Remembering Edwin Morgan

REMEMBERING EDWIN MORGAN, a piece by Kenneth Gibson, MSP.

April 27 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Scottish poet, Edwin Morgan.

Morgan was born in Glasgow in 1920, growing up in Rutherglen. Going on to study English Literature at Glasgow University in 1937, Morgan also completed studies in French and Russian.

However, the Second World War interrupted his studies and from 1940 Morgan served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Returning to Glasgow in 1946, he graduated with first class honours the following year before joining the staff of the English Literature Department at the university, having turned down a scholarship to Oxford. He continued to work as a lecturer at Glasgow until his retirement as a professor in 1980.

However, it is Morgan’s poetry that we remember him for today. His first book, ‘The Vision of Cathkin Braes’, was published in 1952 and while he continued to live and work in Glasgow, during the 1960s Morgan became involved in the international concrete poetry movement. Over his lifetime Morgan published sonnets, concrete poems and sound poems, science fiction poems and vivid portraits of Glasgow.

A committed internationalist, Morgan was also a prolific translator, producing versions of poems and plays from a large number of languages. Today he is rightly widely regarded as one of Scotland’s greatest and most influential poets.

Edwin Morgan’s work received a number of prestigious accolades and in 1999 he became Glasgow’s first official Poet Laureate and a year later received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. In 2004, he became Scotland’s first official national poet or ‘Scots Makar’, charged with “representing and promoting Scots poetry”.

Perhaps one of his most notable activities in this regarding is his poem ‘Open the Doors!’ written for the opening of the Scottish Parliament Building in 2004.

Morgan was also an active supporter of the repeal of Section 28, criticising Church and business leaders for their support of the ‘Keep the Clause’ campaign. This endorsement of gay rights and inclusive attitudes characterised his publicly liberal stance throughout his life.

Edwin Morgan died in Glasgow on 19 August, 2010 but his vast legacy continued long after, not only by his magnificent contribution to the literary world, but with the financial legacy of over £918,000 left with the aim of allowing the people of Scotland to listen to and vote for the case of Scottish independence, a cause close to his heart. He also left a further £1 million for the creation of an annual award scheme in his memory for young poets in Scotland.

This month, the 100th anniversary of his birth is one to celebrate the life and legacy of such a talented and influential Scot.