My name is Andrés N Ordorica and I would like to introduce you to my project, “3 Poems after Edwin Morgan” which is the culmination of six month’s of deep-diving into Morgan’s poetry, visual archives, and personal history. This work gave birth to three film poems which speak to queerness, belonging, and immigration.
I first came across Edwin Morgan’s poem ‘Strawberries’ a little over three years ago. Morgan, although a prolific poet, was not taught during my undergraduate English degree in the United States. So, my indoctrination into Morgan, and subsequent reverence and adoration, came much later in life than those who may have grown up here.
I grew deeply fascinated with Morgan when I learned of his sexuality, and then as I read more and more of his poetry, and studied his scrapbooks, I found in him a kindred spirit.
In her introduction to Scotland: Selected Poems by Edwin Morgan, Liz Lochead says of Poets’ Pub, the painting by Alexander Moffat, “In this painting, Morgan isn’t part of the central group but off to the side, his gaze looking outward, elsewhere” (Edwin Morgan Twenties, Polygon, 2020). Having spent many an afternoon in front of that painting at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery this could not be a more accurate observation.
“…his gaze looking outward, elsewhere”
Throughout my six-month journey as part of Morgan’s Centenary, I sank further and further into this depiction of the great poet: an outsider, someone who made up his own language for the likes of Nessie, alien invaders, and Rameses II. A poet who wove queer love throughout his work and during a time when it was dangerous to do so. A poet more comfortable with letting his poems speak on his behalf.
Most of my life, I have never felt part of ‘the central group’ but often found safety ‘off to the side’ and in Morgan’s poetry and visual art, I can see what Lochead was getting at. Like me, Morgan did not seem someone who relished the limelight. This can be difficult in the poetry world which prizes performance, public engagement, and a fair bit of post-event schmoozing. But, I have often left a literary event in the guise of going to the loo, and instead escaping out the backdoor. Finding deep comfort in my solitude walking home via cobbled streets of the Royal Mile. Leaning into the refuge of my ability to survive in the margins – to be at peace alone.
Like Lochead asserts, Morgan was deeply outward looking. He loved Scotland, and adored Glasgow, but so many of his poems bring in other cultures and experiences, and move beyond life and the present. Think of Love and The Worlds, A Vanguard, or Pilate at Fortingall.
Ideas of nationhood (or lack thereof) and belonging colour most of my writing. I am the grandson of immigrants and an immigrant myself. Most of my life, I have been in search of ‘home’ and have long been grappling with the notion of belonging. Unsure if I’ll ever find the answer, a modern-day Sisyphus.
In my first poem, Amor, I aimed to capture my paternal grandparent’s version of México; the state of Jalisco where tequila is from. Tequila is made from the hardy agave plant and that idea of hardiness, and its similarities to the nopal which is represented on our national flag, was an entry point for this poem. Much of queer identity is about survival and finding ways to exist in a harsh world. Perhaps, my version of queerness lives somewhere between the blue agave and the nopal, trying to survive the arid land and harshest elements of nature.
My biggest aim for my Second Life project was to drill into the queerness of Morgan’s work and to find a home in how he wrote of love and loss, how he looked beyond the page, and beyond the Scottish landscape. Think of By The Fire, The Divide, or the sensuous One Cigarette.
Sometimes the hardest part of love is the hurt, the sadness, and anger you must shoulder when deeply loving someone else. How in your times of great loss, you must ask this other person to keep you going, to wake you up each day, wash you, to help you try and survive a little longer.
In my poem, Neroli Kiss, the speaker grapples with staying in the present moment. His mind goes ‘with the currents’ as he remembers when he first met his lover. As they sail down a fictional version of the Clyde, he wonders what would have been had they not met. As Morgan says in his poem, Absence, “Love is the most mysterious of the winds that blow” (2003).
In my last poem, I explore a memory with my husband atop Bennachie in Aberdeenshire. You could say that Aberdeen is my biggest anchor to Scotland, having married into a Scottish family many, many moons ago. A family who have passed on the Doric language, a heartiness to survive ‘dreich’ northeast winters, a love of ‘rowies’ and an appreciation for granite houses.
Morgan’s ‘Aberdeen Train’ was a conduit for this last poem. I have taken that very train ride from London to Aberdeen, and then Edinburgh to Aberdeen numerous times. It is one of my favourite train journeys in the world.
Rubbing a glistening circle
On the steamed-up window I framed
a pheasant in a field of mist.
-Aberdeen Train, Second Life (1968)
As I read it in its entirety, I realised that if my aim was to write my specific Scottishness into poetic legacy, then at least one of these poems had to be set in or near Aberdeen.
In my poem, the speaker is addressing his husband, but more directly, the idea of belonging which the speaker is trying to contend with when he says:
You looked upon the shire
and understood it to be yours
Every mile of every hill,
every crag woven into your DNA
had a memory of every coordinate,
and I longed for just some of it
There is a jealousy and urgency in the speaker’s voice, he desperately wants ‘to know a land like that’. As an outsider, I am unsure if I will ever get to know Scotland the way Morgan knew Scotland, or how someone like my husband knows Scotland, but I can try at least.
Some of us will spend our entire lives chasing belonging – toying with where we fit based on our family history, immigration status, or sexuality. But no matter the chase, I am grateful for possessing a compass like Edwin Morgan who has shown me the sheer possibilities of the poetic form. In poetry, I can choose to write my existence however it suits my understanding of this world.
My journey on this Second Life project has been immensely rewarding. I wrote about a dozen Morgan-inspired poems during my six-month long project, but more than productivity, I am grateful to have fallen in love with Morgan and his work. Through his legacy, he encouraged me to write truthfully and honestly. For that, I am forever indebted to him.
Thanks and acknowledgements
I would like to thank the Edwin Morgan Trust, Creative Scotland and the National Lottery for awarding me a Second Life grant. I would also like to thank Siân McIntyre for our numerous chats and guidance during this project.
I would like to thank Tao-Anas Le Thanh for bringing this project to life, without whom, none of this would have been possible (literally, I am a poet not a filmmaker).
Additionally, I would like to thank the University of Edinburgh and the family of Eric Lucey who made his films openly available through a CC-BY licence as part of the Archives at Centre for Research Collections. You can view more of Eric Lucey’s work by exploring the archives and navigating to the following links:
6131 Time Lapse of Sky, Flowers, Princes Street and Lothian Road by Eric Lucey (University of Edinburgh), CC-BY
6128 West End/ Princes Street Time Lapse by Eric Lucey (University of Edinburgh), CC-BY
6085 Kaleidoscope 2 by Eric Lucey (University of Edinburgh), CC-BY
6727 – Film of a flower by Eric Lucey (University of Edinburgh), CC-BY
6694 Light 3_ Portmore Ice Crystals by Eric Lucey (University of Edinburgh), CC-BY
Lastly, I would like to thank you for spending time with my poems and my musings. Feel free to share and reach out via Twitter. I’d love to know your favourite poem by Morgan and what it means to you.
I’ll start, By The Fire is a poem I could happily spend the rest of my life lost in. To write of love like Morgan did in this poem is a magical feat of human engineering.
About the writer
Andrés N Ordorica is an Edinburgh-based queer Latinx writer who creates characters who are from neither here nor there (ni de aquí, ni de allá).
About the filmmaker
Tao-Anas Le Thanh is a freelance video maker that does filming, editing and motion design.