Morgan, Edwin (George)
MORGAN, Edwin (George)
Nationality: Scottish. Born: Glasgow, 27 April 1920. Education: Rutherglen Academy; Glasgow High School; Glasgow University, 1937–40, 1946–47, M.A. (honors) in English 1947. Military Service: Royal Army Medical Corps, 1940–46. Career: Assistant lecturer, 1947–50, lecturer, 1950–65, senior lecturer, 1965–71, reader, 1971–75, Titular Professor in English, 1975–80, became emeritus professor, Glasgow University. Since 1987 visiting professor in English studies, University of Strathclyde, and University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. Awards: Cholmondeley award, 1968; Scottish Arts Council award, 1968, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1991; Hungarian P.E.N. Memorial Medal, 1972; Soros translation award, 1985; Stakis prize for Scottish Writer of the Year, 1998. D.Litt.: Loughborough University, Leicestershire, 1981, University of Glasgow, 1990, University of Edinburgh, 1991. Hon. D. Univ.: University of Stirling, 1989, University of Waikato, New Zealand, 1992. Hon. M. Univ: Open University, 1992. O.B.E. (Officer, Order of the British Empire), 1982. Address: 19 Whittingehame Court, Glasgow G12 0BG, Scotland.
The Vision of Cathkin Braes. Glasgow, Maclellan, 1952.
The Cape of Good Hope. Tunbridge Wells, Kent, Peter Russell, 1955.
Starryveldt. Frauenfeld, Switzerland, Gomringer Press, 1965.
Scotch Mist. Cleveland, Renegade Press, 1965.
Sealwear. Glasgow, Gold Seal Press, 1966.
Emergent Poems. Stuttgart, Hansjorg Mayer, 1967.
The Second Life. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1968.
Gnomes. Preston, Lancashire, Akros, 1968.
Proverbfolder. Corsharn, Wiltshire, Openings Press, 1969.
Penguin Modern Poets 15, with Alan Bold and Edward KamauBrathwaite. London, Penguin, 1969.
The Horseman's Word: A Sequence of Concrete Poems. Preston, Lancashire, Akros, 1970.
Twelve Songs. West Linton, Peeblesshire, Castlelaw Press, 1970.
The Dolphin's Song. Leeds, School of English Press, 1971.
Glasgow Sonnets. West Linton, Peeblesshire, Castlelaw Press, 1972.
Instamatic Poems. London, Ian McKelvie, 1972.
The Whittrick: A Poem in Eight Dialogues. Preston, Lancashire, Akros, 1973.
From Glasgow to Saturn. Cheadle, Cheshire, Carcanet, and Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, Dufour, 1973.
The New Divan. Manchester, Carcanet, 1977.
Colour Poems. Glasgow, Third Eye Centre, 1978.
Star Gate: Science Fiction Poems. Glasgow, Third Eye Centre, 1979.
Poems of Thirty Years. Manchester, Carcanet, 1982.
Grafts/Takes. Glasgow, Mariscat Press, 1983.
4 Glasgow Subway Poems. Glasgow, National Book League, 1983.
Sonnets from Scotland. Glasgow, Mariscat Press, 1984.
Selected Poems. Manchester, Carcanet, 1985.
From the Video Box. Glasgow, Mariscat Press, 1986.
Newspoems. London, Wacy, 1987.
Themes on a Variation. Manchester, Carcanet, 1988.
Tales from Limerick Zoo. Glasgow, Mariscat Press, 1988.
Collected Poems. Manchester, Carcanet, 1990.
Hold Hands among the Atoms. Glasgow, Mariscat Press, 1991.
Sweeping Out the Dark. Manchester, Carcanet Press, 1994.
Virtual and Other Realities. Manchester, Carcanet, 1997.
Demon. Glasgow, Mariscat Press, 1999.
New Selected Poems. Manchester, Carcanet, 2000.
Recordings: Selected Poems, Canto, 1985; Seventeen Poems of Edwin Morgan, Scotsoun, 1987.
The Apple-Tree: A Medieval Dutch Play (produced Edinburgh, 1982). Glasgow, Third Eye Centre, 1982.
Master Peter Pathelin, adaptation of a medieval French farce. Glasgow, Third Eye Centre, 1983.
The Charcoal-Burner (opera libretto), 1969.
Valentine (opera libretto), 1976.
Columba (opera libretto), 1976.
Spell (opera libretto), 1979.
Cyrano de Bergerac, translated from Edmond Rostand. Manchester, Carcanet Press, 1992.
Essays. Cheadle, Cheshire, Carcanet, 1974.
Rites of Passage: Translations. Manchester, Carcanet, 1976.
Hugh MacDiarmid. London, Longman, 1976.
Provenance and Problematics of "Sublime and Alarming Images" in Poetry. London, British Academy, 1977.
Edwin Morgan: An Interview, with Marshall Walker. Preston, Lancashire, Akros, 1977.
Twentieth-Century Scottish Classics. Glasgow, Book Trust Scotland, 1987.
Nothing Not Giving Messages: Reflections on His Work and Life, edited by Hamish Whyte. Edinburgh, Polygon, 1990.
Crossing the Border (essays). Manchester, Carcanet, 1990.
Evening Will Come They Will Sew The Blue Sail. Edinburgh, Graeme Murray, 1991.
Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus: In a New Version. Edinburgh, Canongate, 1999.
Editor, Collins Albatross Book of Longer Poems: English and American Poetry from the Fourteenth Century to the Present Day. London, Collins, 1963.
Editor, with George Bruce and Maurice Lindsay, Scottish Poetry One to Six. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1966–72.
Editor, New English Dramatists 14. London, Penguin, 1970.
Editor, Scottish Satirical Verse: An Anthology. Manchester, Carcanet, 1980.
Editor, with Carl Macdougall, New Writing Scotland 5 and 6. Aberdeen, Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2 vols., 1987–88; 7, with Hamish Whyte, 1989.
Editor, Roadworks: Song Lyrics for Wildcat, by David Anderson and David MacLennan. Glasgow, Third Eye Centre, 1987.
Editor, The City of Dreadful Night, by James Thomson. Edinburgh, Canongate Press, 1993.
Translator, Beowulf. Aldington, Kent, Hand and Flower Press, 1952;Berkeley, University of California Press, 1962.
Translator, Poems from Eugenio Montale. Reading, Berkshire, University of Reading School of Art, 1959.
Translator, Sovpoems: Brecht, Neruda, Pasternak, Tsvetayeva, Mayakovsky, Martynov, Yevtusheko. Worcester, Migrant Press, 1961.
Translator with David Wevill, Sándor Weöres and Ferenc juhász Selected Poems. London, Penguin, 1970.
Translator, Wi the Haill Voice: Poems by Mayakovsky. Oxford, Carcanet, 1972.
Translator, Fifty Renascence Love-Poems, edited by Ian Fletcher. Reading, Berkshire, Whiteknights Press, 1975.
Translator, Selected Poems, by Platen. West Linton, Peeblesshire, Castlelaw Press, 1978.
Translator, with others, Eternal Moment: Selected Poems, by Sándor Weöres. Budapest, Corvina, and London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1988.
Translator, Attila József: Fragments. Edinburgh, Morning Star Publications, 1992.
Translator, Cecilia Vicuna: PALABRARmas. Edinburgh, Morning Star Publications, 1994.
Translator, Collected Translations. Manchester, Carcanet, 1996.*
Bibliography: Edwin Morgan: A Selected Bibliography 1950–1980 by Hamish Whyte, Glasgow, Mitchell Library, 1980; About Edwin Morgan, edited by Robert Crawford and Hamish Whyte, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1990.
Manuscript Collections: Glasgow University Library; Mitchell Library, Glasgow; National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh.
Critical Studies: By Tom Buchan, in Scottish International (Edinburgh), August 1968; "Scottish Poets: Edwin Morgan and Iain Crichton Smith," in Stand (Newcastle upon Tyne), 10(4), 1969, and Contemporary Scottish Poetry, Edinburgh, M. Macdonald, 1974, both by Robin Fulton; Worlds: Seven Modern Poets, London, Penguin, 1974; J.A.M. Rillie, in Lines Review (Edinburgh), March 1976; An Introduction to Fifty Modern British Poets by Michael Schmidt, London, Pan, 1979, as A Reader's Guide to Fifty Modern British Poets, London, Heinemann, 1979, New York, Barnes and Noble, 1982; "The Poetry of Edwin Morgan: Translator of Reality," in Akros (Nottingham), April 1980, and Science and Psychodrama: The Poetry of Edwin Morgan and David Black, Frome, Somerset, Bran's Head, 1982, both by Robin Hamilton; "The Poetry of Edwin Morgan" by R.S. Edgecombe, in Dalhousie Review (Halifax, Nova Scotia), 62(4), winter 1982–83; The Poetry of Edwin Morgan by Geddes Thomson, Aberdeen, Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 1986; About Edwin Morgan edited by Robert Crawford and Hamish Whyte, Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh Press, 1990; "Edwin Morgan: A Celebration," in Chapman (Edinburgh), 64, spring/summer 1991; "The Moons of Morgan" by W.N. Herbert, in Poetry Review (London), 81(2), autumn 1991; "Mayakovsky in English Translation" by G.M. Hyde, in Translation & Literature (Edinburgh), 1, 1992; "New Lang Syne: Sonnets from Scotland and Restructured Time" by Amy Houston, in Scottish Literary Journal (Aberdeen), 22(1), May 1995; "Edwin Morgan: Two Interviews," in Studies in Scottish Literature (Columbia, South Carolina), 29, 1996, and "Playing Translation with Morgan and MacCaig," in Forum for Modern Language Studies (Scotland), 33(1), January 1997, both by Marco Fazzini; "Edwin Morgan: Messages and Transformations" by Roderick Watson, in British Poetry from the 1950s to the 1990s: Politics and Art, edited by Gary Day and Brian Docherty, London, Macmillan, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1997.* * *
"It seems this is a world of change… "—the extraterrestrial narrator of "Memories of Earth" speaks also for Edwin Morgan, who aims to reflect a world "continually changing and changing fast" in poems of notable variety. Yet in his first collection, The Vision of Cathkin Braes, some persistent features of his work are already apparent. His sense of the comic shows in the title poem, in which a wildly unlikely group—including Salome, John Knox, and Lauren Bacall—end up dancing together. Linguistic playfulness, in which words dance together, is already established in "Verses for a Christmas Card," whose word weldings ("endyir starnacht," "brookrims hoartrack") look back through Joyce and Hopkins to the Anglo-Saxon poets.
Significantly, some translations from the Anglo-Saxon were included in Dies Irae, a collection intended to complement The Vision of Cathkin Braes, although it remained unpublished until 1982. The loneliness of individuals in alien environments and the destruction of cities are recurring themes in these poems, in "Dies Irae," in the distinctly nuclear apocalypses offered by "Stanzas of the Jeopardy," and in many later poems. But recurrent too is the expression of hopefulness, of faith in humankind's ability to fight on, to continue exploring.
Still largely missing, however, was a sense of the everyday contemporary world in its many aspects. Morgan has suggested that The Cape of Good Hope dealt with but did not resolve "the dilemma of the … solitary creator and his … involvement with humanity." The resolution began with the so-called Glasgow poems, started around 1962–63 and appearing in The Second Life (1968). These poems may record moments of pure observation ("Linoleum Chocolate") or events of more personal involvement ("In the Snack-Bar"). They may be celebratory ("Trio"), partly comic ("The Starlings in George Square"), or verging on nightmare, as in "Glasgow Green": "Cut the scene. / Here there's no crying for help, / it must be acted out, again, again."
A series of love poems, adumbrated in the title poem and beginning perhaps in "The Unspoken," share a simplicity of language with the Glasgow poems; they move from joy to sadness to something more somber. But most distinctively new in The Second Life, Emergent Poems, and Gnomes are the concrete and related poems. One aim of concrete poetry, simultaneity, is attained in the single line of "Siesta of a Hungarian Snake," while other possibilities are explored in "The Chaffinch Map of Scotland," with its strongly kinetic effect, and the playful permutations of "The Computer's First Christmas Card." Related, but more serious, are the variations in "Opening the Cage" on John Cage's "I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry," including, for instance, "It is and I am and I have poetry saying say that to nothing." Such work is not, as has been suggested, "necessarily slight," as "Message Clear," one of the "emergent poems," shows. The poem's last line—
i am the resurrection and the life
—gradually emerges from the statements that can be extracted from it, such as
i am he r e
i am ren t
Morgan's belief that poets today should be more concerned with science and technology, especially space exploration, is confirmed by several poems. Yet "In Sobieski's Shield," with its Beckett-like ending, "… it's hard / to go let's go," and "From the Domain of Arnheim," stressing courage, are as close to Anglo-Saxon poems as to science fiction. Instamatic Poems presents life through events, often bizarre or macabre, culled from newspapers. They are written in a style of apparent objectivity but often have a sharp, if barely stated, comment. The poems in the supplementary collection Takes have a more relaxed, more overtly authorial tone.
From Glasgow to Saturn is as wide-ranging as the title suggests. Morgan has stated that many of his poems are really dramatic monologues. Here they include attempts "to get everything speaking," whether an animal, an object ("The Apple's Song"), or the (perhaps) mythical ("The Loch Ness Monster's Song"). Playfulness ("Itinerary") and apocalypse ("Last Message") find many forms; love poems express estrangement and loss. A single poem, "London," for example, may move from memories, dreams, and collage to direct observation and comment, and the powerful concluding group approaches its Glasgow themes through the phantasmagoric, direct, and satiric.
This diversity is carried forward by The New Divan and Star Gate, where clichés and proverbs are multiplied dreadfully in "The Clone Poem." Dunbar is updated in "A Good Year for Death," and "emergent" poems become divergent in "Lévi-Strauss at the Lie-Detector," where "any classification is superior to chaos" yields "any class fiction is superior chaos." With Morgan travel in space or time tends to return us to the present, so that "Memories of Earth" finally celebrates "ordinary fortitude." The New Divan, a sequence of one hundred short poems dedicated to Hafiz, is related both to the world of the Persian poet and to the Middle East of Morgan's war service.
There are moments in this sequence that may remind us of Stevens. Morgan has consistently shown (and acknowledged) an awareness of the American modernist tradition from Whitman through Williams, Olson, Creeley, and Ginsberg to Ashbery. Yet his work is unlike that of any similarly aware English poet. His Scottishness has provided another tradition, that of Dunbar, Burns, and MacDiarmid. He has supplemented this by looking abroad, in his considerable work as a translator, to such different talents as Mayakovsky, Michaux, Gomringer, Leopardi, and Attila József.
Morgan's versatility has continued to be shown in poem sequences and separate poems. The "Grafts" in Grafts/Takes "are based," Morgan explains, "on fragments from abandoned poems by Michael Schmidt"—fragments that have acted as the stimuli for new and distinctive poems. A collaboration with Peter McCarey resulted in the "reconstructing" of "some fairly well-known poems." Thus, Stevens joins Shakespeare in "Not Marble: A Reconstruction": "A Sqezy bottle in Tennessee / if you want permanence, will press / a dozen jars into the wilderness." Newspoems represents an unwitting collaboration by "newspapers and other ephemeral material" Morgan creatively misread, finding unintended messages that he cut out and pasted down. In an austere, more minimal way, the poems parallel Tom Phillips's A Humament. "What results," Morgan writes, "is a series of 'inventions,' both in the old sense of 'things found' and in the more usual sense of 'things devised.'"
One device Morgan uses to generate poems is the list, as in "Nineteen Kinds of Barley," "A Trace of Wings" (a tribute to Basil Bunting), and, notably, "An Alphabet of Goddesses." In these works the range of moods and styles matches the titular subjects, from the breezy couplets of "Queen Alcyone" to the somber chanting of "Lethe" to the terrible self-referring riddle of "Sphinx." They are poems that, again, refer us to the present: "… why is it easier for a rich man to ride his camel into heaven than for three million unemployed to pass through the eye of a needle …?" A classic formal device is used in Sonnets from Scotland to alternate comic invention ("Outward Bound"), apocalypse ("The Target"), and visions of some remote past or desolate future ("The Age of Heracleum") with poems referring to figures such as James Hutton, the prophet of continual geological change ("Theory of the Earth"), or presenting haunting inventions ("The Mirror": "It hangs in time and not in space").
"Right to Reply," in From the Video Box, is strangely inventive even though it is derived from the television series. The programs to which the video responses are given include the burning of the library at Alexandria, the world jigsaw final, "a programme for the colour-blind" (who alone saw something special), or "Giotto's O": "… the great / final ease of creation." The responses, on the other hand, may be of comic outrage, total irrelevance (an awfully nice person who has lost their cat), or, chillingly, the fragmentary voice of James Hogg's Justified Sinner.
Here and elsewhere Morgan is close to the surrealist tradition and to the practice of making the familiar strange, the Russian formalists' ostranenie, as in such short poems as "The Bear," which sees The Winter's Tale from the bear's viewpoint. Yet the move is toward renewed clarity, freshness of vision, and the acceptance of everyday life, including the "blessed trivia that keep us from dying." A group of poems in Themes on a Variation continues the exploration of intensely personal themes of love and relationship, and the third section of one of them, "Stanzas," addresses a crucial problem: "To be simple, to be clear, to be true— / the sweat and cost of it are surely such / that all must shut up shop." "Waking on a Dark Morning" tracks an emergence from an almost anonymous dream or nightmare to a positive awareness and decision: "It was an early bus that wakened me / … The night never wanted me to speak, did it? / But speak we will, and clearly too …"
The emphasis on clarity is present, though with somber undertones, at the end of "Epilogue: Seven Decades" in the 1990 Collected Poems: "I want to catch whatever light is there / in full sight." The title of the 1994 book of poems and translations, Sweeping out the Dark, suggests, if ambivalently, a shift of emphasis. It refers most directly to the last section ("The Synthesis") of "Trajectory (Six Sonnets)": "Hell can be ahead. / In backstreet Naples, under her living cliff, / a woman vigorously sweeps out the dark." The parallel trajectories are of a spaceflight and a more earthly seeming revolution. The downfall of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the possible consequences are the concern of several poems, "A Warning" being one of the most direct: "Take your string bag. An orange / will appear by magic, steaks, heroin, tickets / for strippers." Elsewhere, in "A Chapter," people who had achieved "social justice" found themselves afflicted by a "malaise" that their "well-kept houses, / the well-swept streets and unpolluted highways, / … graffiti / buried under harmonies of paintwork" could not assuage. Perhaps, as the next poem, "A Change," seems to suggest, what they lacked was something disorderly, dishevelled, "boisterous," which a group of unidentified journeying people bring to the city.
The darkness of wars, violence, and oppression is not swept away but rather into the light in such poems as "An Elegy," "Urban Gunfire," and "Whistling," while "the lighter darkness that confounds us / the twilight of not knowing … / … the slow precipitate of phantoms" are the subject of "Twilights." But it is notable that the voice heard in "Waking on a Dark Morning" finds an answering voice in "Persuasion"—"You never thought much of the darkness, did you?"—suggesting that love can be "tender still to backcourts and dim woodlands." This acceptance of and giving expression to another view of what "darkness" can mean typify Morgan's openness, his readiness to engage with many possibilities and experiences, ranging from the significance of memories and past moments in "Tram-Ride, 1939 (F.M.)" or "Hands On, 1937" through personal or harshly public themes to such "particulars" as, for instance, observing and praising magpies: "… and this page, seeing / these things, first white, now white and black, to pay its / tribute to, and lay out, thus, its pleasure" ("A Defence"). In an interview Morgan has said that, in relation to the possibilities of virtual reality for poetry, "I'm very attracted to the idea of the poet as explorer, undergoing a quest … maybe many quests ultimately cohering." For Morgan this involves acceptance of "… that / mass of change and chance and challenge" ("A Particular Country"), encounter and celebration, and the readiness to be surprised and to surprise.