The third video in our #HoldHandsAmongTheAtoms centenary video series is a collaboration between the National Poetry Library and the Edwin Morgan Trust. Featuring new work from poets Chris Beckett, Caroline Bergvall, Keith Jarrett and Richard Scott, The Concrete World of Edwin Morgan celebrates Edwin Morgan’s role in the concrete poetry movement and the warmth and humour that he brings to his visual work. Coinciding with LGBT Pride month 2020, the commissioned poems also celebrate Edwin Morgan’s sexuality, and explore the new depths of reading that can be reached with this in mind.
From Chris McCabe, National Poetry Library:
“Although we can’t open the doors as planned on our exhibition The Concrete World of Edwin Morgan we are delighted to have commissioned four of the UK’s most exciting poets to respond to Morgan’s life and work.
Morgan came out when he was 70 and his poems have been an influence on subsequent generations of LGBT+ poets. He was also one of the most significant concrete poets of the 20th Century and it is these two areas of his life and work that are the focus for these new commissions.
We are sure Morgan would have been delighted with these poetic responses: Chris Beckett reimagines Morgan’s famous strawberries as mangoes and takes Morgan for a walk amongst lions. Keith Jarrett’s ‘Now That We Are Out’ explores the shift in gay life from the time that Morgan wrote his poems, many of which were written between the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, and the current gay scene. ‘The knot of silence / loosens its tense thread’, Jarrett writes, ‘our love unmasks’. Richard Scott’s has written a powerful and radical ‘redux’ of Morgan’s ‘Glasgow Green’, increasing the ‘pure risk’ of Morgan’s work through an exploration of gay desire and space. Caroline Bergvall’s ‘Everything was sand’ finds a compelling hidden poem within the lines of Morgan’s ‘Sonnets from Scotland’ and her animation ‘shine in! shine out!’ shows a clear development of concrete poetry, demonstrating just why her work is celebrated for demonstrating what visual poetry can be in the 21st Century. “
Be sure to also view Edwin Morgan’s Computer – a set of game poems by Nick Murray, which were also commissioned for this exhibition.
The video is embedded below and linked here, with original works from commissioned poets published in full below.
This is the last video edited by artist Aideen Doran for the channel. Aideen has brought Edwin Morgan to life through her incredible ability to tell stories using her talent for imagery and arrangement. We are excited to have Tako Taal working on the next three #HoldHandsAmongtheAtoms videos, which will be released from September – November. Stay tuned!
Shine in! shine out!
There was a time when everything was sand
1 There is no beginning. We saw Lewis Diving in the warm seas around Beardsen, The glaciers melt slowly in the sun. We found the poet’s skull on the machair. ‘If those stones could speak –’ Do not wish too loud. The darkness deepens, and the woods are long. A Latin harsh with Aramaicisms There is a mirror only we can see. Names as from outer space, names without roots: God but le son du cor, Columba sighed over the cliff-top and into the mist ‘North and then north and north again we sailed, Damian, D’amiens, Damiano – ‘Yes, I taught Milton. He was a sharp boy. ‘They say I’m mad, but who would not be mad James Hutton that true son of fire who said The sun beat on the Moby-Dick-browed boy. Twelve thousand drops of laudanum a day Leith dock’s lashed spars roped the young heart of Tait. Earnestly nervous yet forthright, melted A Slav philosopher in Stronachlachar: ‘There are two rivers: how can a drop go Why did the poets come to the desert? – Knock knock – Who’s there? Doctor – Doctor who? No, The universe is like a trampoline. 2 As it was neither night nor noon, we mused The isles of Scotland! the isles of Scotland! We cannot see it, it keeps changing so. ‘No no it will not do, it will be not be. Naw naw, there’s nae big wurds here, there ye go. A writer needs nothing but a table. The Buenos Aires Vase, one mile across, ‘A parrot Edward Lear drew has just died.’ Infinitely variable water, Rain stockaded Glasgow; we paused, changed gears, It was high summer, and the sun was hot. But was it art? we asked the French, who said Then they were running with fire in their hair, A giant gannet buzzed our glinty probe. The jungle of Gleneagles was a long No one was left to hear the long All Clear. Flapping, fluttering, like imploding porridge We brushed the dirt off, held it to the light. Slowly through the Cheviot Hills at dawn Lighter and lighter, not eternity, – That was the time Scotland began to move. Scotland was found on Jupiter. That’s true. It was so fine we lingered there for hours. That must have been a time of happiness. The year was ending, and the land lay still.
‘shine in! shine out!’ is a constraints-led visual poem based on Opening of the Scottish Parliament, 9 Oct 2004. Presented as a gif.
‘There was a Time when Everything was Sand’ is a constraints-led poem based on Sonnets from Scotland.
Now that we are out…
the you engenders new unambiguousness and interlocks fingers in public, visibilizes itself, albeit with apprehension, which we can ill-afford to lock away, with all the unconfirmed bachelors, at least for now, although the laws may uphold us when our families may still not. The knot of silence loosens its tense threat, our love unmasks its masculinity, unrings itself from running rings around explicit desire, untucks its own boundaries.
Although I think of how a simple cigarette once held another meaning that had to be recovered from the blown ash in the non-smoker’s tray, or how mosquito nets obscured the act, or so you believed, until you two were parted. But now we have our pride, what is left to translate, Edwin? After all, we just happen to be men. Has our world flattened like the unwashable stain on his shirt? Shall we be repurposed like this city’s cottages? This stump, our thumbs: are they all that we have left?
Another view of things…
What I love about music is its scale
what I hate about muesli is its adherence
what I love about meaning is its itinerary
what I hate about the printer is its reproduction
what I love about the sky is its aspiration
what I hate about the world is its weight
what I love about saltires is their ire and their salt
what I hate about Kings Cross is its intersections
what I love about chickens is their coronation
what I hate about morning is repetition
what I love about Veronica is her proliferation
what I hate about Janus is his duplicity
what I love about the sprite is its effervescence
what I hate about tower blocks is their eyelid-batting
what I love about nostrils is their déjà vu
what I hate about candour is its putridness
what I love about closets are their ecosystems
what I hate about springs is their optimism
what I love about deviance is its recreation
what I hate about absence is its omnipresence
what I love about discretion is its sensibilities
what I hate about poetry is its abandon
what I love about headlines is their brevities
what I hate about the universe is its expansiveness
what I love about love is its inheritance
Afterword, London 2020
Afterwards the sun shone on the twelve ornate birdcages and the engraved tree stump. Afterwards the artists fell on lean times / some occupied rectangular rooms inside their rooms / at least one became a viral / sensation. Afterwards the daisies sought meaning while my two nephews observed from the window with a telescope. All of this was reported / in grainy images / all of this was archived by the specialists. None of this may be true. Afterwards we hoped for more afterwards and afterwards because the present was shadowed and shapeless and the past was a kingdom of reckoning. Afterwards my soap-wizened fingers forgot your cigarette and traversed the perimeters of your lips. Afterwards you mistook this gesture for silencing. (Perhaps this was because, for so long: we spoke of love and avoided its flesh / we removed the hairs from between our teeth and replaced it with song / we wiped down the evidence, wary of the sentences passed down from our own minds / we bundled it into laundry piles, believing it indecorous / we misplaced our duendes and mistranslated our appendages.) Afterwards we mourned the dead feathers before us. We, the scavenger birds, we, the butterflies, we, the ladybirds, we, the ducks, the queens. No others were present. No photographs were taken. All of this may be true. Afterwards our hearts craned, our lungs became lawless, we implored our forebearers, we foraged our windowsills and at last, having excavated the when and when, I ran alone through an empty car park in this sweltering city, and did not lament the gravel when it entered, and the lido was magnificent, the bare bones of it sucked dry of the peals of children, and the pilgrims atop the hill beckoned me up and up, and in my ascent was the unravelling of cathedrals and skyscrapers and the stone, the glass, the flashing red pimples said behold but there was nothing.
‘Now that we are out’ is a response to ‘Power of Things Not Declared’ interviews, and extracts from ‘Pieces of Me’ in Edwin Morgan: Inventions of Modernity.
‘Another View of Things’ is after ‘A View of Things’, in The Second Life
‘Afterword, London 2020’ is after ‘Afterwards’, in Selected Poems
Glasgow Green Redux After Edwin Morgan
All the love poems which I have published are gay. Edwin Morgan
I a wink within the black – who is that – green shadows – a wink then a whistle boiling over – a whispering inside the grass – who is that – and are cut-outs against the gloaming and cigarette- glows – a man alive and out way too late muttering to himself – not one of the meth-men but skinny slides into them and is gone and is into the laurel and who never really was himself anyway – who feels the lack of a shadow on this night – which is green and golden and is not delicate – we are on Flesher’s Haugh and I am with you Edwin – you cannot be a bystander in this poem – o longing longing we go into the swampish sedge II go sedge go bul rush go marr am go cat s tail go tim o thy go foxt ail go sweet v e r n a l go lym e go erect um go bur ree d go air g r ass go sweet f l a g go black g r ass go bulb o u s go cos g rove go tong u e go arth ur go ca la mus go scutch grass III a little neon leaks onto desire lines in this slick scutch – each footstep to darker green a rune spelling man – o vegetable language of hunter and sub – the game of making back alleys and clubs in the scrub – and it’s your game Edwin of complicating language to hide the simple truths – there are men ripe as berries in this damp patch addressing minor sensibilities with their tongue and on their knees – here a pronoun is swallow- ed – here even the shy are caught in the brambles – o such un- disruptive erotics on the O-level syllabus and o the black comedy of leaf in mouth – twig or bud caught in foreskin which is a kind of warm bud – we are returning to wild things – are watered – are seed – even the words are slipping down from their margins and onto their knees IV longing longing longing longing longing longing longing longing longing longing longing shall find its wine in you in me o I am alive to this harvest of limbs and words o in lon- ging I am crushed and love V cut the scene – are we fleshed out or here in voice only? lineated echoes sounding the scrub – our pink and grasping songs threading the undergrowth – piercing ears bodies – coloraturas of gasps and gulps – Edwin you watched them love and you watched them die – each man a thorn grown from seed – each man lit up with desire like an aura – green wreath of grasses displayed and lime vibrating – but did you touch – is Glasgow Green a black book or a fabulous and leafy fib? o Edwin I am losing sight of you – in-between the beds of married love – this pea soup of green and muscled limbs – physical moral thriving in shade for decades – a century green bleeds into the black and pools – what is overheard comes centre page – a pre- legal jubilation of crunkled leaves and
hushed Scots – so many half-trysts here in Glasgow-bowers but can poetry write re- ciprocity? can you pen a thorny love into being with subtle and green ink? VI D'ye thi nk I cam e he re jist fo r that ? I'm n o finish ed with yo u yet I' m gaun t o hav e youM ac if it t akes all nightturno ver you bast ard tur n ove r t urn o ve r I'll VII forgive me for this green intrusion – if poetry offered you un- obtrusively a kind of concealment then who am I to tear back the ivy veil – the wrestling under a bush may continue – and you did bud – at least partially – sticky frond formed for the informed and campish read- er to watch unfurl – and you were brave – this sowing into language such pure risk – and who am I to think I know my way around this Green – I am spun and spinning and knee- deep in saplings – livid apple blossoms – a discarded sachet of lube mossing over – does honesty shield you from loneliness? is disrupting language – this un- lacing of syntax – the truest of coming-outs – eruption of fabulous and ripe foliage – the wilderness – walk there – cruise it – reclaim it – o Edwin you are remoulding this sad square into such a wildness for us – green and seductively gnarled – in this light you are some kind of lovely dryad – your body all leafy and shifting leaves and green – and the light on those leaves bright – a shining kind of darkness – you are half – all – wilderness in the most concrete austere of peopled places VIII wilderness wilderness wilderness wilde ness wilde ness wilde ness wild ness wild ness wild ness wil ness wil ness wil ness il ness il ness il ness i ness i ness i ness ness ness ness o ness o ness o ness on ness on ness on ness on l ness on l ness on l ness lon l ness lon l ness lon l ness lonel ness lonel ness lonel ness loneliness loneliness loneliness IX but we are not loneliness – so many native palms green- ing out of the Glasgow dark – we chorale ourselves in the dark unlit spaces – o clammy moonless hour – swathes of green fog are shifting across the face of this city – a cough on a bench leads to a mouth of teeth – seed-like and flash- ing – something is being said – something is happening – ah the beauty of a mouth which may be kissed and kissed into harvest – this is where I leave you Edwin – so green – so green – maybe not even a man anymore – breathing all this in and breathing all this out – my footsteps mould to mulch – the tissues sodden and roll – the stains rot down – it shall be served by loneliness no longer – a note sung on a blade – the grass whistles – o slippery and polyphallic anthem of Glasgow Green – o greenest call to arms – always and now – reclaim regain renew
Once there were lions
ONCE THERE WERE LIONS IN MILLIONS! NCE THERE WERE LIONS IN MILLIONS CE THERE WERE LIONS IN MILLION E THERE WERE LIONS IN MILLIO THERE WERE LIONS IN MILLI HERE WERE LIONS IN MILL ERE WERE LIONS IN MIL RE WERE LIONS IN MI E WERE LIONS IN M WERE LIONS IN ERE LIONS I RE LIONS E LION LIO I
Il Pleut sur EM (after Guillaume Apollinaire)
o w s n d d IL PLEUT h h o o r o sur EM y w i w h ? t b i h i b i s i i l f t’ s w e w s o h a s n i e t a e d t c c d e s f h t e r e i n s l h v t i o t a a a f n s t r g o e y EM s u s d t t l s d s a by i a o i rt f t w d e w e n e d r w i sl a h o st st o t i f o w c s pp m s h T i o i c i n v i n a m g e t g r e m e ? a e d t h g n o h o a t w e m i n e n r ! a w i i n n
Pick me clean
I have brought you to the Lion Gardens, Edwin, because I believe in you. I believe you are the hyena in your poem Hyena, you have loped all morning through the bush and have not eaten. Your purpose is to pick me clean. Before we get to that, I would like to talk about your heart, that thumping fist inside your chest that is twice the size of a lion’s. Look at these lions prowling their cages, swishing their black manes like gusts of wind on a prairie. They are the sons and daughters of royal lions. Haile Selassie held out chunks of goat to them in his little hands. Now their eyes are tearing us apart. But you can outrun them with your huge heart! I believe in the hugeness of your heart, Edwin. That is why I brought you here to Addis Ababa. I want to show you where my heart beats fast. Did you know the female has a pseudo penis? Everything about you is raffish, spotted, opportunist. The hunt is on from Glasgow Green to Ethiopia. We must hurry up and order coffee, chew some khat. How else shall the race be served? We are not far from the University. Students piled with spiky hair come here to eat and socialise. Love is in the air, prowling these lunchtime trees. The boy who takes our order spins and smiles. Shall we devour him? This poem is a way of eating. Yes, I like your song, but most of all I love that I believe in you. Your eyes so deep, they could be something overlooked, a clue, a crowd of fangs. Now I am ready for you. Come out of the shadows. Don’t give a fig if I am laughing. That’s a thing I often do when reading you. Even if you write a pseudo penis, I believe it – as you grip me, pick me clean.
I am i n love I am wh o l e a who l e ow a n o o ow s! L E O rs! wers! m a n ho ov er i n ho l es R! ho ve l s am o i love l o w oves flow m a lion love low n o! n o O! a flower a lion lov er O! O! R!! I am a lion a love r who lowers I am a lion who loves I am I am lion who I am a lion who loves flowers
There were never mangoes… like the ones that morning, orange, squidgy black and bursting from their skins on Micky Leland Road, a stall where fruits like us were all a little rotten and the fruiterer a twinkly boy looked straight into my eyes to take our coins because he understood us like no-one else in Addis Ababa… even Abate Mokria, campest dramatist I ever met, enquired, why are you both so old and not yet married? or when Hirut whose poems start Women of the World, unite! says sweetly: what exactly is the business that you partners run? so we stroll mango-happy back up to our hotel room dilating in the altitude but really just anticipating and collapse ridiculously sticky on our prim twin beds, sunshine hot upon us like a blanket and I kiss your mouth your chin your chest thinking of all Ethiopians who wander arm in arm with other men and love them in their way and some of them who love them our way too but secretly would give up more than mangoes yes, life itself! to go on walking hand in hand with you around the edges of a thousand beds while thunder rumbles in the distance like a lion clearing his throat and being Japanese you cry out I’m going! I’m going! just as the storm breaks over Addis and everything is washed spotlessly, religiously clean except the cum all over my stomach