Edwin Morgan: From Glasgow to Saturn

One of the things I love the most about attending the MLA is the Scottish Book Exhibit, where Gwen and Duncan give away (yes, give away) books by Scottish writers. One of the poets I discovered several years ago as a result of their generosity is Edwin Morgan, whose Collected Poems deserves the attention of every person seriously interested in twentieth century poetry. He is one of the most radically variegated poets of the past century, and fearless in doing so. In North America, he seems to have paid the price for such renitence; I have hardly ever met anyone in the United States who seems familiar with his work. (Robert Morgan would most likely be the poet identified if one happened to mention only the last name in the U.S.) On the other hand, I doubt there are many readers in the United States capable of equally enjoying Gnomes (1968) and The Horseman’s Word (1970), alongside a poem such as “An Alphabet of Goddesses.” For those still passionate enough to wield their curiosity about poets no one else in their purlieu talks about, however, Edwin Morgan would be a good poet to start your next cycle of reading with. He’ll test your tensility as few American poets can.

I hope I haven’t made it sound as if no one anywhere cares about his work, for how could a poet have a biography in print and be regarded as neglected? Thanks once again to Gwen and Duncan I have a copy of James McGonigal’s Beyond the Last Dragon: A Life of Edwin Morgan on one shelf of a small bookcase in my workroom. For those who trust biographers, McGonigal says on page 277 that From Glasgow to Saturn is the collection of his poems best known by readers in England, and that book would be a solid choice as an introductory volume to readers in this country, too. It was published by Carcanet Press in 1973, and one can pick up a used copy fairly cheaply. Most people, no doubt, would prefer to start by typing “Edwin Morgan” and that title in their browser. However that search might turn out, at the very least all poets who teach — even occasionally — should be making use of Morgan’s “A View of Things,” a poem with an extraordinary capacity to be adapted by anyone between the ages of eight and 103. I’ll leave you to discover it for yourself, but if you don’t bother, then don’t make a point of mentioning your deliberate neglect the next time we meet. I won’t necessarily be polite in ending the conversation.