My local library is the one in the basement of Glasgow’s GOMA, and it is well used, but government need only the slightest excuse to try and shut such institutions down, and of course it is in the areas that need the resources most that you can find the libraries which are in the most immediate danger. The American historian Barbera Tuch said “Nothing sickens me more than the closed door of a library”. We’ll be a poorer nation if those doors close for good.
I was blown down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile the other day and sought refuge from the wild weather in The Scottish Poetry Library which can be found just off the Mile, at 5 Crichton’s Close, the opening to which is just across from Cannongate Kirk. I ended up having a lovely afternoon catching up with old friends and making new ones. I grabbed a few collections from Robin Robertson, Ron Butlin, Dilys Rose, John Buchanan and Angus Calder and settled down. If you’ve never been to the library then you’re missing out. It has everything you could wish to find with regard to poetry. You can visit their excellent website by going to www.spl.org.uk .
But the most fascinating collection that they have is the Edwin Morgan archive which is as exhaustive as it is wonderful. You can browse it online by clicking this link www.edwinmorgan.spl.org.uk and I urge you to do so. Here you can virtually view a lovely selection of poems and essays collected and edited by Robyn Marsack and Hamish Whyte and which was put together to celebrate Morgan’s 90th birthday. Called simply Eddie @ 90, it has extra poignancy after his recent passing.
They say you can judge a person by the company they keep, and the people who have participated in this collection offer an insight into not only the high regard and love that there was for Morgan, but it is as heartening as it is unsurprising that those who stood up to praise him in this way are of such good repute. Amongst his fellow writers who have contributed are Liz Lochhead, Peter McCarey, Tom Leonard, Ron Butlin, Alasdair Gray, Alan Spence, Seamus Heaney and Bernard MacLaverty. But there are also members of that toughest of audiences, the academics and literary critics such as Alan Riach, Robert Crawford, Gerry Carruthers, Willy Maley, Margery Palmer McCulloch, Gavin Wallace and Douglas Gifford, and then there are contributions from a wide range of admirers, from sports journalist Kevin McCarra to actor Gerda Stevenson. These are all people at the pinnacle of their professions, yet there is a fan-like feel to this book. As if everyone involved not only wanted to profess their feelings for Edwin Morgan, but wanted him to notice their adoration. I’d point you in the direction of Ali Smith’s contribution (p85 in the online version) and that of John Maley (p55). Both of these poems capture the essence of Morgan’s poetry; that of a love for life.
There are three primary reasons that I fell in love with books as young as I did. The first was a father who was happy to read to his young son before I really understood what he was saying, secondly was the Puffin Book Club at school, which I hope still exists, and the last was my local library. It was a great place to visit and I was often badgering to return even when I hadn’t finished the last load of books checked out. I just loved to be around the books and enjoyed the church like silence of the building (even at a young age I knew where I preferred to be. I could read what I liked in the library, the church had only the one book on offer, and I already knew how it ended).
It’s only too typical that the library of my youth has been replaced by a block of flats. Libraries are under dire threat and their disappearance can only impoverish our communities and the people who live there. Today they are often the only places where some people can use computers, use photocopying facilities, find foreign language material, discover local history and information, borrow music and DVDs, and, yes, even read and borrow books. Tomorrow (Sat 5 Feb) is a Save Our Libraries day of action. It is a day which deserves support, and you can find all about it by going to www.voicesforthelibrary. As far as I know the only organised day in Scotland is at the Scottish Parliament building at 11am (just round the corner from The Scottish Poetry Library. You can kill a couple of birds with one stone), but if you can’t make that why not go along to your local library and pay it a visit, particularly if you haven’t done so for a while. You might find you like it.