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From Glasgow to Saturn... getting to know Edwin Morgan...

Just a glance through Morgan’s poems reveals his extraordinary range of form and subject matter, his compassionate heart, his playful nature, and his inventive mind. Many people first come across his poems in school, and continue to be attracted to his eclectic versatility and his brave embrace of the new. Many languages, many voices

Born in 1920, and first published in the 1950s, Morgan has produced an extensive body of work. Endlessly curious and open-minded, he has experimented with the language of machines as well as translating brilliantly from a variety of European languages. He is a poet who is willing to give a voice to everything around him, whether it is an apple or the Loch Ness Monster, a cancer cell or the mysterious source of the Big Bang.

Charting unexplored territories

Morgan’s poetry is marked by an acceptance of change and an exhilarating energy. In the 1960s he became involved with the international Concrete Poetry movement, and published his first major collection The Second Life (1968). The title of his 1973 collection, From Glasgow to Saturn, indicates the scope of his subjectmatter, and his interest in science fiction. That book, along with a volume of Mayakovsky poems translated into Scots, Wi the haill voice, began a long publishing association with Carcanet Press in Manchester. Scotland’s National Poet

In the 1980s he also began publishing with Glasgow’s Mariscat Press, most notably Sonnets from Scotland (1984). In 1990 when he turned 70, Carcanet published his Collected Poems, and he came out publicly for the first time as a gay man. He served as Glasgow’s first Poet Laureate and much of his poetry is grounded in the city of his birth. He was awarded an OBE in 1982, and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2000. In 2004 he was appointed as the first ever National Poet of Scotland, and wrote the poem to mark the opening of the Scottish Parliament. A Book of Lives (2007) was short-listed for the T.S. Eliot Prize, and won the Sundial Scottish Book of the Year Award. ‘Unknown is best’, Morgan wrote in his poem ‘At Eighty’, and this spirit of adventure has been the driving force of his poetry.

Morgan’s Adler Blue Bird

Eddie is the eclectic, inspiring genius presiding over late 20th and early 21st century Scottish poetry James Robertson The kit and caboodle, the full fig, the hale clamjamfrie Kathleen Jamie No mere eddy but niagara of invention Gael Turnbull

“Who would not be impatient of categories?”

“I was born in Glasgow and have lived most of my life there, and whatever image the city has to the outside world, to me it underlies and pervades my feeling at a deep level of identification and sympathy.”

let the sun beat on our forgetfulness one hour of all the heat intense and summer lightning on the Kilpatrick hills let the storm wash the plates from The Second Life (1968)


There were never strawberries like the ones we had that sultry afternoon sitting on the step of the open french window facing each other your knees held in mine the blue plates in our laps the strawberries glistening in the hot sunlight we dipped them in sugar looking at each other not hurrying the feast for one to come the empty plates laid on the stone together with the two forks crossed and I bent towards you sweet in that air in my arms abandoned like a child from your eager mouth the taste of strawberries in my memory lean back again let me love you

In the Scottish Poetry Library’s ongoing search to discover Scotland’s favourite Edwin Morgan poem, ‘Strawberries’ has received the most votes so far. But many other poems have been chosen… Join in by visiting our website to tell us your own personal favourite, and read comments made by people from all over Scotland about their choices.


I like the idea, say, in From Glasgow to Saturn, of living in a place, like Glasgow, acknowledging that as your base, seeing the place where you have your being as it were, but at the same time feeling that you’re not by any means bound to be only writing about that; you’re quite entitled to think of Saturn or some other place outside our world and as far as you can to have ideas or feelings about it and to bring that into your writing too

I’ve always been equally attracted by something that’s intensely local and things that are international I think of poetry as partly an instrument of exploration, like a spaceship, into new fields of feeling or experience (or old fields which become new in new contexts and environments) The pleasure ... of making something meaningful out of something very

Unknown is best

new, the pleasure in language itself, its malleability, its untapped potential

I liked to see exploration, divergence, risk-taking I [also] need a direct poetry of human relationships, friends, lovers, family, a poetry of vulnerabilities, desires, losses, encounters missed and encounters won I’m more interested in what does change than in what has been and what is constant

I’ll continue to say, ‘Let’s go’ Maybe all I’m saying is that there could be different kinds of poetry

What I love about poetry is its ion engine

Leave symmetry to the cemetery

What is the Edwin Morgan Archive?

The Edwin Morgan Archive was collected by Hamish Whyte – Edwin Morgan’s friend, publisher and bibliographer – over a period of thirty years. Including many unusual items and uncollected poems, it represents the most significant and accessible gathering of his work in print and other media, vividly illustrating the breadth and variety of his publishing career, and its context, decade by decade. Handwritten corrections, annotations and notes by Morgan in the published texts provide an illuminating insight into the mind of the poet. The Archive includes books and pamphlets by Morgan, some very rare, such as his first book of poems The Vision of Cathkin Braes (1952), his first collection of translations Sovpoems (1961), and his first collections of concrete poems, Starryveldt (1965, published by Eugen Gomringer) and Gnomes (1968, published by Duncan Glen’s Akros). As well as more conventional publications, the Archive includes unique items such as Sealwear (1966, handmade by Morgan) and Nine One Word

Poems (1982, handmade by Whyte). Morgan’s poems have been much anthologised, and the Archive includes a large collection of poetry anthologies and special gatherings of poems in book form. There are masses of periodicals, magazines and newspapers to which Morgan contributed. These range from issues of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s innovatively designed Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. from the 1960s, through the main UK poetry magazines, to more experimental journals and short-lived student magazines. There is audio-visual material featuring Morgan reading and discussing his poems, including broadcast material and private recordings.

Many of his poems have been printed as posters. Commuters on the London Underground, and on the Helsinki transport network, encountered ‘The Loch Ness Monster’s Song’. Glasgow travellers could meet ‘The Giraffe’, but another poem, ‘The Piranhas’, was considered too gruesome for the carriages. An extensive collection of ephemera includes clippings, newsletters and catalogues. There are fliers and invitations for events featuring Morgan’s work, or at which he was speaking. Theatre programmes and posters highlight his work for the stage, and exhibition catalogues chart his involvement in the visual world of concrete poetry.

Morgan is a prolific translator of poetry and plays from many languages including Latin, Hungarian, Russian and Spanish. His Collected Translations (1996) runs to over 500 pages. The Archive contains copies of his earliest translations – Beowulf (1952) and Poems from Eugenio Montale (1959), through to the more recent collection Attila József: Sixty Poems (2001). His own poems have themselves been translated into many languages, and the Archive has publications of his work in, for example, French, German, Polish and Italian. The Archive was officially opened at the Scottish Poetry Library on 27 April 2009 (Edwin Morgan’s birthday) and is curated by the Librarian, Julie Johnstone. And last but not least, the Archive holds Morgan’s correspondence desk and his writing chair, donated by the poet himself, and his typewriter.

Open the doors! Light of the day, shine in; light of the mind, shine out! (from ‘For the Opening of the Scottish Parliament, 9 October 2004)

“The word ‘archives’ conjured in my mind ancient, large and dusty tomes. The reality proved to be far more contemporary, ‘bite-sized’ and varied than I had imagined.” Adult reader

The journeys poems make...

The Archive gives invaluable context to well-known poems – where and when they were first published, how often they have been anthologised, and what has been written about them. There’s much to be learnt about the appeal of individual poems by Morgan by tracing their journeys from first appearance in a publication and following them through the years of his publishing career. For example: ‘The Apple’s Song’, a poem written in the enticing and luscious voice of an apple, first appears in the Welsh magazine Second Aeon in around 1970 – the magazine is undated, but carries a pre-decimal price on its cover. It is then included in the collection From Glasgow to Saturn (1973), and features in English Through Topics: Food 5 (1993), aimed at primary school teachers. A Scottish Book Trust poster pairs it with a painting of a voluptuous nude by J.D. Fergusson; while Michel Deguy translates it into French in the Paris-based Po&sie and provides a profoundly intellectual commentary. The Archive holds a number of uncollected poems, such as some playful translations from an Apollinaire bestiary, which appeared in the Glasgow Herald in 1955. These and other early clippings of first publications of poems in magazines and newspapers are pasted onto loose scrapbook pages by Morgan himself. The company a poem keeps can also be revealing. After its 1966 appearance in the Times Literary Supplement, ‘Message Clear’ was reprinted in

above: Hand-corrected page from emergent poems (Hansjörg Mayer, 1967, futura 20)

several newspapers around the world, including the South African Outlook, which also contained an essay by the young Desmond Tutu. Probably the most anthologised poem of all is ‘The First Men on Mercury’, which appeared in many books aimed at teachers during the 1980s and 1990s. Morgan’s poems have been set to music, particularly by jazz saxophonist Tommy Smith, who has composed works based on ‘Beasts of Scotland’ and ‘Planet Wave’. As well as copies of the recordings, the Archive holds newspaper cuttings, concert programmes and posters relating to the performances and recordings.

i g m

“Nothing is not giving messages Who knows what an apple thinks! We don’t really know – it doesn’t give signs of thinking, but because we don’t get signs of what an animal or a plant or a fruit really is thinking, I don’t think we’re entitled to just switch off and say it’s not feeling or thinking. I like the idea particularly that in a sense we’re surrounded by messages that we perhaps ought to be trying to interpret.

Poetry is a brilliant vibrating interface between the human and the non-human. What good is beauty? We don’t know. But if we sense it, we ought to record it.

A gutter in Calcutta or a rille on the moon, we’re there, and if we’re not there, push us, drive us!

Who can use the Archive?

There’s something for everyone in the Archive. Anyone is welcome to explore its contents. In addition, following sessions with writers, primary and secondary school pupils and teachers, and adults from a variety of backgrounds, the Scottish Poetry Library has developed resources for teachers, writers and readers. Visit to download these for free. For teachers:

“How versatile it is. The children will love it.” Primary school teacher “So much opportunity for reading, writing and cross-curricular lessons.” Primary school teacher “[I learned that poetry] does not have to have words that make sense!” P6-7 pupil

“Watch out in Morganiana, for you never know when it will rain sibilance or a storm of thundering alliteration will fall. This is a place of true unpredictability, and it pays to listen to any signs of weather change.”

Secondary school student

The poetry of Edwin Morgan can be a very useful tool in the classroom, and his broad range of subject matter makes his work particularly useful for cross-curricular approaches. There are eight lesson plans for teachers, each based on a particular Morgan poem, including translations. These contain ideas for reading and discussing the poem, using it as a model for pupils’ own writing, and activities related to other areas of the curriculum. For example: look at Dialogue using ‘The First Men on Mercury’, look at Sound using ‘The Loch Ness Monster’s Song’, look at Matter using ‘Particle Poems’, or look at Struggle using ‘James Macfarlan’. Further ideas can be found in the many educational publications featuring Morgan’s poems which the Archive holds.

“It has sympathy and depth which makes it suitable for various stages in school.”

Primary school teacher

“Given the size of the body of work and the unusual and interesting range of poems, I will now look beyond the obvious ‘classroom classics’.” Secondary school teacher For readers and reading groups: There’s lots to enjoy and explore in Morgan’s work, whether you’re looking for something challenging or for something more playful; whether you’re interested in traditional forms or in trying something more experimental. The range of Morgan’s subject matter and voices is immense, so you’ll find something for every taste. Library staff are always happy to give advice on

choosing poems to get started with. Reading groups can also draw on a specially written resource looking at two autobiographical poems, which offer different perspectives on a long and active life, and there are many more resources in our website.

“The archives are full of wonderful poems and objects, and give you an insight (for this poet at least) that’s lacking if you just pick up the Collected Poems. They provide context.”

Adult reader

For writers and writing groups:

“I enjoyed the idea of exploring a given poem in different contexts. Made me think about how an editor’s response to a poem or aim in the publishing context can affect the response generated in a reader.” School of Poets group member Edwin Morgan has been extremely influential in the writing community – many writers speak of him as an enormous inspiration. Writers will find a variety of models and approaches to experiment with. To get started, writers can draw on a specially written resource looking at one of Morgan’s famous ‘Instamatic Poems’. These poems were ‘based on items of news in papers and magazines’, and offer snapshots of dramatic, often shocking, incidents. Group workshops can also be arranged on request.

For students and researchers: For students of Morgan’s work, the Archive holds copies of first editions and many out-of-print items, essays by and interviews with the poet, and criticism of his work, from book reviews in newspapers and magazines, to collections of scholarly essays. For students of publishing and graphic design, the Archive gives an insight into changing publishing trends in the post-war period, from the austerity of the 1950s, to the typewriter-set and xeroxed publications of the 1960s, the advent of A5-sized pamphlets in the 1980s, and the digital reproduction of the 21st century.

… unlock Your word-hoards, take heart and take stock Of everything a library can do To let the future shimmer and show through

(from ‘The Welcome’) About the Scottish Poetry Library

“a welcoming haven”

The Herald

The Scottish Poetry Library started in 1984 with two members of staff and 300 books in a single room. Now based in award-winning premises in the heart of Edinburgh’s literary quarter, it houses an unrivalled lending and reference collection of 35,000 items of Scottish and international poetry. The Library is free to visit and fully accessible; it offers a postal lending facility, provides a friendly and expert inquiry service, and runs an extensive events and education programme. A full range of resources are also available online. Whether you’re a regular reader, a serious student or researcher, a teacher, or a curious browser, it may have just the words you’ve been looking for. The Library offers a national, accessible, illuminating context, in the UNESCO City of Literature, for this special collection relating We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of The National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Binks Trust, National Fund for Acquisitions, Friends of the National Libraries. Many thanks to Hamish Whyte, Ken Cockburn, Lisa Murphy, Lisa Shaffer.

Quotations from Edwin Morgan throughout are taken from Nothing Not Giving Messages (Polygon, 1990), and Strong Words (Bloodaxe, 2000); and from poems ‘A View of Things’, ‘For the Opening of the Scottish Parliament, 9 October 2004’, and ‘The Welcome’. ‘Strawberries’ and ‘Glasgow 5 March

to Scotland’s National Poet. The Archive complements the existing SPL collection and is stored alongside Morgan’s generous donation of material by fellow Scottish concrete poet Ian Hamilton Finlay. This Archive of published works can be consulted alongside Morgan collections held in Glasgow: his personal library is at the Mitchell Library and his manuscripts are held in Glasgow University’s Special Collections. How to use the Edwin Morgan Archive Anyone is welcome to visit and use the Archive. Whether you’re just curious to see some of the remarkable items it holds, or whether you’d like to consult the materials for research purposes, it’s best to let us know in advance that you’ll be visiting so that we can make sure staff are available to help you. Or perhaps you may like to arrange a tour of the Archive, or a talk. We’ll be very happy to help, whatever your requirements: see the contact details opposite. All the items are detailed in our online catalogue, and a helpful guide to searching the archive listings can be found on the Edwin Morgan Archive website, where you’ll also find digital versions of selected publications to browse. If you are unable to visit the Archive in person, we will be very happy to supply scans of items whenever we can. We look forward to hearing from you. 1971’ can be found in Collected Poems (Carcanet, 1990), and are reprinted by permission of Carcanet Press. Excerpts by Kathleen Jamie and Gael Turnbull are taken from their poems in Unknown is Best (SPL/Mariscat, 2000). Image of Edwin Morgan © Edwin Morgan. Text © Scottish Poetry Library.

Design and illustrations by Iain McIntosh. Original typeface logo by Mary Hutchison.

Published by the Scottish Poetry Library, 2009. Printed by

Contact us at the

Scottish Poetry Library, 5 Crichton’s Close, Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DT Archive Curator: Julie Johnstone Opening hours: Mon-Fri 11-6, Sat 1-5 tel: 0131 557 2876 fax: 0131 557 8393 Find out more about the Archive and download resources at email:

Glasgow 5 March 1971

With a ragged diamond of shattered plate-glass a young man and his girl are falling backwards into a shop-window. The young man’s face is bristling with fragments of glass and the girl’s leg has caught on the broken window and spurts arterial blood over her wet-look white coat. Their arms are starfished out braced for impact, their faces show surprise, shock, and the beginning of pain. The two youths who have pushed them are about to complete the operation reaching into the window to loot what they can smartly. Their faces show no expression. It is a sharp clear night in Sauchiehall Street. In the background two drivers keep their eyes on the road. from “Instamatic Poems” (1972)

Guide to the Edwin Morgan Archive  

An introduction to the Edwin Morgan Archive held at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, Scotland.