Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Edwin Morgan: Scotland's finest remembered

Re-reading one of my favourite poems by the late Edwin Morgan a question occurred to me: why isn't he considered the 'national poet'? 

Quantifying the unquantifiable?

Ask any Scot who he or she considers the 'national poet' to be, the answer typically comes back in a blink - Burns. Now Burns has is place in the pantheon of the greats, agreed... but should he continue to play the role of 'national poet'? 
Such a controversial man in life, his legacy has become contorted by both unionist and independantist political agendas. Then of course there is the tourist-focused 'shortbread-tin' agenda. Academics may quibble over 'the real Burns', but naturally enough this isn't all that relevant. All that matters for many in awarding 'national poet' status is widespread mass opinion.  

Public perception is king. So, the 'shortbread-tin' Burns, or the politically contorted Burns is the quantified legacy. Thus I ask again, is this really suitable for the 'national poet'? It isn't as if there is a lack of more contemporary poets in this country; ones whose legacy hasn't been diluted so ruthlessly by the profit-seekers and politically driven. 

Edwin Morgan is surely a pre-eminent case in point

What we want & what we need

National poet is something vital for inspiring a generation of future talent. The person must have a poetic legacy both inspirational, meaningful but also contemporary.

Now I reckon that last point will prove my hardest sell, but lets stop and define what we mean by 'contemporary'. I am not meaning last weeks hit, or the latest fad among joe-public. 

Contemporary means 'of the same time'. And Morgan is 'of our time' speaking of the last 100 years of Scottish history, culture and kaleidoscopic changes. 

Morgan poetry gives voice to the lgbt struggle in Scotland both before and after legalisation. His legacy traces the growth, development and advance of the greatest civil advance in our last 100 year history! Not merely this, but his work has a truly global audience and reach. Instrumental during the latter half of the cold war of translating Hungarian and other eastern European literature into English; he promoted understanding across borders. An internationalist, artist, and fantastic poet his global contribution is summed up in his poet laureates (both of them), Glasgow & Makar. 

Providing a talent and skill with Scots, English and even Gaelic (not to mention Hungarian!) his verses illustrate the 60s bohemian hopes; and the 'white heat' of Keynesian central planning versus anti-establishment youth. His work catches the 'split of the left' when 'class consciousness' gives way to 'identity consciousness' as women, gay and minorities began pushing for equal rights. 

His work is more than a snapshot of the greatest changes in our Scots society in the last hundred years; he actively champions them. Illustrating often painful personal weaknesses, he gives voice to all the century of changes which has produced our modern Scotland. A nation more assertive, self confident than ever before.

This is the man whose poetry stood testament to the opening of our Holyrood parliament! In his own words:

"We give you our consent to govern, don’t pocket it and ride away.
We give you our deepest dearest wish to govern well, don’t say we
have no mandate to be so bold.
We give you this great building, don’t let your work and hope be other than great 
when you enter and begin.
So now begin. Open the doors and begin." -Open the Doors, Morgan

Edwin Morgan is my national poet for Scotland, and he ought to be yours too.

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