Sunday, July 22, 2012

My hero / Edwin Morgan by Robert Crawford

Edwin Morgan

My hero: Edwin Morgan by Robert Crawford

'He radiated energy, yet was stringent, demanding. He eluded definition'

Robert Crawford
Saturday 21 August 2010 00.06 BST

n the middle of the week, around the time Edwin Morgan died in Glasgow, Kathleen Jamie, David Kinloch and I were in Edinburgh, acknowledging our debts to him. We were at the book festival listening to AB Jackson, winner of this year's Edwin Morgan International Poetry prize. Jackson spoke of how he lived two minutes from the care home where Eddie had a room, and how he often thought of him. Another prizewinner, Susan Grindley from the south of England, began her reading with a poem inspired by one of Morgan's. Almost no contemporary poet has been so loved.

In 1978 he was my tutor at Glasgow University – passionate about Emily Brontë and Milton's Areopagitica, that great defence of freedom of speech ("I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue"). Morgan, who had not yet come out as a gay man, must have had his share of fugitive experiences, and was fascinated by all kinds of speaking out. He wrote poems so weird and wonderful that some killjoys denied they were poetry. One of his best, "The Loch Ness Monster's Song", ends simply "blp". In 1978 this poet-professor had on his wall a poster of the earth seen from space, and had recently published a book called From Glasgow to Saturn. He radiated energy, yet was also stringent, demanding as a tutor and as a sonneteer. He eluded definition.
At the end of that course Morgan, who knew I wrote verse, gave me Hugh MacDiarmid's Collected Poems – published in New York but not available in Britain. It helped open my eyes to Scottish culture. So did Morgan's own poetry and prose. Like MacDiarmid, Morgan was a republican Scottish nationalist, but far more playful. He was to later 20th-century Scottish poetry what MacDiarmid had been half a century earlier: the central energising force, utterly international in vision, confident in what he called "the resources of Scotland" – a consummate encourager of younger poets, his name still identified with generosity even as he died.

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