I had started to write about being in and around Edinburgh this week, the usual kind of ‘what I did on my holidays piece’, when I heard the news that Edwin Morgan had died. Morgan was the first Scottish poet, in fact the first poet, who meant something to me.
Like many Scots, I first encountered him in the classroom, and In The Snack Bar. Not many things from my schooldays have stayed with me, and certainly nothing to the extent of this poem. I only need to think about it and I’m transported back to that Snack Bar with all the accompanying sounds, smells and atmosphere. The plight of the blind man with his ‘dismal hump’ and face never seen, the voyeuristic nature of those watching, and those reading, and the uncomfortable relationship between young and old; between hope and despair. It takes some poem to stir the emotions of a 14 year old teenage boy who spent most of his time staring out the window, but here it was and Morgan had me hooked.
Over the years I have read his work with awe, from his early collections such as The Vision of Cathkin Braes, through the concrete poetry of the 60s, to his sonnets and the translations into Scots (his Cyrano de Bergerac is a particular favourite). Considering his published work spanned over 50 years the unrelenting quality is astonishing, and some of his best work was to be found in 2007’s A Book of Lives. But for all his variety and mastery over form and subject I think that where he was at his best was as writer of poetry concerning love, whether in, out, or in that limbo in between the two. Few have ever managed it better.
Consistently brilliant, intellectual and intimate, charming and challenging, humorous and humble. Edwin Morgan was all of these things and so much more. In tribute to him fellow poet and friend Liz Lochhead said that Morgan was ‘pro-life’, and I can’t think of a better summary of the man and his work. There are really only three poets that I look forward to their new material as I do with my favourite authors. One is Tom Leonard, another Don Patterson and the other died yesterday. The world is a less beautiful place today.