Edwin (George) Morgan Anne Cluysenaar - Essay

Anne Cluysenaar

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Perhaps because pity is the predominant sentiment of Glasgow Sonnets, as I read them, run a close second by indignation, the poor of that city appear as if at a distance, much as Larkin observed Whitsun weddings though the animating sentiments are so different, so sympathetic. Life in the run-down area of Glasgow is characterized (in sociologically relevant terms) rather than described. One is more moved, ultimately, by the poet's attitudes than by his subject. Which is to say that the sonnets fail by what is, I am sure, their own standard. The privileged outsider's eye turns realities into props.

Under the darkness of a twisted pram a cat's eyes glitter. Glittering stars press between the silent chimney-cowls …

These images are selected for aesthetic effect. As the same poem laments, there is no substitute for the deliverer who has never risen 'from these stone tombs to get the hell they made / unmade' and whose eye would be accurate in a different sense. Similarly, the sonnet-form seems unadaptable to this subject-matter, bringing with it an 'artist's humour'—and Morgan handles the form in a relatively conventional way, if one compares his structures with Keats' experiments with the genre. Another aspect of the problem is brought out by the absence of the abstracter facts of poverty, as of the daily indignities of social interrelationship (Department of Health and Social Security, rent collector, local shop), which prose reporting and television are so well-adapted to handle in a moving way…. Poetry has very great problems in standing up to such competition, and Glasgow Sonnets has not solved them, though it may help others to. (pp. 70-1)

Anne Cluysenaar, in a review of "Glasgow Sonnets," in Stand, Vol. 14, No. 3 (1973), pp. 70-3.