From a Web Journal
August 26th 2010
Edwin Morgan’s funeral today, with hundreds present. Tributes and readings of his poems by poets who were close friends including David Kinloch and Liz Lochhead, the latter whose reading of the great poem "Cinquevalli" was the most fitting valediction.
Different people will take from his large output different things. No synoptic summation attempted: just my own few words as they strike me today. To me he left his own epitaphs, almost cheekily (in the displaced manner of Carlos Williams’s “Danse Russe” to the power hundred) in that poem “Cinquevalli”, and in the poem about the jigsawmaker in the suite “Poems from the Video Box”—which suite has some of the poems I happen to admire, indeed delight in, most. His best poems seem to me to as light, brilliant and sometimes as zanily funny as some judgements on his output and “the position of poetry in Scotland” etc can seem overly if predictably lugubrious: flags planted on a cairn for empire builders to spend the rest of their lives adding critical chuckies of their own making; others, as always in the case of poetry, wanting to meld bonds between classroom, poetry and a pompous notion of state.
Pompous and lugubrious Edwin Morgan was not, and his best work will like all art that stubbornly remains alive, continue to evade the bearers of syringes of critical formaldehyde. He was a lifelong translator and reader of European contemporaries; this with none of that commonplace mark-out-of-ten fingerwagging about necessary “internationalism”—that Calvinistic small-country parochialism ever worrying, in one form or another, about “our” need to be understood and seen-to-have-dignity, by folk abroad; who by definition unlike us are “international”.
He was a self-challenger into “feats” of language and a lantern-slideshow man, with a few of the more wellmarketed slides having enough of sincere liberal-social moralising to be thought useful to the Scottish Education Department, whom god preserve. His work throughout was anti-Calvinist, absolutely materialist, resolutely in fact increasingly chirpy. He was anti-existential, like MacDiarmid impatient with what he saw as the ontological “fuss” of the likes of Kierkegaard, instead seeing proper action, and “courage” in the naming-of-all-things. His sense of fun and absurdity that could attack such naming from within could save it from such as MacDiarmid’s sometime insistently hectoring sense of his own colonising importance.
He was a brilliant reader of his own work, and I never saw him give a duff reading ever. His was the name that for years would first come to mind to myself and others when organising a poetry reading in Scotland. His voice won’t be heard any more in the flesh reading that work. It will remain in my own mind whenever any of his poetry is before my eyes.
[Tom Leonard’s outside the narrative (selected poems
1965-2009) won the poetry category in the 2010 Scottish Book of
the Year awards.
His Places of the Mind (Cape 1993) is the only modern biography of James Thomson (B.V.)
The web journal from which the entry for August 23rd 2010 is quoted runs at http://www.tomleonard.co.uk/blog.html]
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