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This article is taken from PN Review 213, Volume 40 Number 1, September - October 2013.

Triple-distilled: Edwin Morgan's Epistolary Spirit James McGonigal
Edwin Morgan's giftedness was multiple, as a poet, translator and critic. His letters reveal this too, but alongside other talents more difficult to discern in published work - for friendship, cultural activism, responsiveness to the needs, and even the prose styles, of thousands of correspondents. Many of their recipients still treasure his letters; and already sets of his correspondence with poets or editors have been lodged in the National Library of Scotland and other archives. Tracking down these letters sent out to correspondents worldwide is made easier, however, by the poet's own sense of organisation.

From the start, he kept most original communications and his own carbon- and, later, photocopied replies, all separately filed in date order. From the late 1980s onwards these were sent in tranches to the Department of Special Collections in the Library of the University of Glasgow, where he had been a student in the 1930s and lectured in English Literature from the late 1940s until 1980. From the many thousands of letters in the Edwin Morgan Papers there (which also include holograph poems, artwork, libretti and screenplays, essays and reviews), it is possible to trace a poet's response to, and active shaping of, a multifarious life.

Any Selected Letters involves distillation, and in this case it is a triple process. Firstly this is Morgan's own selection, although he appears to have retained for the record much that a weaker personality might have concealed. Like his poetry, the letters reveal a determination to ...


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