pushing out the boundaries of poetry in theme and form, and acting in an old poetic tradition of spokesman for his human tribe, even if at times he may find himself a reluctant recorder. I wish him a very happy 90th birthday and thank him for all the joy and intellectual stimulation his poetry has given me over so many years.
* 53 *
James McGonigal Friend and Biographer That time2 Coming back up by train, was it Birmingham to Glasgow, it was absolutely celestial – blue sky all the way criss-crossed by vapour trails from jets that seemed to be playing like whales and all the time that hot extraordinary February sun. I had Virginia Woolf on my lap but laid her aside and wrote a poem (one & a half, in fact). ‘Dicen que no hablan las plantas, ni las fuentes, ni los pájaros’ but it’s not true, not true! Fronds, founts and fliers shake out their plumes in flight.
In flight, plumes shake out their fountains of fronds? – but that’s not true, not true! ‘Los pájaros, ni las fuentes, ni las plantas no hablan como se dice.’ They speak half in poems and half in facts. On my lap I had Virginia Woolf but laid her aside and wrote
of that extraordinary February sun playing like a hot whale in the sea with jets and trails that seemed criss-crossed by blue vapour all the way from Birmingham to absolutely celestial Glasgow – coming back by train that time it was.
Edwin Morgan (7 February 1975) & James McGonigal (7 November 2009) * 54 *
Iseabail Macleod Lexicographer part from enjoying his poetry over many years, my first contact with Eddie was in the 1980s when I worked for the Scottish National Dictionary. He was enormously supportive to us at a time when we needed all the help we could get. These memories have made me think once again about his use of Scots language. A quick glance, for instance at his Collected Poems, might suggest that his poetry is overwhelmingly in English but a further look, especially at his wide-ranging translations, tells a very different story. The inventive Scots of his translations of Mayakovsky in Wi the Haill Voice (1972) is particularly impressive. Following the originals, his versions of Heine are more down to earth, for example in the description of ‘Die Lorelei’:
‘She kaims wi a gowden kaimie, And whiles she sings a sang;’
It is perhaps in his drama translations that he makes the most innovative use of ‘an urban Glasgwegian Scots’, as he described it himself. French drama has often been translated very successfully into Scots and Eddie’s translation of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is a brilliant example of this tradition, using both traditional and modern Scots words. And his version of Racine’s Phèdre is a tour de force. Only Eddie could translate classical French tragedy into demotic Scots, and make it work. Amazingly the much despised grammatical and syntactic structures of Glaswegian Scots seem perfectly natural from the royal mouths of Phaedra, Theseus and Hyppolytus. I well remember its performance at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh only a decade ago. It is marvellous that, in spite of physical hindrances, Eddie continues to be such good company and to produce poetry of the highest order. Have a very happy birthday, Eddie, and keep writing.
* 55 *
Adam McNaughtan Singer Songwriter GLIMPSES was a youth unripe for university when, as one of the two hundred gentlemen of the Ordinary English class at Glasgow, I first encountered Edwin Morgan. His delivery might have suggested nervousness but he lectured with obvious understanding, of subject and listeners, on Milton and on modern poetry. We could have had no better guide to the ambiguities, obscurities and absurdities of the 1950s. My tutor was Eddie’s friend, J.A.M. Rillie, and on one occasion their joint charges were gathered for a seminar on modern poetry which turned into a discussion of why Arthur Miller married Marilyn Monroe. My first post-university glimpse of Eddie was at an English Association conference when he spoke warmly about concrete poetry. He was then harangued by Norman MacCaig who dismissed the genre as people playing with typewriters; Edwin, too polite for haranguing, was rescued by the redoubtable Hannah Buchan, a colleague at Glasgow, who gave Norman medicine as strong as that he doled out. , , In the 60s and 70s I often shared a platform with Eddie at poetry readings, particularly under the happy hospitality of ‘The Heretics’ in Edinburgh. I saw him develop from quiet and staccato readings of the instamatics to his enjoyed and enjoyable performances of ‘The Loch Ness Monster’s Song’ or ‘The First Men on Mercury’. His range and his sympathies carried him world-wide but it is in singing his native city that he has made his mark. The official appointment simply rubber-stamped what readers and listeners had long known. Edwin Morgan is Glasgow’s Poet Laureate – and not just for three years.
* 56 *
Angela McSeveney Poet
first personal memory of Edwin Morgan dates from late 1986. I was 22 and had left University earlier in the year and had no idea of how to make my way in the world. As job applications boomeranged back to me I began to do voluntary work at the Scottish Poetry Library. It was in Tweeddale Court then, much smaller than it is today, and I remember the cheery chintz sofa that was there before the growing numbers of books ousted it. For a shy, skint, unemployed poetry enthusiast, the SPL was heaven. Mostly, I did lots of shelving and entered new books in the accessions register, but then I was given the task of drawing up a survey and posting it out (way before email) to Scottish poets. In due course the replies came back and one was from Edwin Morgan. To my surprise and delight he had enclosed a short note to say that he had enjoyed some of my poems, which he had read in a small magazine. At that point in my life, any comment about my writing was a novelty; to have someone of Edwin Morgan’s stature not only notice me but take the time to pass on some encouragement was astonishing. I now know that this level of considerateness and good manners is typical of the man. On the occasion of his 90th birthday I would like to send Eddie my sincerest best wishes and profoundest thanks for all the encouragement he has offered me over the years and in particular for that first unexpected note.
* 57 *
Andrew Motion Poet Laureate 1999-2009 VISITORS for Edwin Morgan One hundred million years from now sharp-eyed visitors have arrived to study the deserted surface of planet earth. Given that tectonic plates still glide relentlessly around its core of fire, it is easy for them to determine
They measure the achievements of that time by a significant variety of materials preserved in almost complete stillness
how valleys derive from mountains, and seas – swarming with minute bacteria – are the residue of pack-ice.
on the earth’s nearest and barren moon: the debris of primitive flying machines proves the humans had explored
More mysterious is the delicate layer of ash and finely-ground metal coating large areas of the landmass,
at least this fragment of their galaxy. Furthermore, among these relics – pitted by the hail of micro-meteorites –
overlaid for the most part by forests, or drifts of slimy vegetable stuff. The visitors have decided this proves
certain items have been identified which show rudimentary skills relating to knowledge and communication.
an age of the human, although they have yet to discover fossil evidence of a complete specimen.
The visitors have not ruled out the likelihood that particular individuals may have developed these skills to reach beyond themselves and their vicinity into the larger distances, which the visitors themselves know.
* 58 *
Joe Murray Environmentalist Edwin Morgan: Makar ddie has always been a very public poet, which is probably what I like best about him. I remember a poster poem of his on the London Underground many years ago, it was the first of this kind of thing I had seen though many others have had the same idea since. For me, it was fitting that he wrote the poem for the opening of the Scottish Parliament building where, in the first line, he uses the metaphor of light:
‘Open the doors! Light of the day, shine in; light of the mind, shine out!’ For it is the very light of Scotland that had been diminished to no more than a flicker for centuries; time is now for it to burn bright once more, and our wee white-haired makar demanded those who would inhabit the new building never to be forelocktuggers, procrastinators or ‘it wizny me’ fearties. He is, truly, an orator of our national conscience. While I don’t really know Eddie Morgan that well personally, I have enjoyed his company on the few occasions we have met. I like reading his poetry and have always found the variety of his writing styles quite remarkable – most poets, even the very good ones, never seem to be that versatile. Eddie Morgan is one of those Scots who appear once in a generation and make a huge difference to the quality of Scottish society and culture, but whose influence goes far beyond mere national boundaries. As Scots, we are richer for his presence among us. I have been honoured once or twice, through Mariscat Press, to contribute on a technical basis to the production of his work. I produced the appreciation book for Eddie’s 80th year and I have been asked to contribute these few words for his 90th tribute; it will be my great pleasure to contribute to the next one which should arrive on his doorstep alongside the royal telegram. * 59 *
Colin Nicholson Professor, University of Edinburgh
ell him we love him,’ my students said when I went to see Morgan after his move to the nursing home in Crow Road. Delivering that message made it easier for me to state the obvious – if their enthusiasm was an indicator I couldn’t see the love stopping in any foreseeable future. I was there to ask him about collections he had published since being diagnosed – a triumph of energy in dire straits if ever there was one – and he remembered asking his oncology consultant about time remaining. When he was told it could be six months or six years he replied ‘I’ll take the six year option, please.’ In that sense he was doing well, living on borrowed time we both agreed, but still sharp and helpfully responsive about his recent poetry; mentally alert, but physically frail. The feelings I had then were like my earliest memories of him reading in public; partly awe-struck that such a diminutive frame could energise and sustain his particular, not to say world-historical, encyclopaedia of spells. The sheer variety of their shapes and incantations, their audacious transformations of existing notions and structures, will always be a wonder to explore. Morgan’s poetry changes lives; it changed mine and continues to do so. You have to throw away the rule books and critical orthodoxies to meet it on its own terms. This verse reads us every bit as much
as we read it, and his favourite graffito ‘Change Rules!’ applies as much to the plural worlds Morgan invents as to the one we move through. He was a regular performer at the Scottish Universities International Summer School, where he would have young people rocking with laughter as he ventriloquised his somewhat nonplussed Loch Ness monster; and then seeing themselves differently in the parable of failed colonisation that is ‘First Men on Mercury’. And no-one who was in Queen’s Hall on the night is likely to forget his reading the ‘Planet Wave’ sequence, backed by Tommy Smith’s Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. During one of our recorded conversations I pressed him about Hugh MacDiarmid’s early and aggressive hostility. Morgan suggested that during the 1960s, when MacDiarmid was finally enjoying international prestige, he must have felt threatened by a home grown challenge to his pre-eminence. I thought this was bending over backwards to be polite and said so. ‘Perhaps I am,’ he smiled, but refused to pursue the matter. It seemed then and seems now typical of this lovely, gentle man.
* 60 *
Liz Niven Poet
talkin rhubarb wi edwin morgan
a misst train left us hauf an hoor tae eat ma rhubarb crumble scotlanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s greatest bard, ma hero! in ma kitchen before the poetry readin me bletherin ten tae the dozen
* 61 *
Donny O’Rourke Poet, Film-maker, and Teacher
my Catholic boys’ school we’d studied Eddie’s better known anthology pieces and had been impressed. Then ‘Snack Bar Man’ came to give a reading at the convent school across the road and the better read and behaved amongst us were invited to attend. He wore the jacket and glasses that would, the next year, feature in Sandy Moffat’s celebrated portrait. His eyes gleamed. He seemed so glamorously… Glaswegian and Science Fictional! Hero worship commenced at once, as did the serious and imitative writing of poems and songs, and continued that autumn when I joined the other awe struck freshers for Professor Morgan’s lectures on Eliot and Auden at Glasgow University. Later, as a young television reporter, I was astonished to discover that my colleague and mentor, Michael Grieve, Hugh MacDiarmid’s son, had given a selection of my poems to Eddie and even more amazed when Eddie sent me a detailed and candidly constructive critique. That advice changed my life. The generosity, I was soon to discover was typical and a warm friendship grew from it. Meals at the Ubiquitous Chip then; visits to Eddie’s nursing home now. To see the view, ‘From A City Balcony’, drinking coffee where that plate of ‘Strawberries’ had been so sexily devoured, to inspect the very ash-tray in which the celebrated cigarette had smouldered – bliss! Eddie showed me too the files he kept on all ‘his’ poets, many of them my friends. What a club to belong to! The Dream State anthology I edited took for its touchstone the maestro’s thoughts about the modern Scotland he helped create.To mark Eddie’s seventieth birthday I directed a film about him for Scottish Television where I was Head of Arts. Sitting for rapt hours with him, going thrillingly through the soft pencil calligraphy of his meticulous and virtually un-amended drafts, and eliciting a running commentary on his extraordinary homoerotic scrapbooks took me back to that grey May day he brightened in 1978. I’ve taught his poetry on every university course I’ve offered these twenty five years and more, and read with, and for him many times. With Robyn Marsack, I had the honour of initiating the campaign to see Edwin Morgan installed as Scotland’s first laureate makar. In Eddie there is combined the great AND the good. Such writerly range. How heroically human. The exemplary international Scot. What an advert for the species… * 62 *
Benno Plassmann Theatre Director A letter to Edwin Morgan from Baron Munchausen * Dear Edwin, Again and again I am having the pleasure of entertaining and surprising many people with your ‘Tales from Baron Munchausen’. So, I thought it might please you to know that your work continues to live with me as a valued Freund auf Reisen. As a traveller and, of course, as an adventurer, I am fascinated by the world; by the mysterious and unexplained things that happen every week and every day, by what it is that makes people do things. You might talk of this and that, and they are what makes me so fond of poetry. The full potential of poetry (not of storytelling, that is something I’ve been doing for the best of these 200 years) really struck me when our paths crossed in Cathures, your beloved home city. Wanting to know more about what its people were wondering and thinking, I read and read your poems – and suddenly the rain became a gorgeous dance of drizzle-dazzle, the sunset over Queens Park a gem to walk into, and the hills along the Clyde a valley of dreams and voyages. As a poet, dear Edwin, you have always truly had that mysterious power to transform things, to open them out (even stones!) and tell us where they come from and lead to. Your writing holds us enchanted: through your words we see you writing at your desk, your clear blue eyes reading through horizons to tell us about worlds we no longer know and know not yet. You remind us that all is present, that things past are yet not past and that what is to come is not all fate but for us to make: with poetry, with poetry! Well, I salute your ubiquity – as you disappear into your writing your love for your place, your time, your loves and your friends keeps you present in times past and future. Thank you.
‘And at the high point of my flight an eagle Shrieking at that usurper of that space Between friend and foe, between past and future, Between the possible and the impossible. I shrieked back to the wild bird in my gladness. What an unearthly duet – but life, life!’ I remain truly yours, in tiefer Freundschaft, Baron Munchausen
* this letter was passed to the editors by Benno Plassmann * 63 *
Tom Pow Poet THE GOOD MORNING POET ne chill morning, some years ago, waiting at the bus stop on the Whitesands in Dumfries, I took brief refuge in a telephone kiosk. There, I was informed, on a fingerslip of a panel, that BT were offering 30% off all calls to India. From Dumfries to India, 30% off! Surely, an offer too good to miss.
Good morning, India! Let us drown in your senses. Let your heat warm our shoulders, your spicy aromas drift down the Vennel flush us, oh flush us awake. But all the time I was standing in the cold, unfolding these lines on a blank page of my mind, I was hearing your voice – you, our poet of serendipity and of the collapsing of distances; you, our Good Morning Poet. Good morning Starryveldt, good morning starlings, good morning Joan, good morning King Billy, good morning Columba, good morning chaffinch, good morning hyena, Sssnnnwhuffffll Loch Ness Monster, Bawr stretter Mercurians, good morning mummy, good morning Little Blue Blue, good morning Jack, good morning Cinquevalli, good morning Aunt Myra, good morning Eros, good morning Boethius, good morning freshet, good morning seagull, good morning Hirohito, good morning Rembrandt, good morning Michelangelo, Mayakovsky and Montale, good morning Glasgow, good morning Saturn. Good morning, India! This is what your voice keeps on teaching me, Eddie, (would I but listen!) that each morning offers freshness and possibility (‘The old seeds are awake./Slip out of darkness, it is time’ - The Second Life); that poetry can go anywhere and that the journey onwards can be one of adventure and of joy. With thanks for so many enrichments and love on your ninetieth.
* 64 *
Richard Price Poet and Editor
first encountered Edwin Morgan when he was Visiting Professor at my final year at Strathclyde University, more than twenty years ago. Eddie, as he soon let us call him, introduced contemporary poetry in a short series of lectures: the work of Tom Leonard, Liz Lochhead, Kathleen Jamie, Andrew Greig, Brian McCabe, Robert Crawford, Dilys Rose and W. N. Herbert were those I particularly remember. Several poets had but a single book out, if any at all, and this in itself impressed me. Eddie connects poetry to Now, not waiting for a reputation to be established but going out and seeking poetry as it first emerges; he asks readers to decide for themselves, but make sure they have the full range of poetries to make that decision. Eddie was also a poet-in-residence at that time and so I first properly met him when I had a transparent poly bag of poems to offer. He teased or flattered me with the quip: ‘You’re clearly a poet.’ We’ve stayed in touch over the years. Perhaps most importantly for me, poetry-wise, it was Eddie who introduced me to the poets collected in the Various Art anthology: we both especially liked Prynne’s refracted lyric and that curious rhythmic collaging he has, word by word, phrase by phrase. When I went on to collaborate with Bill Herbert it was partly because I knew Bill’s poetry through Eddie. When Bill and I were working through the ‘Informationist’ ideas we had with other contemporaries in the early ,90s it was to Eddie I naturally turned for further reflection. Much later, casually mentioning I was going to have a weekend in Lyon, Eddie suggested I look at the Renaissance poet Louise Labé’s work. I did, and so began trying a new, variations-based, approach to translation. That friendly, city-guide type remark was typical of the way Eddie would give you a gentle prod and then you’d be off, risking the exploration yourself. No single poet can be the bedrock of a healthy tradition or society – Scotland has surely had enough of mono-book, mono-poet culture. Even Eddie’s immense variousness – so that there are dozens of Edwin Morgans across his astonishing poetry – would not be enough for a vibrant literary culture. But Edwin Morgan’s poetry imagines, and so begins to create, poetry beyond itself, a phenomenal present for reader and writer alike, like the gift of fire.
* 65 *
Ian Rankin Novelist Edwin Morgan: An Appreciation
introduced to the poetry of Edwin Morgan at Beath High School, Cowdenbeath, sometime in the mid1970s. It was not the formal kind of introduction. His poem grabbed me by the shoulders and gave me a good shake until I felt that my head might fall off. The poem in question was ‘The Computer’s First Christmas Card’. It was funny, clever, playful, experimental… and slightly chilling. Up until then, poetry for me had been Burns and D. H. Lawrence. But this was something revolutionary. This was altogether more contemporary and vibrant. I could understand it. It made me smile. This was a new sensation for me as I sat in my English class: poetry was making me happy. I eventually arrived at Edinburgh to study English. By this time I’d started writing poetry myself. A few poets had visited our school. They tended to be lively and engaging and not at all stuffy or ‘otherworldly’. I was in a ‘new wave’ band by this time, writing lyrics, but also scribbling down a few poems each week, grim offerings with titles like ‘Strappado’ and ‘Euthanasia’. I joined the university’s Poetry Society, and we hosted regular visits from Scottish poets, which is how I first came to meet Edwin Morgan in the flesh. I was expecting more poems like was
the one I’d read in high school, but Eddie had moved on to other places. He read his newer work with grace and wit, and afterwards he came to the pub with us. By the time I left university, I had shifted my allegiance from poetry to prose, but I still loved to read (and listen to) poetry. After ten years in the wilderness (London, then France), I moved back to Edinburgh where my friend Ron Butlin invited me to visit Eddie at his high-rise flat in Glasgow. This was a regular thing: Ron would gather a few folk together and travel through to Queen Street Station, buying food and wine before heading to Eddie’s side of town. The conversation flowed, as did the drink. When Eddie had to move into a care home, the visits continued and the conversation still flowed. Edwin Morgan is a man of passion: passionate about life, about Scotland, about poetry, about Glasgow. He’s also an internationalist and a great ambassador. We’re fortunate to have him. I’ve been privileged to know him.
* 66 *
Tessa Ransford Poet and Cultural Activist EDWIN MORGAN ever in the van, ever the makar, ever justly human On 26th May 1985 we held a wine reception to celebrate Edwin Morgan’s 65th birthday. He brought some signed books as gifts. Log book entry. Edwin Morgan was on the list of names on our first leaflet in 1982 inaugurating the Association which set up the Scottish Poetry Library. He was a steady, unflustered, impartial and enthusiastic supporter throughout my time at the Library, reading and talking at our international festival event in 1988 with Italian translator, Roberto Sanesi, at a Science Festival event in 1997, and a great many other events over the years. Who else could have read with such learning, worn so lightly, as Edwin Morgan, from his translation from the Latin of St Columba’s ‘Altus Prosator’ at the foundation stone ceremony for the new SPL building on 1st August 1997? I said on the occasion: Both Columba’s and Eddie’s blessing in a double whammy! The poem is probably the earliest poem manuscript we have in Scotland. It made our sense of new creations within the eternal creation a profound and uplifting one – going deep and high, into the past and the future, yet making a vividly memorable present, recorded by the presentation of the poem by Hamish Whyte at that ceremony and then in 1999
at the opening ceremony to the guest speakers, magnificently published by his Mariscat Press. After the foundation stone ceremony Eddie came to lunch at the Doric with George Bruce, Iain Crichton Smith, Malcolm Fraser, myself, Callum Macdonald and Chris Hall, who carved the foundation stone with the Canongate stag’s head and motto: sic itur ad astra. We may have been heading for the stars but we were accompanied by them too. The same year Ken Cockburn, our Fieldworker, asked Edwin Morgan to write some advertising lines for decorating our new travelling van. The poems were as wide-ranging both in the real world and in the imagination as our task itself.
The poets lie right tight in the van (I’ll read that again) The poets try to alight from the van (I’ll read that again) The poets are always right in the van Of whatever invigorates mortal man I am deeply and sincerely grateful to Eddie for consistent kindness, fairness, encouragement and support for me, for Lines Review and the Scottish Poetry Library throughout those years.
* 67 *
The Art of Careful Giving
for E.M. at 90 Not to make the mistake of good intentions, and buy a book for the friend who has so many and knows what he wants already; or a CD or a DVD, likewise. Not careful enough, only to hope for the best. Rather, to think: What angle of approach tunes up the novelty perception needs for nourishment? What pulling back on letting go excites the throttle to a pitch of absolute, spot-on delivery? To have begun, in bias and thwart, in grey, in fog, then desert blood and severed limbs and fumbling back to obscurity; to have pushed through into lucidity, and kept that aspiration; and then to have found a way to make those angles of approach oblique enough, yet plain to see for those who cared to follow and accept your careful gifts. And then to have discovered play: As if for the first time, as a child with an adult’s mind, controlling an almost endless inspiration, never abandoning form, always exploring what might be done to deliver. No end to these ‘ontological heroics’:
* 68 *
Alan Riach Professor, University of Glasgow
Not merz and dada merely, but surely zaumny and skaz, for Futurists – the undefeated still, ‘the lifting of the head’ – And so to be in Scotland, arriving by balloon, or spaceship, dirigible, somehow, looking around once again – then on, whole galaxies unbending in that wake, that lone trajectory. Into the wil-sith, with the Hoffnung des Volks, given the careful gift of a life and loves, to recollect and write, and dance on flying cannonballs, in feather plumes and snazzy leather, denim, driving yellow open-topped flash sports-cars fast, in dreams that make what we hope for, deliverable, to be delivered, more surely than the Royal Mail, these careful gifts you have given. This is what it is, in Marshall’s phrase: ‘the intrinsic optimism of curiosity.’ Dear man, your love arrives in things, across the seas and time-zones, in the waves. Translations. Transmissions. Transitive verbs. Word trains in the Starryveldt. And you still at your desk in Glasgow sunshine.
* 69 *
James Robertson Writer In the Museum of Morganisms
for Eddie, on his 90th birthday ‘No, no, in our part of the galaxy a morganism is not just a string of words, a clever phrase, it is a thing alive, morganic. Look at this one. See how dense it is, how complex, yet how light – sheer as morganza. What’s more, all the cells contain their own distinctive morganelles. Well morganised, you say? Indeed, you’re right.’ Our guide retreats. We wander through the halls, letting our minds expand. Now in our ears great morgan music plays, and shakes the walls telling of loves, of joys, of hopes, of fears, and stirs our hearts to cheer that magic kist of whistles, and its maestro morganist.
* 70 *
David Robinson Books Editor, The Scotsman
he first time I interviewed Eddie, towards the end of September 2001, was in his Anniesland flat. As he had just been diagnosed with the cancer that eventually necessitated a move to a care home, one might reasonably enough have expected a certain amount of self-pity. Not a bit of it. As the interview progressed, he told me about why even though he had cancer, he remained an optimist (‘It’s not your life that matters, it’s what you do with it’). We ranged back over the decades, including the war years in which he had served with the 42nd General Hospital in Egypt, Palestine and the Lebanon. Towards the end, we talked briefly about his latest project (‘Operation Glasgow I call it’) for which he was writing poems about historical figures associated with Glasgow. They weren’t a predictable bunch: Merlin (‘according to some authorities he had a palace at Partick’), the balloonist Vincent Lunardi, and St Mungo’s mother, St Thennoch. Oh, and Pelagius. ‘What do you know about Pelagius?’ asked Eddie, leaning forward, eyes twinkling. Not much, I replied, only that he was some kind of heretic. ‘Yes,’ he sighed, ‘all most people know about him is through him being denounced by St Augustine.’ Later, back in the office, I look up Pelagius on the internet and I read that he was a fourth-century Briton who was essentially an optimist about humankind, which he thought untainted by original sin. That he was a man of great learning who had travelled to Egypt and Palestine. ‘By some it is suggested,’ the article concluded, ‘that his real name was Morgan.’ Morgan. Or should that be Merlin? Some sort of magician anyway.
* 71 *
Dilys Rose Writer InCarNation
For Eddie, whoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s done it all, with admiration and thanks
imitation is the slovenliest face of fakery information is the semantic fuse of flamboyance ingenuity is the steamroller floe of fugacity intimation is the succubus farce of futility implication is the shaggydog farm of flummery intolerance is the slaveship of flagrancy intuition is the samizdat flex of furtherance imagination is the syllabub of flapdoodle idealism is the sombrero of fortitude illumination is the shiralee of fortuity incandescence is the signalbox of flirtation inspiration is the sequoia of fecundity imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
* 72 *
Michael Russell Member of the Scottish Parliament Words for a birthday card... Eddie I was fortunate enough, as Culture Minister, to be there in person to bring greetings to you on your 89th – an occasion on which I threw away my prepared speech in order to recall with embarrassment your somewhat jaundiced view of politicians. But politics and poetry should go together. The poet must – at least in part – be the voice of the voiceless, carrying anger at neglect and facing down persecution with fury. Anna Akhmatova standing with the wives of Stalin’s political prisoners and being exhorted, in a whisper, to tell their story to the whole of humanity is the most memorable example of the 20th century, though Neruda’s bitter scorn at the ‘jackals whom the jackals would despise’ sticks in the mind and conscience just as clearly. And so with you, the first and greatest of our modern makars – the commentator on poverty and deprivation in your own city , the voice that speaks aloud when those ground down by lack of opportunity and ignored by society cannot do so. That would be credit enough for any poetic life, yet you have done so much more – you have dazzled us with experimentation, surfed the fascinating and important boundary between observation and reportage (between fact and faction) and conjured shapes and shadows with your alphabets. Your fecundity and talent – your inspiration – has inspired not one but many generations of writer and readers and goes on doing so. To purify the dialect of the tribe is also the poet’s role. But that phrase is about so much more than language. You have purified and put in focus the image we see in our many mirrors – national, personal, social, moral and cultural. In a nation being made anew, you help to make us anew. That is definitely a poet’s job too. So we were lucky to have you and are luckier to have you still. Thanks – and happy birthday !
* 73 *
Suhayl Saadi Novelist
wenty years ago, Edwin Morgan was a judge on the panel of a creative writing competition for which a short story of mine was short-listed. At the awards ceremony, he was smiling and humane, yet I was nervous because it was the first time I’d ever had to read a story of my own in public and so I’d already asked that one of the judges narrate my tale. Accordingly, I blame Edwin Morgan for helping to set me off on this neurotic, frustrating, yet occasionally ecstatic, pursuit… addiction… odyssey. The story concerned had a word-length of 3,000. Between its initial capital letter to the ultimate full-stop, my latest novel, Joseph’s Box, contains over a quarter of a million words. See what you’ve helped to unleash on the world, Professor Morgan! Joking aside, Edwin Morgan’s own eclectic and splendiferous oeuvre represents a sort of Platonic bar towards which many of us aim, usually in vain. To possess such astute poetic sensibility and innovative rigour amounts almost to hierophancy, and to carry within you the history and humility of the wise is to assume that mantle of griotic elegance bestowed by the invisible upon only very few writers. Along the lines, then, of ‘Scots Makar’ and ‘The Laist ae the Magnificent Seeven’, titles which he has already held, for alliterative convenience and in the Fata Morgana spirit of reinventing history, memory and culture, I am tempted to re-christen Edwin Morgan, ‘The Glasgow Griot’, but I think it would be a misnomer, as his work, his daemon, while finessed with a Pictish mosaïque skill, seems propelled by a refreshingly restless universality. I note that his website is decorated with images of a winged pencil whose sharpened tip points towards infinity. Well, I’m very pleased to say that unlike Mercury, Apollo and Dionysus, Edwin Morgan is not there yet (and I wish him all the very best for a very Happy 90th Birthday!), yet like whetted dreams, messages from that stylus bounce off the edge of the cosmos and enter our minds. And it is that peculiar symphony of mythopoeia and liminality that defines Morgan’s work. One day, Professor, I hope that we shall meet there, at the brim of the multiverse, possibly in form energetic, and that your presence – again – will allay my cowardice, just as your words raise the dead. * 74 *
Alex Salmond First Minister for Scotland am delighted to wish you a very happy birthday. As this is your 90th, it is a fine moment to reflect on your achievements. Poetry is so important to Scotland and is fundamental to our literary history. It is difficult to emphasise the impact that you have had, and continue to have, on our heritage. This has not only been through your own work, but also in your promotion of Scottish literature, and the selfless encouragement of successive generations of younger poets. You have influenced and inspired so many people through the immensely diverse body of work you have created and through teaching at the University of Glasgow. The vast number of awards and titles you have received over the years reflects the international recognition and appreciation you have gained. Scotland has been incredibly fortunate to have you as our first Makar. I greatly enjoyed the work you penned for the opening of the new Scottish Parliament building in 2004 –
What do the people want of the place? They want it to be filled with thinking persons as open and adventurous as its architecture. A nest of fearties is what they do not want. A symposium of procrastinators is what they do not want. A phalanx of forelock-tuggers is what they do not want. And perhaps above all the droopy mantra of ‘it wizny me’ is what they do not want. – wise and resounding words for myself and my colleagues! While most at 90 would be slowing down, it is wonderful to see your that your energy, enthusiasm and love of life remain at the fore of your work. The Edwin Morgan Archive, which opened last year, will ensure your work is on display for future generations to enjoy. Many happy returns.
* 75 *
Michael Schmidt Poet and Publisher n 1971, shortly after Carcanet was born, Edwin Morgan sent us Wi the Haill Voice, his Mayakovsky translated into Scots, which we published a year later, and then in 1973 Carcanet brought out From Glasgow to Saturn, our spinnaker – a Poetry Book Society Choice (our first) and a poetry best seller for several years. His earliest letters to me are addressed to ‘Dear Bruno and Colly’, ‘Dear Prospero’ – names that sprung out of our bantering friendship conducted almost entirely through letters. I am not sure when we first met in person, but it was well into our friendship, when he had already taken my verse fragments and made poems out of them, and after we had our first (long-standing) disagreement. As soon as Poetry Nation appeared, he became more formal; playfulness tempered by a distrust for what he took to be an elegiac and reactionary strain in the journal. He dissociated himself from that aspect of our work yet insisted, in 1974, ‘Our dialogue will continue anyway.’ It has. Meanwhile, play was resumed. He wrote to me as Geraldine Moped (nee Sprogg), ‘Dear Mr Schmidt, I have a job in Lewis’s and my co-workers and I all read your new magazine PN Review. We all think it is ever such good fun and we are so tired of all the usual sorts of magazines like Jackie and Darling.’ It transpires that Ms Moped has herself written poems and longs to be published. Her budgie has died. Passer, delicia meae puellae. And in 1982, in his own troubled person, he said, ‘There’s something ominous about the Eighties, so much hatred boiling and swilling about near the surface of society...’ Edwin is a poet happy in the present tense; his elegies are themselves about presence. When the full range of his work is finally mapped, it will be seen that one of his greatest achievements is epistolary, and his letters, addressing such a range of people, from Brazil to Poland, from China to Peru – Houedard and Finlay, Creeley and Sosnora, I am tempted to say Hölderlin and the Caedmon, each in appropriate terms and tones -- are themselves a map of the age, its attitudes, its prejudices and foibles, its possibilities and promises. It is Edwin’s continual expectation of the best from people, his range of loves, that make him unique. Happy birthday to a world, and to an immortal.
* 76 *
Ali Smith Novelist
If universes have a heart then Eddie Morgan is the beat If all the world’s a Fred Astaire then Eddie Morgan is the feet If Scottish literature’s calvinist then Eddie Morgan is the laugh If all the world is short of neck then Eddie Morgan’s the giraffe If say-it’s-only-a paper-moon then Eddie Morgan is the word If all the world’s a melody then Eddie Morgan is the bird If art and life make eyes at all then Eddie Morgan’s going steady If all the world can speak the words are voice love art life (Morgan, Eddie).
* 77 *
Donald Smith Director, Scottish Storytelling Centre Lines on Opening Morgan’s
my own Cyrano flourish signed by Morganpen − change not a jot pas de virgule − Edwin scribing neatly marks each misprint with propre plume
is your proboscis sir- no I mean your lips shower gold like spittle sparkling firecrackers acrobatic whoops pyrotechnic stars tumble down to catch our clown
nifty swashbuckle on rainy streets swirls point pied exuberantly dapper gleam on tarmac lights flash rapier sharp the show poseurs punctured dead-panache
gie’s your mooth gabby girnin gey ioco waefu wooin bummin busted perjink pawky craggy crouse lardit lyric soople soor or sweit kiss gay cavalier
virtuoso’s face cloak muffled, what does he have to hide − pure breast of love like songbird caged behind the mask unhooded voice belies a declaration ambiguously clear
Cyrano’s older now close to earhand you the blade hat cloak and plume? then you’ll swish the floor of paradise spin rings of fire worlds infinite to one lovely earth
* 78 *
Mark Smith Friend The Spark the 10:14 to Edinburgh. Through the open window, the station tannoy drones out its announcement: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Scotrail would once again like to apologise for the delayed train on platform one.’ The slap of a can on a table is accompanied by an unknown voice aimed at the signalman outside: ‘Haw son, c’mereaweeminit. Seeyirpal up’nthatoafis – yellnohearm sayn, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Scotrail…” Whityetugginatmefur? Ahmjistcairryinoanwiyerman. Whosmaknanarseaethirsel? Awsumlaffyouirintye!’ Given the right setting, with the right timing, that lethal cocktail of Scottish sarcasm and Scottish crabbitness can trigger surreptitious fits of laughter. The voice resumes its right to be heard: ‘Aye, annaneaeyir leaves-oan-the-line sh*** anaw!’ I’m a touch sore this morning but his words provide temporary relief to the banging hangover from the previous night’s iniquities. The carriages are stowed, so priority is to find peace and quiet: head for first class. I find a two-seater up top and snuggle under my jacket. Rest is essential as I have an afternoon of listening to do. This will be a discourse of a different nature: scientists talking poetry and poets talking science. The mind meanders: Does poetry exist in a parallel universe? Is sound poetry possible in a vacuum? I demand answers! I’m going to have to stay frosty. I doze off. A hand awakens me. Waverley! I scamper off the train and then scamper back on it. I grab my rucksack and scamper back off again; my poems are in it. Mid-afternoon. The audience is attentive and inquisitive if a little predictable. Yes, William Gibson’s Neuromancer is a landmark of modern Science Fiction as is Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; we all nod in homage to Bladerunner, its inspired adaptation. Holub, Crawford and Armitage have all spoken. But now it is his turn. His words though have more bite, more incision. I like his style. I am biding my time; I need to show him what I have written. What if it’s sh**? Fine, but I need know from him. Ezra Pound: ‘If you want to know about carpentry ask a carpenter.’ Learn from the best. Two minutes to go. The adrenaline starts to surge. He ends his lecture. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, we will now have a break. There are some refresh…’ Right, this is it; here we go.
His eyes open wide as I walk towards him. * 79 *
Alan Spence Writer or the whole of my writing life – and I’m going back forty years – Edwin Morgan has been an inspiration, a benign presence. To my generation, coming of age in grey Glasgow in the 1960s, he was a revelation – a world-class poet who was one of our own. He wrote specifically about Glasgow but placed it not just in a global but a universal context – from Glasgow to Saturn (and beyond!) For me it began early. In 1966, when I was still at school, one of my poems won a prize in the Scotsman’s school magazine competition, and Eddie was the judge – encouragement enough for any young writer. , In 67 I picked up Eddie’s collection The Second Life and found it wonderful, a thing of beauty and magic, opening up worlds of possibility. As a student at Glasgow I heard him lecture on the Metaphysicals. Next to me was an engineering student I knew who told me he’d come along ‘just to hear Eddie’. (Ah, , the Sixties!) By 69 I was doing readings at the Edinburgh Fringe with a loose group of writers and musicians, the Other People, organised (and disorganised) by Tom McGrath. Eddie joined us, took part with a humility and self-effacement that was utterly engaging. In the mid-70s, with a reference from Eddie, I was back at Glasgow as writer-inresidence, and Eddie was there to advise, encourage, give readings, contribute to publications. And in everything I’ve organised since (not Glasgow to Saturn,
perhaps, but Livingston to Aberdeen!) Eddie has read, to small groups and huge crowds, always with that same humility and poise and wisdom and humour. There have been memorable events, none more so than his performance at the inaugural WORD festival in Aberdeen, in 1999. Seated on a bar-stool, backed by Tommy Smith and surrounded by the young musicians of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, Eddie, at the age of 80, belted out his ‘Planet Wave’ sequence with total panache. It was sublime – there’s no other word for it – an absolute high point. As I write this I’m looking at my own Edwin Morgan archive – every book he’s published in these 40 years (all signed) – and a collection of quirky postcards, replying to requests, sending thanks or congratulations for this or that. And I’m realising the only possible response to this man is gratitude and love.
* 80 *
David Stenhouse Radio Producer ’ve been fortunate to work with Eddie many times but I am most proud of having commissioned Eddie to write the poem ‘Gorgo and Beau’, in which he transfigured his own experience of cancer into a dialogue between a healthy cell and a cancer cell. In 1999 Eddie had been diagnosed with cancer of the prostate and I approached him to write a poem about the disease for broadcast on BBC Scotland. He was initially reluctant to take the commission because he said that the cancer hadn’t affected his quality of life. When he got the news that the cancer had spread to his spine, he contacted me again to say that he was interested in writing the poem. In the summer of 2000 I sent Eddie a pile of books about the biology of cancer, and he immersed himself in reading about mutating cells, the scientific theories behind the growth of cancer, even pamphlets on how visualisation could help cancer patients mobilise their anti-bodies. He made it clear that he was more interested in the history of the disease than in his own personal experiences. The final piece of the jigsaw was a small report from The Times: scientists had discovered evidence of cancer in the fossilised bones of a dinosaur. Gorgo is a swaggering cancer cell with a saturnine gift of the gab, who swings between celebrating the beauty of a tumour which had got itself twisted ‘like a Mobius strip/ In a body cavity of a pleasant young woman’ and noting dispassionately that ‘She was flapping and shrieking on the hospital bed/In what I imagine was very great pain’. The normal cell, Beau, is anxious, slightly priggish and desperate to point out the pain that Cancer causes. The poem was broadcast as ‘The Sign of the Crab’. It contains, I think, some of Morgan’s most powerful writing. I sent the poem to the Dundee University oncology specialist who had been enormously helpful with the background research. He read it to the undergraduates whom he was teaching about cancer care and it reduced them to tears. I can understand why. Edwin Morgan’s capacity to look at human life in a way which is intelligent, humane and unsentimental is one of his greatest gifts. His ability to write so powerfully about his own illness is testimony to the spirit and curiosity which has sustained him through such an extraordinary writing life.
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Gerda Stevenson Actor It was one of those phonecalls you don’t forget. I was on the Isle of Skye, staying with a friend, when I got a call from Kenny Ireland, then Artistic Director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. Would I be interested in playing the title role in Edwin Morgan’s translation of Racine’s Phèdre? I’d seen Communicado’s memorable production of Cyrano de Bergerac, eight years previously, and had loved the swagger of Morgan’s modern Scots translation. I was certainly interested! Just as Phaedra’s love for Hippolytus is immediate and all encompassing, so Morgan’s words spoke to me on an instinctive level – my gut and heart knew the meaning of every single word, even if my head didn’t. Growing up in the Borders I’d heard Scots spoken in street and playground, and at home through the medium of song – my father, the composer Ronald Stevenson, set the poetry of William Soutar and Hugh MacDiarmid. Morgan’s Scots version of Phèdre is a gallus, anachronistic, irreverent clanjamfrie. When Oenone asks her mistress if she’s in love, Phaedra replies:
‘Aye, radge, radge in love.’ Morgan’s language is a mongrel of the highest pedigree, its rhythms and imagery supple and vivid as those found in the great Border ballads, especially evident in Phaedra’s achingly beautiful speech to Hippolytus, when she tells of Theseus’ arrival in Crete:
Whit wiz ye up to then? How come he gaithert Aw thae Greek heroes, an no Hippolytus? How come ye were sae young ye missed the ship That landit him alang the banks a Crete? I remember Morgan describing his approach to translating Racine’s play. Being a linguist, he had direct access to the original French. He’d decided not to adhere to Racine’s structure of twelve syllable Alexandrines and rhyming couplets, using instead a mixture of metres, including iambic pentameter. Contrary to the minimalist original, he deliberately chose to use an extensive vocabulary. The result is fresh and scintillating, throbbing with virtuosic wit, beauty and passion. There’s something revolutionary here too: with fearless bravura, Morgan puts the language of the streets into the mouths of patrician protagonists. As an actor, you know when language jars, but it never does in this remarkable text. I couldn’t wait, each night, to get out on stage, and utter every syllable.
* 82 *
Valerie Thornton Poet Dear Eddie, Happy Birthday and many congratulations on reaching ninety years of age! May they weigh but lightly on your shoulders. I have known and loved others too who reached these nonagenarian heights and I’d like to introduce you to two of them. My Great Aunt Margaret and her sister, Great Aunt Chrissie, both Deaconesses in the Church of Scotland, lived into their nineties. My Dad, whose aunts they were, would take us all out for lunch once a year to the Braid Hills Hotel in Edinburgh. Great Aunt Margaret would order turtle soup, which was dark brown and came with floating cheese flakes. The talk would turn, every year, to the restaurant she remembered in the family where there would be a turtle in a tank in the window for a week, then turtle soup on the menu the following week. They’d catered for the wedding of one of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren and ‘Grandma had danced at the ball!’ A child, I drank in these ancient memories, with little judgement or concern for the poor turtle. The aunties lived in one peach-coloured room, a little bigger than your blue-andyellow one, in a Church of Scotland home in Ettrick Road. They had little money, so these annual meals must have been a real treat for them. Margaret always wore a brown suit with a peach blouse: Chrissie always wore blue. I think they wore the same suits every year, but I didn’t notice that then. They always gave us Edinburgh Rock in a tartan cardboard box, and we always went to the zoo (which I also didn’t question) afterwards. They each wore a gold chain: I now have Margaret’s, and my sister has Chrissie’s, which I guess was their way of saying thank you to Dad for the turtle soup. My beloved Dad, who always revered his elders, lived into his nineties too. Like him, I too revere those ahead of me, especially as I get older myself. Like my father, you too, Eddie, have inspired me and given me a love of words. One of those words that resonates in relation to you both is ‘game’ – both adjective and noun. You have to be game to survive to these giddy nineties heights, and a playful lightness of spirit throughout this game of life keeps your mind bright and the twinkle in your eye. Eddie, long may your game last! Love, Valerie
* 83 *
Marshall Walker Emeritus Professor, University of Waikato PROFESSOR, DEMON, SCOT A whiff of sulphur on Gilmorehill. The Demon was sharing an English Department office with Jack Rillie. They were the Moderns, the now people. A cell. They were hip, risky. Intimate with existentialism and the Beats. We called them ‘The Rillie-Morgan Axis’. From seventeenth-century prose to The Faber Book of Modern Verse Eddie made it all feel contemporary. He never talked down to his classes, commanding attention by a springy conversational style, clarity from inwardness with the topic. You always wished his lectures would keep going past the hour. They made you feel more alive. Later, as fellow member of staff, he was as much comrade as colleague, always with time for you no matter how junior you were, how far behind. Finding that the working relationship had evolved into friendship has been the privilege of a lifetime. Friendship meant getting to know the book-lined eyrie of his flat overlooking Great Western Road with a window-ledge for a seagull and a balcony from which he could take off to the moons of Jupiter, or up the road to Loch Ness to hear the monster sing, or to New Zealand. He came here in 1992 to speak at the International Arts Festival in Wellington and read his poetry in Hamilton on receipt of an honorary degree from the University of Waikato, where ‘The First Men on Mercury’ and ‘Little Blue Blue’ were already hits. After his reading to a full house the University’s ViceChancellor said the occasion had revived his faith in the true purposes of a university. How the Demon revives us all when he rattles the bars of convention and complacency. So we take the infection of his curiosity, his faith in the future, his holistic relish of life, his devilish optimism. Then there are the countless messages he has delivered, speaking in tongues through a lifetime of translating. Along with the internationalism and spaceflight he has vitalized and expanded the idea of Scottishness. He might be talking to himself in his translation of Attila József ’s ‘Elégia’:
Here, and only here, you may smile and cry, and Here, here only, can your sinew endure, my soul! This is my native land. Locating his own soul Eddie Morgan has enlarged Scotland’s, showing us how to hold hands among the atoms, and how our Scottish atoms are connected to the world’s. That’s the character of our debt, our gratitude.
* 84 *
Gavin Wallace Head of Literature, Scottish Arts Council A Spelling Mistale had fallen in love with his poetry at secondary school; studied him as an undergraduate; had corresponded with him as an Assistant Editor at Cencrastus magazine in the very early 1980s (ah, those trademark handwritten blank postcards with their punctilious, concise, elegant messages, still treasured); I had even helped publish early samples from Sonnets from Scotland in the same magazine: but I had yet to meet him properly. That would not happen until a wet afternoon in late February 1987, the day of the viva for my Ph.D. Eddie – or rather Professor Edwin Morgan – would be presiding as External Examiner over the panel of academics assembled to fillet my leviathan of a thesis on Compton Mackenzie. It was the end of six long years of unfunded research and laborious writing. I was awestruck, terrified, but also elated that it was to be our greatest living poet, translator, and scholar who would determine whether or not I had an academic future. While my recall of the detail of the interrogation has faded, three things about that encounter have remained indelibly printed in my memory. The first was the contrast between his peacock-proud colour-scheme – pink jacket, orange tie – and the gentle self-effacement of the man wearing them. The second was the powerful yet understated authority of his erudition and his generosity in sharing it. The third was his professional and creative
obsession with accuracy and precision. I had witnessed the fastidiousness of his proof-reading as an editor, and had heard of his academic reputation as something of a martinet, but I had never been the object of that forensic scrutiny. He was delighted to approve my Ph.D, he concluded, but conferring the degree would be conditional on my correction of several repeated misspellings throughout (‘commitment’ was one; I’m too embarrassed – got that right – to list the others), for which he dealt me a mild but unforgettable rebuke that ended with a look both firm and kind, the legendary twinkle in his eye, and the words: You’ll have to watch that, you know. Those seven words are amongst the most important and enduring ever spoken to me. They resound in my ears every time I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. And here you are at 90, and I know you are watching us still, Fast Eddie! Dear man, our love goes out in waves, and doesn’t break.
* 85 *
Roderick Watson Professor Emeritus, University of Stirling That Chinese moment t was back in 1964, I think when we invited Eddie Morgan to read his poetry for us at Aberdeen University. As a (very) small group of friends keen on reading and writing poetry, we had formed the rather grandly titled Aberdeen University Poetry Society. On another occasion we invited Hugh MacDiarmid to talk about Burns, in the hope that there would be fireworks, only to find he spent the whole evening talking about someone called Alexander Blok, which he pronounced Bloke. —‘Sandy Bloke?’ I remember thinking: ‘Surely he’s having us on?’ It was a moment that Eddie would have appreciated. Eddie Morgan’s reading for us was equally memorable, and much closer to what we had expected. We were privileged to hear many of the poems that would next be published in The Second Life, that outstanding volume from 1968. (I think of that date as a major landmark for contemporary Scottish writing, along with 1981 for Lanark.) The reading stirred us up for days afterwards, though Eddie, as always, read quietly with the light and rapid cadence that is so much his style. (Was he wearing a bright yellow jacket? I think so.) A few days later I got a letter from him thanking us for inviting him to read. It really should have been us thanking him, of course. And in the letter was a poem he had written from an incident seen from the window of his railway carriage. The poem was ‘Aberdeen Train’, with that pheasant admiring itself in a bottle-end in an autumn field: a small epiphany of egoism for a Chinese moment in the Mearns. Nothing could characterise Eddie’s sweet and modest nature better than his letter to a bunch of mildly disorganised undergraduates, thanking us for asking him to read. This was another another kind of epiphany and so typical of the man. I’ve been lucky enough to hear him read many, many times since then, and even shared the stage with him on one or two occasions. I got a postcard from him once when he was in North Africa, extolling the virtues of Kif. But that Chinese moment and its handwritten draft remain a special memory, and I never read or hear the poem without a small thrill of affection for a modest, engaging and hugely gifted man, followed by the ridiculous thrill of thinking proudly that we were the reason for that train journey more than 45 years ago.
* 86 *
Brian Whittingham Poet KELVINGROVE MORGAN
They warm up speaking, monster-speak and Mercurian. The children, like a military detachment in formation, with clipboards in hand, follow the pot-bellied Elvis pointing the way to sleepy wakening heads and chunky knotted school-ties. A lad taller than his years stands with Dali’s Christ looking down on him reciting Grunewald and whipcord muscles. A young girl smiles a diamond brace smile as occupants from the snow covered tenement listen to her reciting Anna Karenina. A spiky haired freckled face recites Morgan’s jingle-jangle in front of the Man in Armour posing like a footballer signed for a new team but never having kicked a ball. Then the class sit cross legged on the gallery floor and discuss feelings, thoughts and imagination stirred up by the morning’s Morganisms while the work of other great masters looks on. * 87 *
Christopher Whyte Writer n the winter of 1988 to 1989, Cairns Craig and I designed and taught what was the first ever paper in Scottish Literature to be offered at Honours level in the English Literature department of Edinburgh University. I was to lecture on the poetry of Edwin Morgan, and decided that twenty minutes of the lecture should be devoted to honest discussion of the love poetry. At the time I was recording the interviews with Eddie published in 1990 in Nothing Not Giving Messages, where he begins by stating that all his love poems are in fact addressed to men. When I got to the relevant point in the lecture, my legs began to tremble. As far as I knew, this was the first time the issue of Morgan’s homosexuality had been publicly addressed, and the status of his love lyrics as censored texts, negotiating and defusing the ban on speaking with their game of ‘now I say it, now I don’t’, made explicit. I riveted my eyes to the notes on the lectern in front of me, and concentrated on keeping my voice steady. When eventually I lifted my head, some students were scribbling away in their notebooks; others were gazing out at the brilliant autumn sky into which the David Hume tower projected our classroom; while others still were looking directly at me, broad smiles on their faces. One seminar group met immediately afterwards. The air of excitement was palpable as students took their seats, while I poured out and handed round coffee. A Fifer, a brilliant man in his way, could not contain his agitation any longer. ‘But Edwin Morgan’s a great Scottish poet,’ he burst out. ‘He can’t be homosexual!’ There was a moment’s silence, followed by generalised, uproarious laughter. I could have terminated the seminar there and then. With his willingness to share his own discomfort, the student in question had made explicit all the mechanisms of exclusion, of enfranchisement and disenfranchisement, endemic to attempts at constructing a national literature, with a concomitant notion of what Scottishness means. That was twenty years ago. The poet’s official website today makes no mention of his sexual orientation. Has Morgan been deftly shoved back into the closet? If so, his work will regularly, unfailingly ‘out’ both him and our awkwardness with the realignments it incessantly demands of us.
Budapest November 2009 * 88 *