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This report is taken from PN Review 254, Volume 46 Number 6, July - August 2020.on Edwin Morgan
And time is torn from its rings, and the door of life
Flies open on unimaginable things
Edwin Morgan wrote this back in 1952, in ‘Stanzas from the Jeopardy’, and like many of his lines it feels uncannily apt.
He was determined to reach 90, which he did, despite a cancer diagnosis that suggested his years would fall short of that target. The Edwin Morgan Trust was determined that his 100th birthday should be celebrated appropriately, not just on 27 April but over the whole year. There has been so much planning, and so many willing partners, whose activities have been stymied by the pandemic.
So the Trust has had to swerve online; just as we were preparing to sit back and hand over responsibility, we find ourselves being the ‘ion engine’ after all. The University of Glasgow’s (‘postponed’) international Morgan conference was to be the starting point, with a display in the Library – where the Special Collections is the home of a rich Morgan archive – and a small exhibition at the Hunterian Art Gallery. The Hunterian is showing online a selection of the art E.M. donated to the University, so do go and see ‘An Eardley on my wall’.
The Trust opened its video channel, ‘Hold Hands Among the Atoms’, on the 27th with ‘Open the Doors’, a video that includes readings, tributes and memories from Jackie Kay, Liz Lochhead, Alan Cumming, Damian Barr and Imtiaz Dharker among others. The page on the Trust’s website will include links to archive videos as well as further specially commissioned programmes, with new material going up each month on the 27th. In May you will be able to see a discussion of Morgan’s letters in the context of a general discussion about letters and archives, with Michael Schmidt, James McGonigal, John Coyle and Robyn Marsack participating.
In June, Pride Month, the National Poetry Library’s commissions from four poets responding to Morgan’s work will be available from the NPL and on ‘Hold Hands’; we’re excited to see what they’ve produced. The NPL had planned an exhibition, and still hopes that it will happen next year – see ‘The Concrete World of Edwin Morgan’ on their news page.
Morgan was a poet who encouraged other writers: Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Janice Galloway, Richard Price, David Kinloch are just a few who benefited from his advice and support. His will stipulated the establishment of an award to Scottish poets aged 30 or under, and the Trust gives £20,000 every two years for an unpublished collection, submitted anonymously. Happily 2020 is one of those years; the Award has now been judged by John Glenday and Kathleen Jamie. The shortlist will be announced on 27 June, the winner and runner-up in August – not at an Edinburgh International Book Festival event, unfortunately, but there may be a chance of seeing the astonished winner online.
The Trust was lucky enough to obtain a grant from Creative Scotland, and from the Saltire Society, to commission new work in response to Morgan’s across the spectrum of his interests: poetry, music, theatre, film, art. We’ll be inviting some artists to apply for a grant of £1,500 each, and holding an open call for £750-grants, probably in June. We expect that there may be more online work than would have been the case before, but are still holding the door open to physical works in the hope they can be shown by our partners over the course of next year. We’ve called these ‘Second Life’ grants, after Morgan’s breakthrough collection, with the suggestion of renewal and reinvention that brings.
Of course there are publications, too; books were very dear to him, as evidenced by the 13,000-plus volumes from his library now housed in Glasgow’s Mitchell Library. Glasgow’s Speculative Books put out a call for responses to the set of Morgan’s scrapbooks held in the University of Glasgow’s Morgan Archive, and are publishing that this spring; it should be full of surprises, like the scrapbooks themselves.
Polygon in association with Carcanet have published a collection of 5 pocketbooks of 20 poems, available separately or as a zingily boxed set, with introductions by Jackie Kay (Love), Liz Lochhead (Scotland), Ken MacLeod (Space and Spaces), Michael Rosen (Menagerie) and Ali Smith (Take Heart). James McGonigal and John Coyle, who edited the brilliant collection of Morgan’s letters, The Midnight Postbox (Carcanet), have edited a selection of his uncollected prose, In Touch with Language (ASLS), now available. Hamish Whyte, Mariscat Press publisher and bibliographer of Morgan, has chosen a Centenary Selected Poems, which will be available as a Carcanet Classic in the summer, and is writing his memoir ‘Morgan and Me’, due out from Happenstance in November.
In short, as Morgan urged us in ‘At Eighty’: ‘Push out the boat / compañeros, / Push the boat out, whatever the sea.’
This report is taken from PN Review 254, Volume 46 Number 6, July - August 2020.