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The Concrete World of Edwin Morgan

Although we can’t open the doors as planned on our exhibition The Concrete World of Edwin Morgan, we are continuing our collaboration with the Edwin Morgan Trust to ensure that one of the UK’s most inventive poets of the 20th century is given the attention he deserves in his centenary year.

Morgan came out when he was 70 and his poems have been an influence on subsequent generations of LGBT+ poets.  To celebrate this, we have commissioned four contemporary poets to respond to Morgan’s concrete poetry and his work and life. These new commissions will be available on the Edwin Morgan Trust in June to mark Pride Month.

The Concrete World of Edwin Morgan 2020

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Edwin Morgan

Edwin Morgan was an incredibly prolific poet, which meant that there were many possibilities for what our exhibition on his work might look like. A focus on sci-fi? His scrapbooks? Translation? After much thinking, we decided to focus on Morgan’s concrete poetry and his contribution to the international concrete poetry movement, which took place between the 1950s and 1970s. This decision was aided by the extensive collection of concrete poetry we have at the National Poetry Library, as well as support from the Scottish Poetry Library in offering loans of other items, including Morgan’s own typewriter.

Edwin Morgan was a unique contributor to the international concrete poetry movement. Despite the undoubted inventiveness of the movement, Morgan brought humour to what was often seen as a cool and objective genre. In addition to his concrete poetry, Morgan also excelled as a poet in more traditional – or ‘syntactic’ (as he called it) – forms, as well as translating verse poetry from around the world. All of this allowed him to make a unique contribution to concrete poetry.

It could easily be argued that if it wasn’t for Morgan, concrete poetry would not have exploded in the UK in the way it did. Morgan read a letter in the TLS in 1962, written by Portugese poet E.M. de Melo e Castro which talked of the ‘important movement of poesia concreta, which originated in Brazil and is now reaching Portugal’. Ever curious to new waves in poetry, Morgan wrote to Melo e Castro, who responded with an anthology of Brazilian concrete poetry. Morgan then wrote to the major Brazilian concrete poet Augusto de Campos, as well as sending the anthology of concrete poetry to Scottish poet and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay. Thanks to these endeavours, Brazilian concrete poetry began to flourish in the UK, first of all through Morgan’s translations of de Campos, and through Finlay, who established his magazine Poor. Old. Tired. Horse

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Morgan would go on to further extend these international links, writing concrete poetry in Hungarian and having his work published by the Swiss-Bolivian ‘father’ of concrete, Eugen Gomringer. Morgan connected Glasgow, Scotland and the wider UK with the international movement.

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Morgan had a real interest in the first developments of computer-generated poetry which led to him writing ‘Computer’s First Christmas Card’ in 1965. This was typical of his concrete poetry which often explores the repercussion of programming errors on a poem’s form. We are really excited to have commissioned artist, composer and producer Nick Murray to create new digital animations of Morgan’s computer poems, giving them a new life in the age of the internet, apps and social media. The Edwin Morgan Trust will be sharing Nick’s new work with you on Wednesday 27 May.

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When the library reopens, The Concrete World of Edwin Morgan will celebrate Morgan as a connector of concrete poets, a communicator of concrete poetry and a questioner of what the genre was doing (and could do). If this sounds like he was something of a statesman for the genre, his own creative work shows a very different picture: here is a poet easily able to lose himself in the joy of creation, delighting in wordplay, invention and imagination. One of his most popular poems, ‘The Loch Ness Monster’s Song’ can be seen to have his inventiveness as a concrete poet at its heart, through stripping language back to phonemes, exploring broken communication and moving – just as the movement did itself – into sound.

Edwin Morgan’s outlook is one the world needs now more than ever. His work was hugely inventive but he never forgot the reader at the other end of the poem. ‘Experiment if you like’, he wrote in his introduction to the 1961 Sovpoems, ‘but love the world’.

The Edwin Morgan Trust will share Nick Murray’s new digital animations on Wednesday 27 May, and new poetry commissions from Chris Beckett, Caroline Bergvall, Keith Jarrett and Richard Scott at the end of June.

The Edwin Morgan Trust are organising a year-long celebration of Edwin Morgan to mark his centenary.

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