Edwin (George) Morgan Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Edwin (George) Morgan 1920–

Scottish poet, essayist, and translator.

Morgan's poetry is characterized by broad experimentation with language, form, and subject matter. He often borrows the rhythms of Scots verse and sometimes writes in the vernacular. Also prominent in his poetry is the unconventional usage of typography and phonetics. Concerned with the visual impact of his work, Morgan has written concrete poems, found poems, and poems partially typeset by computer, while his interest in sound has resulted in the use of music, dialogue, and repetition. One critic has referred to Morgan's work as a "Joycean romp through language." Morgan's subjects are diverse; he has written love sonnets, science fiction fantasies, and poems about social problems. Underlying most of his work is his belief in the improvability of humankind and his reverence for ordinary life. Morgan has been compared to the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid for his wit and his socialist political attitudes.

Morgan's first major collection of poems, The Second Life (1968), received praise for its direct and simple language. These poems build meaning through the compilation of concrete images written in a free verse style similar to that of Walt Whitman. A later work, Instamatic Poems (1972), attempts to capture events objectively. In these poems Morgan uses newspaper stories and other reported incidents as sources for his subject matter. The collection was considered innovative but linguistically unsuccessful. In his next major volume, From Glasgow to Saturn (1973), Morgan combines themes by including his previously published Glasgow Sonnets (1972) together with concrete poems and poems concerning space travel. Some critics concluded that Morgan's experiments with different styles and themes contributed to the unevenness of the collection.

The New Divan (1977) was Morgan's next important collection. The title poem is based on the poetry of the fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafiz; the volume also includes experimental wordplay poems, science fiction poems, and love lyrics. With The New Divan, most critics accepted Morgan's broad poetic spectrum as an attempt at universality and agreed that his concrete and wordplay poems had transcended mere cleverness.

The publication of Morgan's retrospective Poems of Thirty Years (1982) has brought new attention to his career. Though his variety and his use of unconventional techniques are sometimes dismissed as eclectic and trendy, Morgan is considered by many critics among the more daring and imaginative of contemporary poets.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 3; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 27.)