Edwin Morgan

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Edwin Morgan is a poet who - through my rather cursory knowledge of his work - I always found more interesting than loveable.

However, the profile in today's Guardian, on the occasion of his become Scotland's (first?) Poet Laureate intrigued me to the extent that I will probably stump up for his Collected Poems that I have previously glossed over whenever I've been browsing in Kentish Town's Owl Bookshop.

What particularly intrigued me in the profile was the focus on his love poems. Funnily enough, I have previously thought of him as a previous Scottish generation's version of Momus - the European identification, the engagement with avant gardes and with technology. Which, as I say, I find interesting rather than heartbreaking.

I was sufficiently moved to check out the exemplary website - www.edwinmorgan.com where I found the following poem.


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

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


This is the thread where you can tell us what you think and feel about Edwin Morgan.

Jerry the Nipper (Jerrynipper), Saturday, 28 February 2004 15:18 (sixteen years ago) link

That's a lovely poem. I've never heard of Morgan, but that poem reminds me a lot of William Carlos Williams (and then he said that WCW was an influence). Every line is so balanced, and so modernist free-versey. I especially like the understated ending: like the ending of WCW's Plums:

They were
so sweet
and so cold

Donald, Saturday, 28 February 2004 17:32 (sixteen years ago) link

two weeks pass...
would you look at this?!

cozen (Cozen), Friday, 19 March 2004 01:31 (sixteen years ago) link

you asked me recently what I thought of edwin and I said I hadn't read too much and so didn't feel nor think anything. which thinking back on it was some sort of lie. I was taught both the edwins at school (morgan and muir, both scottish) in conjunction with iain chricton smith. I took to the coarse and bitter nature of the latter more than the previous. (swayed, like the corn in herzog's 'kaspar hauser', by chricton smith's infinitely dour account of the highland clearances, "consider the lilies"). here is a chricton smith poem I love, just to add some queer notional symettry to the thread:

Your thorned back
heavily under the creel
you steadily stamped the rising daffodil.

Your set mouth
forgives no-one, not even God's justice
perpetually drowning law with grace.

Your cold eyes
watched your drunken husband come
unsteadily from Sodom home.

Your grained hands
dandled full and sinful cradles.
You built for your children stone walls.

Your yellow hair
burned slowly in a scarf of grey
wildly falling like the mountain spray.

Finally you're alone
among the unforgiving brass,
the slow silences, the sinful glass.

Who never learned,
not even aging, to forgive
our poor journey and our common grave

while the free daffodils
wave in the valleys and on the hills
the deer look down with their instinctive skills,

and the huge sea
in which your brothers drowned sings slow
over the headland and the peevish crow.

ow! reminds me of that phrase, which could be from "the house with the green shutters" (this really is a world tour of scottish lit.), about "sour pints". (alan warner has told endearing anecdotes, in his scrubbed graeme spears' scottish, of seeing iain walking about his childhood town, "the local eccentric" taking his dirty washing down the street to the laundrette perched on his shoulder.) anyway I stumbled upon a selected works of morgan today (carcanet) and rifled through it finding the two of his poems that I did once take to loving ("the death of marilyn monroe", see 'the poetry thread', and "king billy".) I read these two poems on the way out of the city this early evening and it felt like the air was pulsing around me, stretching out to fill the train cabin by contracting around my skin, they ruined me for the rest of the evening. I can't explain it; I'm not sure it was me who said it first but did once say that the best poetry should frighten you and I think this is what morgan managed. or the poems did.

cozen (Cozen), Friday, 19 March 2004 01:44 (sixteen years ago) link

I'm not sure I answered the thread question OK.

cozen (Cozen), Friday, 19 March 2004 01:52 (sixteen years ago) link

I know nothing about the man, but just checked-out some of the works at the website you suggested, Jerry. And I've just added a collection of his works to my new book shopping list. Thank you.

I'm Passing Open Windows (Ms Laura), Friday, 19 March 2004 03:20 (sixteen years ago) link

I like some of his poems very much, including Strawberries. My favourite is number 25 in From the Video Box, which I've just tried and failed to find even a bit of online. It's great.

Archel (Archel), Tuesday, 23 March 2004 15:51 (sixteen years ago) link


If you ask what my favourite programme is
it has to be that strange world jigsaw final.
After the winner had defeated all his rivals
with harder and harder jigsaws, he had to prove his mettle
by completing one last absolute mindcrusher
on his own, under the cameras, in less than a week.
We saw, but he did not, what the picture would be:
the mid-Atlantic, photographed from a plane,
as featureless a stretch as could be found,
no weeds, no flotsam, no birds, no oil, no ships,
the surface neither stormy nor calm, but ordinary,
a light wind on a slowly rolling swell.
Hand-cut by a fiendish jigger to simulate,
but not to have, identical beaks and bays,
it seemed impossible; but the candidate---
he said he was a stateless person, called himself Smith---
was impressive: small, dark, nimble, self-contained.
The thousands of little grey tortoises were scattered
on the floor of the studio; we saw the clock; he started.
His food was brought to him, but he hardly ate.
He had a bed, with the light only dimmed to a weird blue,
never out. By the first day he had established
the edges, saw the picture was three metres long
and appeared to represent (dear God!) the sea.
Well, it was a man's life, and the silence
(broken only by sighs, click of wood, plop of coffee
in paper cups) that kept me fascinated.
Even when one hand was picking the edge-pieces
I noticed his other hand was massing sets
of distinguishing ripples or darker cross-hatching or
incipient wave-crests; his mind,
if not his face, worked like a sea.
It was when he suddenly rose from his bed
at two, on the third night, went straight over
to one piece and slotted it into a growing central patch,
then back to bed, that I knew he would make it.
On the sixth day he looked haggard and slow,
with perhaps a hundred pieces left,
of the most dreary unmarked lifeless grey.
The camera showed the clock more frequently.
He roused himself, and in a quickening burst
of activity, with many false starts, began
to press that inhuman insolent remnant together.
He did it, on the evening of the sixth day.
People streamed onto the set. Bands played.
That was fine. But what I liked best
was the last shot of the completed sea,
filling the screen; then the saw-lines disappeared,
till almost imperceptibly the surface moved
and it was again the real Atlantic, glad
to distraction to be released, raised
above itself in growing gusts, allowed
to roar as rain drove down and darkened,
allowed to blot, for a moment, the orderer's hand.

cozen (Cozen), Tuesday, 23 March 2004 18:54 (sixteen years ago) link

Oh yes, that is outstanding. I have it an anthology - Scanning the Century? - somewhere.

Jerry the Nipper (Jerrynipper), Tuesday, 23 March 2004 19:50 (sixteen years ago) link

from the video box.

cozen (Cozen), Tuesday, 23 March 2004 19:55 (sixteen years ago) link

:( that link doesn't work. (which means my link to the janice galloway short on the other thread doesn't work neither.) gah.

cozen (Cozen), Tuesday, 23 March 2004 19:56 (sixteen years ago) link

I am surprised y'all, I mean ye all, all ye, all ye's, like (yon) Edwin (Mc)Morgan.

the bluefox, Tuesday, 23 March 2004 21:28 (sixteen years ago) link

Now on my list too. 'Let the storm wash the plates', great line.

Michael White (Hereward), Tuesday, 23 March 2004 23:40 (sixteen years ago) link

i will wait for this moment happens to me, so sweet ,full of intimacy,love that smells of spring and youth

aurora, Monday, 29 March 2004 11:20 (sixteen years ago) link

five years pass...

Carcanet's New Selected Poems is an essential purchase. There's a tendency in Scottish Studies to overpraise writers for their, well, Scottishness, but Morgan really is a world class poet. And while he's identified with Glasgow, he's very much a cosmopolitan. He's an inspirational figure really.
Generations of Scottish school children have been introduced to concrete and sound poetry via him. How wonderful is that?
I've been reading and rereading his work lately as part of my masters dissertation. His Sonnets From Scotland from 1984 are superb. Having just read De Quincey's Confessions Of An English Opium Eater, Morgan's sonnett De Quincey In Glasgow really struck me. A visionary Glasgow poem - something Morgan, and sadly too few others, is a master at:

When afternoons grew late, he feared and longed
for dusk. In that high room in Rottenrow
he looks out east to the Necropolis
Its crowded tombs rise jostling, living, thronged
with shadows, and the granite-bloodying glow
flares on the dripping bronze of a used kris.

His love poems are beautiful. Deeply touching, but gorgeously sensuous too.

Of his concrete poems, this is a favourite:

Siesta of a Hungarian Snake

s sz sz SZ sz SZ sz ZS zs Zs zs zs z

Stew, Friday, 12 June 2009 21:59 (eleven years ago) link

Interesting to see Crichton-Smith, Muir and Morgan come up on ILB. I read most of C-S and Muir's stuff many years ago, also some but less Morgan who seemed too wilfully cerebral for my tastes - admittedly an opinion based on a fairly superficial acquaintance. Strawberries is an obvious and very beautiful exception, although I know it from having heard it read more recently on tv or radio I think - I don't remember seeing it in print before I spotted this thread. In the end I thought CS a fairly modest talent tbh, and even Muir, though definitely more interesting, is a bit bloodless, going from dream-and-myth abstractions to moral abstractions without taking in much of the stink of life. His Autobiography is exceptional, more interesting than his poetry IMO, and he seems to have been an incredibly nice man.

frankiemachine, Wednesday, 17 June 2009 21:55 (eleven years ago) link

nine years pass...


The Vangelis of Dating (Tom D.), Friday, 8 March 2019 23:34 (one year ago) link

... didn't work, did it?


The Vangelis of Dating (Tom D.), Friday, 8 March 2019 23:36 (one year ago) link

... or that.


The Vangelis of Dating (Tom D.), Friday, 8 March 2019 23:37 (one year ago) link

... I know when I'm beat.

The Vangelis of Dating (Tom D.), Friday, 8 March 2019 23:41 (one year ago) link

The boy done good.

The Vangelis of Dating (Tom D.), Saturday, 9 March 2019 00:01 (one year ago) link

will gie it a listen when I'm hame (am at work at the mo)

loved reading edwin morgan in school. perhaps my favourite thing that i had to read for english class.

( ͡☉ ͜ʖ ͡☉) (jim in vancouver), Saturday, 9 March 2019 00:38 (one year ago) link

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