Edwin (George) Morgan John Lucas - Essay

John Lucas

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Poems of Thirty Years] brings together a vast amount of original work remarkable for its variety and skill. The skill is sometimes frittered away on sound and concrete poems, which may be fun to write and to utter but are not much fun to read. There are also elegies which feel merely dutiful and love poems notable for their lack of any intense feeling at all; yet these failures do not greatly matter. Morgan's imagination is not much stirred by the purely personal, but against that is the fact that he is an exuberantly inventive poet. Poems of Thirty Years is thoroughly entertaining, because although you never know quite what will come next you know that sooner or later you will come upon a poem that takes hold.

This is particularly true of his handling of that most unpromising of genres, the science fiction poem. Most sci-fi poems are either dull or plain silly or both; and I suspect they are written by poets who, to adapt a remark by Schoenberg, are incapable of writing well in the key of C Major. Not Morgan's, however. His long sequence 'The New Divan' may owe something of its form to Lowell's Notebook, but its subject-matter is very different. A kind of space-traveller's diary of stopovers in odd nooks and moments of our world, it is sometimes a pre-Martian poem, sometimes impenetrably obscure, always surprising and often delighting by its imaginative jumps and turns. The same is true of 'Memories of Earth', which uses the gimmick of a space-traveller's record of various aspects of the history of our own century (including some of the worst) to imply serious moral and political judgements. These are less successfully, because less imaginatively, invoked in the 'Glasgow Sonnets'.

John Lucas, "Ignorant Eyes," in The New Statesman & Nation, Vol. 104, Nos. 2700 & 2701, December 17-24, 1982, p. 45.∗