From The Times
April 27, 2009
Birthday champagne as Edwin Morgan, 89, opens own archive
Grasping a champagne flute and sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Tenement Glasgow - taking the biscuit”, Edwin Morgan, Scotland's best-loved living poet, yesterday opened the archive which celebrates his life and work.
This trip to the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, where the collection will be housed, was a rare outing for Morgan. For years he has been suffering from cancer and has been largely confined to his rooms in a nursing home in Glasgow.
But the poet has never lost his joie de vivre and has long appeared to keep a telephone hotline open for admirers and enthusiasts. On his 89th birthday, with a helium balloon pinned to his wheelchair, he was plainly delighted to find himself out of the nursing home and surrounded by poets, politicians and friends who had come to share in his celebrations.
Their affections were returned with a bravura performance. Morgan endorsed the claims of Carol Ann Duffy as the next be Poet Laureate, “because she is a woman and she's gay” and offered kindly advice to James Kelman, a Booker-prize winning novelist, who needs to find a way out of the “grim” worlds which appear to obsess him.
In between times, he nursed his champagne, dined on Jaffa Cakes and wore a smile which grew as the praises rained down.
Ron Butlin, Edinburgh's Makar (poet laureate), said Morgan was “the grandest possible grand old man” and “the best poet I've ever met” (and Mr Butlin has met a few). For Liz Lochhead, the poet and playwright, “Eddie is one of the merriest people I know - there is no cruelty about his sense of humour”.
The Edwin Morgan Archive was collected by the poet's friend Hamish Whyte, and embraces all of his published works, from his first translation, Sovpoems in 1961, through all the collections of his own poetry. Starryveldt (1965) and Gnomes (1968) nestle alongside uncollected works and broadcast materials.
Some of these poem amount to no more than a single line; others just one word. A selection of these extraordinary works are on display at the library, along with Morgan's Adler Blue Bird Typewriter, his desk and an inspirational bottle of absinthe.
Many of the editions in the collection were the Morgan's personal copies, or were annotated by him before they were passed to his friend. Mr Whyte said they embraced everything from “Aristophanes and Glasgow to computers and cyberspace”, and all had the mark of the man's humour.
Morgan himself said it was important to bring humour to poetry. “I think it is possible to write serious poetry which can be entertaining and fun,” he said. “Some people find that hard to accept and think the best poetry must be solemn. I have never agreed with that. There can be very good poetry which entertains you, makes you laugh.”
The poet is Scotland's Makar - the national equivalent of the Poet Laureate. “If Scotland was a separate country I might accept that job too, but I'm not a monarchist,” he said, adding that Duffy deserved the award for the quality of her poetry alone. The sexuality thing would be good for upsetting strait-laced opinion, he said.
Morgan continues to work and to read. The producer David MacLennan hopes soon to stage a version of his translation of Cyrano de Bergerac at Oran Mor, in Glasgow, while the jazz musician Tommy Smith has invited Morgan to continue his acclaimed Planet Wave sequence, which offered a history of the world from 20 billionBC in ten poems. “Tommy made a very good job of the accompaniment to Planet Wave, so I will do my best,” said Morgan.
When not contemplating new works of his own, Morgan reads others' writing. Currently Jean Genet and Charles Doughty are on his bedside table and most recently he has completed Kelman's latest novel, Kieron Smith, Boy.
“I don't think it's his best, though some people think it is. He's is danger of getting bogged down too much in the reality of contemporary life and the problems of people not having a job, things like that. You can take it so far, but if you threap (argue) about that too much, people get bored. He's in danger of finding that out.
“If you have a proletarian novel it should take account of all the extraordinary things that people do, including various kinds of enjoyment. He's always seen as a kind of
grim writer - he's not really, there's a bit of humour, but he could spread
his wings a bit more,” said Morgan, whose one-word poems and adventures in cyberspace suggest he knows about spreading his wings.