We are pleased to share some previously unreleased recordings of Edwin Morgan reading his poetry, recorded in 1990 by Ewan McVicar.
From Ewan: “In 1990 Eddie Morgan agreed to record his own selection of his poetry for a cassette to be published jointly by the Gallus label and the Scottish Book Trust. The cassette was never issued. These recordings were made in 1990 at Tower Studio, Glasgow. Eddie selected the material and the sequencing for them, and approved with pleasure the electronic effects used on a few of the tracks.”
Each recording is accompanied by commentary from Trustees Robyn Marsack and James McGonigal.
Both of these come from Sonnets from Scotland, in which EM wrote about history, prehistory, imagined post-nuclear history. Legend has it that Pilate, who sentenced Jesus to death, ended up in Scotland.
In his landmark interview with Christopher Whyte, EM remarked that ‘Writing “Glasgow Green” was a bold thing to do in the early 1960s, and it was a long time before I actually submitted it to a magazine. I suppose I was afraid of the reaction, and yet it’s done in schools now!’
EM loved the work of Joan Eardley (1921-63) and bought four of her paintings; when he moved to a care home and other works had gone to the Hunterian, he held on to hers. There is a virtual exhibition of his donations to the University of Glasgow that you can read about HERE
In a 1988 interview with Robert Crawford, EM said: ‘If I write a poem called “The Apple’s Song”, the apple is being translated if you like into human language. Who knows what an apple thinks! […] I like the idea particularly that in a sense we’re surrounded by messages that we perhaps ought to be trying to interpret.’
Asked by William Barr (in 1982) which poem of his own he would take to a desert island, EM chose ‘Trio’.
Hopkins, priest and poet, spent two months in Scotland in 1881, mostly in Glasgow. EM said in the Barr interview that a collection of Hopkins’s poems would be one of his desert island choices, and told James McGonigal that in the 1950s he identified keenly with Hopkins, as a poet ‘who made as much as you can make of frustration’.
EM came across a postcard of the music-hall performer Paul Cinquevalli (1859-1918) and found out about him later; ‘struck by the fact that he had been almost forgotten, after once enjoying world fame’, he began writing the poem.
In 1973 EM wrote: ‘I count myself lucky to have lived at a time of discoveries of such far-reaching potential as space travel must be. The poet, I think, is entitled to set up his camp on other worlds than this, and to bring back what he can in the way of human relevance.’
In an interview with Marshall Walker, EM said that he didn’t regard ‘In Sobieski’s Shield’ as being dark, finally, even though it was about a traumatic experience. ‘The last words are acceptance of the environment and going out into it, into further dangers – a kind of acceptance of the unknown. So it’s meant to be hopeful.’
A consummate user of language, Morgan loved to explore moments when misunderstandings occur. ‘The Computer’s First Christmas Card’ and ‘The First Men on Mercury’ are examples. The flawed communication here with a bandaged mummy at a photo-opportunity welcome cannot in the end prevent the creature from expressing his desires.
What’s a video box?
When Channel 4 was established in 1982, one of its innovations was the use of a ‘video box’ in major cities. These allowed viewers to comment on TV programmes they’d recently watched, providing footage for an edited programme, Right to Reply. ‘From The Video Box’ is a sequence of 27 poems, arranged thematically in threes. The viewers, comments and programmes are all, of course, broadcast from the inventive mind of Edwin Morgan.
The Video Box 4
First of three poems on the theme of Scratch Video. This was a British video art movement of the early 1980s that challenged the conventions of mainstream broadcasting by its use of radical content, found footage and fast cutting. Here the endlessly unfulfilled desires of Tantalus include his pursuit of a handsome young Ganymede. A mythical tale, notable in this retelling for its sense of pity.
The Video Box 7
Here the theme is Colour TV, and what can emerge out of the grey of black and white broadcasting. Edwin Morgan’s motto for his Collected Poems (1996) was a Basque proverb, Beti zeru urdin zati bat dago: bila ezazu. He doesn’t translate it, but it means: Up there, somewhere, is one shred of blue: pursue it! This poem is about that patch of blue.
The Video Box 13
The theme here is Not TV. The view provided by a non-viewer is political, a statement about the socialist and nationalist tensions in 1980s Scotland. Times and politics have changed, of course, but the sense of conviction from even the memory of a great political leader still resonates.
The Video Box 24
Here the theme is Satellite TV. The mix of bloodthirsty footage, sentimentality and street violence is what you get (the poem seems to say). The voice is authentic.
The Video Box 25
The theme of ‘Favourite Programmes’ takes what looks at first sight the most boring television ever, the world jigsaw final, and turns it, through terrific pacing, tension and physical detail, into a vivid parable of the creative mind.