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New poems and a riddle for Scots Makar’s 90th birthday

EXCLUSIVE: Brian Donnelly
Published on 30 Mar 2010

Unseen works from the fertile imagination of ailing Scots Makar Edwin Morgan, including poems penned just last year, are to be unveiled in a new collection on his 90th birthday.

The National Poet for Scotland sifted through his works dating back to 1954 – some of which he could not remember writing – for his anthology Dreams and Other Nightmares, to be published on April 27.

Today The Herald publishes a glimpse of the final work in the collection. A Riddle, below, is translated from Anglo-Saxon.

While Morgan’s friends said he was often over-critical in choosing his own work for the collection, the poet, who has been battling cancer, joked that not recalling some of the older poems helped his objectivity.

Glasgow-born Morgan was aided in the selection process by friends and fellow poets – publisher Hamish Whyte and James McGonigal, a Glasgow University professor.

The collection includes unpublished poems from personal archives, and will be the latest addition to a collection held in his honour at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh.

On the Makar’s 89th birthday, Mr Whyte handed over the Edwin Morgan Archive, which he amassed over 30 years.

Friends of Morgan, who had a stroke two years ago, say that despite his ill health he still embraces intellectual discussion.

He told The Herald yesterday that he enjoyed looking through older work, and added: “I still have poems in my head, although it is harder to get them down, my hand is shaky.”

Mr Whyte said: “Edwin Morgan has always regarded poetry as a means of exploration. At 90 he is still exploring existence, through translation, memories, dreams and other nightmares.

“These new and uncollected poems, some of which have never been published anywhere before, draw upon the whole range of his writing life, from 1954 to last year.

“They invite us to go with the poet yet once more to observe the unknown through the lens of his remarkable imagination.

“It includes work written since his last collection – the award-winning A Book of Lives from 2007 – and has the theme of dreams running through it.

“It’s an exciting prospect, and we – Eddie, James and myself – had great fun choosing the poems from a great variety of sources. Some of them he didn’t remember writing, but would look at them say, ‘that’s okay’ or ‘that’s not very good’.”

Mr Whyte has a record of editing outstanding poetry anthologies and worked on From Saturn To Glasgow: 50 Favourite Poems by Edwin Morgan with Robyn Marsack, director of the Scottish Poetry Library.

Ms Marsack said: “Edwin Morgan is not only our National Poet – widely read, studied at school, much loved by fellow authors as well as readers – but our international poet: a marvellous translator from many languages, notably French, Russian, Hungarian and Italian, and equally, translated into many languages, particularly Polish, Hungarian and French.

“He was a star of the international concrete poetry movement of the 1960s. His inventiveness is matched by his accessibility, a rare combination of formal skills, intellectual curiosity and emotional power. These qualities make him an energising model for other poets, and the most influential Scottish poet of the past 50 years.

“The collection reminds us of his years of achievement but also marks his determination to keep writing through the barriers of age and illness, with new poems that are ever more personal and affecting.”

His collection in the Scottish Poetry Library was made possible by grant funding, and the archive represents the most significant and accessible gathering of Morgan’s work. It includes items that have been annotated by the poet.

To mark his birthday last year, Morgan’s desk, chair, Adler Blue Bird typewriter and a bottle of absinthe to symbolise his fabled absinthe evenings were put on display at the library.

Dreams and Other Nightmares is published by Mariscat Press on April 27.

»A Riddle« - please read [HERE]




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