One of the things we do in the Dunbar Writers’ group is that we take turns to choose an author who means something to us, and we then read a very short biography and some examples of the author’s work. Last night it was my turn, and I chose Edwin Morgan, Glasgow’s Poet Laureate.
I first came across Edwin Morgan’s work in the early 1960s, in issues of the broadsheet Poor Old Tired Horse, and in Mike Horowitz’s New Departures. Eddie seemed to be everywhere, writing in the vanguard of the avant garde (if that’s possible), in a wide variety of styles, and on a huge variety of subjects. He wasn’t a dominant figure in the Scottish literary establishment though. There’s a famous painting in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery which shows Hugh MacDiarmid, Norman MacCaig, Sorley MacLean, Sydney Goodsir Smith and several others, in Edinburgh’s famous literary pub – Milne’s Bar. There in a corner, wearing his characteristic dark-rimmed glasses, is Eddie Morgan. But the truth is that, although he certainly knew and at times socialised with the other writers in the picture, he was never one of the Milne’s Bar ‘set’. At that time he always pursued his own interests, an internationalist agenda, and a commitment to develop his own writing in whatever directions he could take it. I admire him for that.
I also admire him hugely for continuing to write, despite advancing years (he was born in 1920) and illness. Not just continuing to write, but to evolve and grow. He’s remarkable.
Selecting a couple of poems to read to the group was difficult, but I chose two that mean a lot to me personally. From his 1997 collection, Virtual and Other Realities, I chose Wolf, one of the sequence of Beasts of Scotland. And I also read my favourite Eddie Morgan poem – Strawberries. It’s a very beautiful love poem, widely and deservedly anthologised, and audiences always react favourably to it at readings.
At the Great Grog reading last Sunday I introduced my Spermsong poem by saying that I didn’t know any other poem written from a sperm’s point of view. Not quite true, because Eddie Morgan got there before me. A Voyage describes the sperm’s journey to unite with the ovum. And it’s brilliant.