A sum of £20,000 is awarded biennially for the best unpublished collection of poems by a Scottish poet aged 30 or under. The runner-up receives £2,500 and other shortlisted poets £1,000.
Edwin Morgan was a poet of inventive forms and many voices – a writer of the unexpected. Here are two more surprises. Firstly, he actually made money from poetry. This took much effort and ingenuity, as well as an extraordinary talent. Secondly, and far-sightedly, he gave it all away.
The donation of nearly one million pounds to the Scottish National Party in Morgan’s will made headline news after his death in 2010. What rather got lost in the political fuss was his further bequest of an equal amount for Scottish poets of the generations to come. The two great commitments of his life, concern for the future of his country and for its poetry, were treated with equal generosity. All of this money was earned through his teaching, his many publications and poetry prizes, combined with careful stewardship of stocks and shares inherited from his family, who were Glasgow industrialists.
This bequest now funds the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award. Why the focus on young poets? Well, Morgan always preferred to look forward not back. To the end of his life he maintained an optimistic view of human progress, a desire for a radical and better future. He would recognise new talent, and support it. Younger writers always found him generous with time and advice. Their names are now well known: Liz Lochhead, Alasdair Gray, Tom Leonard, Ron Butlin, Jackie Kay, Alan Spence and many more.
The Edwin Morgan Poetry Award now supports a new wave of Scottish poets in practical and positive ways. The quality of work emerging through the Award is ample proof that Morgan’s faith in Scottish poetry was justified. The prize money provides welcome recognition, and the opportunity to travel and to write. Through anonymous presentation of new work, unexpected voices come to the fore, surprising and delightful in their turn. Morgan would have liked that.
James McGonigal, friend of Edwin Morgan and biographer, 2019.