Our October #HoldHandsAmongTheAtoms video release is a conversation between Christopher Whyte, poet, novelist and translator and Michael Shaw, Lecturer in Scottish Literature, University of Stirling. Reflecting on the interviews published as ‘Power from things not declared’ in 1990 (in Nothing Not Giving Messages), Christopher Whyte discusses his conversations with Morgan in 1988 and the influence Morgan had on his own work. The resulting exchange between Michael and Christopher spans across generations, and reflects on queerness, Glasgow and poetry with Edwin Morgan as a central figure. Edwin Morgan Trust Chair and poet, David Kinloch, introduces the video below.
“Imagine a man who, as he grows up, discovers within himself great imaginative power allied to a very high degree of linguistic dexterity. And he senses how closely these gifts are connected to the patterns and instincts of his sexual desire. Indeed, the imbrication of talent and desire is scarcely to be disentangled, the one drawing much of its power to communicate from the other. Now imagine that the society that has done so much via its education system to nurture those talents, that imagination, has simultaneously and perversely sought to sabotage the expression of those gifts and the conduct of that life. This is the situation many individuals have found themselves in across the globe for centuries. It has been a folly and a personal tragedy for many. In many areas of the world it still is. Also, sometimes, it has been a queer opportunity or challenge which the ingenuity and determination of the artist has turned to advantage, although often it has not felt like that at the time.
This lively, warm and enjoyable conversation between Christopher Whyte and Michael Shaw revisits the peculiar mixture of pain, excitement and challenge that was Edwin Morgan’s daily reality. It centres on Christopher Whyte’s 1988 interview with the poet (published in the compendium of articles and interviews, Nothing Not Giving Messages, edited by Hamish Whyte) which was the first to make Morgan’s sexuality and its inscription in his poetry the explicit focus of discussion. Published by Polygon as Morgan turned 70 in 1990 it is sometimes described as the interview in which Morgan ‘came out’ as gay. This, of course, was a process of discovery and revelation that had been in view —for those who cared to see— since at least the late 1960s, an intimate and moving drama that actually forms part of the autobiographical climax of his long poem ‘The New Divan’ published in 1977, a full three years before the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Scotland. But Whyte’s interview with Morgan was the first time the poet felt able and willing to talk not simply about the role of sexuality in his verse but about his life as a gay man growing up in Glasgow in the middle decades of the 20th century. Morgan’s sexual experience and identity are central to understanding much about his poetry and outlook on life so it is appropriate that this important interview should be the focus of one of the Centenary videos. It is valuable not simply for the insight it gives into Morgan’s personality and the nature of his poetry but for the way Shaw and Whyte are able to set the kinds of censorship Morgan experienced within the wider social and intellectual contexts of his own and earlier times. “David Kinloch, October 2020.