Edwin (George) Morgan John Matthias - Essay

John Matthias

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Morgan's range is wide. Wide enough, in fact, to touch both of the antagonistic poles of Scottish poetry—Ian Hamilton Finlay and Hugh MacDiarmid—and an amazingly large number of points along the way between them. The trouble with being versatile and working in many forms is that readers (and especially critics) will want one thing or another, this sort of poem or that. Even though the possibility exists that a book manifesting widely divergent techniques can achieve a shape and identity as its parts combine to form a whole, this is not very often admitted, and poets who don't stick pretty much to one mode are likely to be abused for not doing so. All the more reason I should apologize for feeling that [From Glasgow to Saturn] doesn't manage to cohere. Morgan's propensity for trying to pull off strange virtuoso pieces is partly responsible for this. These tend to be overcharged with his admirable energy; they fuse out or explode. And I'm not persuaded by the science fiction poems, the computer assisted poems, or the poems written partially or wholly in made-up words or noises. But the excitement of a poet delighting in language and willing to play with it, and to take risks, is engaging even in poems which are seriously flawed. The book ends with a series of monologues having to do with a particularly grisly abortion, and with ten well made and moving sonnets about the Glasgow poor. There are probably five or six good poets in Edwin Morgan. But a fatal triple-headed muse—trivial, typographical, and trendy—has a few of them in thrall. (pp. 51-2)

John Matthias, "Travellers," in Poetry, Vol. CXXIV, No. 1, April, 1974, pp. 45-55.∗