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The Edwin Morgan Archive: A guide for readers and writers

Writers say...

On Edwin Morgan's influence on other writers

"Wit, freshness, enthusiasm, depth of feeling and playfulness."

"The idea of poetry as process, not message."

"Honesty and courage are needed for any form of writing to be really good, and Edwin Morgan was an example to us all regarding this."

On the Edwin Archive

"Just to enjoy the 'presence' of the man preserved in this way."

"If planning a workshop – useful to get background to a favourite poem."

"Not sure at the moment. You can't predict these things!"

Comments from writers, Spring 2009

 
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About Edwin Morgan

Edwin Morgan has been extremely influential in the writing community, and many writers speak of him as an enormous inspiration. In his work, writers find a vast range and variety of models and approaches to experience, and experiment with.

The Edwin Morgan Archive at the Scottish Poetry Library holds a huge amount of material of potential interest to writers of many different types, including poets, translators, dramatists and critics. Writers can also draw on a specially written resource taking one of Morgan's famous 'instamatic poems' as the starting point for a writing exercise.

Just some aspects of the Archive are highlighted in this section.

 
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Using the Archive

Poetic form

Edwin Morgan is a master of traditional forms – the sonnet, blank verse, the rhyming couplet, even the limerick!

The Archive shows how work from 'Glasgow Sonnets', published in From Glasgow to Saturn (Carcanet, 1973), was widely anthologised. It also shows how his ambitious sequence Sonnets from Scotland (Mariscat, 1984) – written in part as a response to the failed devolution referendum of 1979 – was received.

In the 1960s Morgan became known internationally as a concrete poet. His work was included in major anthologies such as Concrete Poetry: An International Anthology, edited by Stephen Bann (London Magazine, 1967); he published collections of concrete poems, such as Gnomes (Akros, 1968); translated the work of, among others, Haroldo de Campos and Eugen Gomringer; and reflected critically on the movements in essays such 'Into The Constellations: Some Thoughts on the Origin and Nature of Concrete Poetry', included in Essays (Carcanet, 1972).

Beyond concrete poetry, Morgan has developed several original poetic forms, including 'emergent' poems in the 1960s, and 'instamatic' poems in the 1970s and 1980s. While many of these were included in his Collected Poems (1990), much interesting work of both types remains relatively unknown in collections such as Emergent Poems (Hansjörg Mayer, 1967) and Grafts/Takes (Mariscat, 1983).

 
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Languages

Edwin Morgan is a formidable translator from a battery of European languages – French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Portuguese and Hungarian – not to mention Latin and Anglo-Saxon. The Archive contains examples of his work from his Beowulf (Hand and Flower Press, 1952), which is still in print, to Attila József: Sixty Poems (Mariscat, 2001), the fruit of over forty years engagement with the Hungarian poet. His introduction to Beowulf, and to his Mayakovsky book, Wi the Haill Voice (Carcanet, 1972), put forward passionate arguments for the necessity of poetry translation.

While he has written little original poetry in Scots, Morgan's Scots translations of Mayakovsky's poems Wi the Haill Voice (Carcanet, 1972) and Rostand's play Cyrano de Bergerac (Carcanet, 1992) are justly feted. The Archive also contains other material in or about Scots – his translations of Leopardi, a review of the Concise Scots Dictionary, his essay on William Dunbar.

 
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Drama

Edwin Morgan,who was a theatre critic for The Times during the 1960s, has consistently used the form of the dramatic monologue in his poems. He also writes poems about the theatre, for example the 'Ten Theatre Poems' in The New Divan (Carcanet, 1977).

It was only in the 1980s, however, that Edwin Morgan began to write specifically for the stage. His original works include libretti for works by Kenneth Leighton and Tommy Smith, and AD: a trilogy on the life of Jesus Christ (Carcanet, 2000). His translations include The Apple Tree: A Medieval Dutch Play (Third Eye Centre, 1982), and Racine's Phaedra (Carcanet, 2000).

With no single collection of his dramatic works available and many publications now out of print, the Edwin Morgan Archive at the Scottish Poetry Library gives access to the range of his work, in a single location.

 
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Criticism

Morgan is a perceptive and generous critic, and not just of poetry. His two collections of essays, Essays (Carcanet, 1974) and Crossing the Border: Essays on Scottish literature (Carcanet, 1990), cover a wide range of literary topics, Scottish and international, contemporary and historical. The Archive also contains material otherwise uncollected, including numerous book reviews.

 
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Edwin Morgan Archive resources

For readers and writers

The Scottish Poetry Library has commissioned a resource for writers based on Edwin Morgan's "instamatic poem", 'Glasgow 5 March 1971' ('With a ragged diamond...').

These 'instamatic poems' were "based on items of news in papers and magazines", and present snapshots of dramatic, often shocking, incidents, an approach which can still bear fruit in these increasingly media-saturated times.

Other archive resources

The Edwin Morgan Archive also holds audio-visual material featuring Morgan reading and discussing his poems, including broadcast material, commercial, and private recordings.

 
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Accessing the Archive

Anyone is welcome to visit and use the Edwin Morgan Archive. Workshops for writers' groups can also be arranged on request.

For more information please contact us.

For readers