Edwin (George) Morgan Alan Young - Essay

Alan Young

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Edwin Morgan is a Scottish poet who has achieved original and interesting results by employing experimental methods which dislocate conventional poetic vocabulary and syntax…. At a technical level, however, Morgan is also rooted firmly in traditional modes of writing. His poetry ranges, therefore, from original work in English and Scots (including translation from several European languages) to linguistic games of chance, many of which are certainly more anarchically neo-modernist than anything by [Ian Hamilton] Finlay. (p. 118)

As the title indicates, the poems of [From Glasgow to Saturn] include both local, sometimes most moving, social commentary and space-age science-fiction narratives and episodes. There are traditional English and Scots poems, including an effective sequence of ten 'Glasgow sonnets', and 'Stobhill', a set of five strongly ironic but ultimately compassionate monologues revealing a dramatic gift which Morgan has developed only rarely. His exploration of effects which can be achieved through gradual shifts of sound and meaning produces several delightful poems for performance, including a sci-fi black comedy 'The First Men on Mercury' and the sequence 'Interferences'. But some of Morgan's experiments fail to ignite, it seems to me, because he sets up games with rules which are too mechanical and limited in potential linguistic outcomes ever to achieve those effects of surprise and wonder for which he aims. The 'Computer' poems in From Glasgow to Saturn fail to recapture the humour of Morgan's earlier 'The Computer's first Christmas card'. On the other hand, 'The Loch Ness Monster's Song'—a dada-style phonic poem—does come over well in performance by the poet…. (pp. 119-20)

The same criticism may be levelled at most of the experimental poems in The New Divan (1977). There is something tedious and predictably dull about poems such as 'Space Sonnet & Polyfilla', 'Lévi-Strauss at the Lie-detector', and 'Wittgenstein on Egdon Heath'…. [These] particular experiments [are] mere games, duller by far than ludo. (pp. 120-21)

Alan Young, "Three 'Neo-Moderns': Ian Hamilton Finlay, Edwin Morgan, Christopher Middleton," in British Poetry Since 1970: A Critical Survey, edited by Peter Jones and Michael Schmidt, Persea Books, Inc., 1980, pp. 112-24.∗