Suddenly remembered – just in time – that BBC Scotland was running a long-overdue programme on one of my favourite poets and fellow Glaswegian, Edwin Morgan. The Poet Laureate of the city of my birth has long been a favourite of mine and has to be the leading contender for Greatest Living Scots Poet ™. Many of his poems chronicle the changing face of the city over his long life; a history in verse. Some are gorgeous love poems, their true meaning often hidden because of the illegality of homosexuality. In fact Morgan didn’t come out until he was in his 70s. When he did he did it with a vengeance, crossing swords with Cardinal Winning and other bigoted fools who were outraged that the new Scottish parliament wanted to repeal the homophobic Clause 28 law (the same year Winning was a leading voice in calling for the ancient law banning Catholics form inheriting the throne to be repealed as a piece of archaic bigotry – can you spell ‘hypocrisy’ children?). Like Cyrano de Bergerac (who he famously made over into Scots) he took up his poet’s quills and used it to expose the bigotry, the poem covering God talking to his Cardinal and telling him this is exactly the sort of behaviour that will stop him getting into heaven.
Drawn to the romance, imagination and beauty of space exploration and SF Morgan often incorporates theses themes into his verse – rocket ships, Nessie, first landing on another world and his fabulous Planet Wave (written to go along with music by Jazz musician Tommy Smith) which has the narrator following the creation of the universe and the unfolding of planets, stars and life. I found it amusing when they showed photos of Morgan in the 60s that this SF-tinged bard looked then very much like Isaac Asimov. Now in his 80s and facing prostate cancer – something too many men face, including in my own family yet there are no regular tests for me as there are for women – Morgan remains free of bitterness and full of the same optimism that often glows within his work. In that respect he often reminds me of the grand old man of SF, Arthur C Clarke – both are well-educated men who have lived long lives, seen so much unfold and yet both men still showcase faith in the future in their work. I wonder if they read each other’s work? I passed on a copy of his later collection to Neil Gaiman at the last gig I had with him, thinking Neil would enjoy it (but then Neil will read anything) and as a little thank you for the several excellent gigs I’ve had with him and for his writing.
Morgan is a national treasure and as a fine bonus for me we had Alasdair Gray not only talking about him but reading some of his work. One of my favourite authors and one of the finest Scottish novelists reading the work of one of the finest Scots poets – perfect. If you’ve never read him, you need to. What’s life without poetry?