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Hamish’s stories Wednesday, 20 January 2010

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I don’t literally carry poems round with me (though there was a time – late teens, early twenties – when I took Robert Graves’s The White Goddess everywhere), but there are poems, or lines from poems, which have inhabited my head for years. They’re there for a variety of reasons: Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’ for its virtuosity and tone; William Carlos Williams’s red wheelbarrow for its simple saying so much; Emily Dickinson’s ‘There is no frigate like a book’ for its slogan; Edwin Morgan’s ‘The Apple’s Song’ for its dizzy voice; Auden’s ‘Look, Stranger’ for its sound; Catullus’s ‘odi et amo’ for its telling truth about love and Sappho’s ‘phainetai moi…’ for the accurate delineation of the physiology and psychology of being in love; and my favourite line of poetry, ‘The silly buckets on the deck’, from Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, for – I don’t know – its ineffability? They’re all touchstones.

Hamish Whyte is a poet, publisher and former librarian and bibliographer. He has worked extensively with the Scottish Poetry Library, not least on granting them the acquisition of his Edwin Morgan Archive.

BIOGRAPHY – EDWIN MORGAN Wednesday, 6 January 2010

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Born Glasgow in April 1920, Morgan has lived in Glasgow all his life, except for service with the RAMC in the Middle East during the Second World War, and his poetry is grounded in the city. He retired from Glasgow University as titular Professor of English in 1980, serving as Glasgow’s first Poet Laureate 1999-2002.

Endlessly curious, open-minded and humane, Morgan has experimented with the language of machines as well as translating brilliantly from a variety of European languages. He has translated plays into Scots, and written a trilogy on the life of Jesus, AD.

In 2004 Edwin Morgan was appointed ‘Scots Makar’, in effect Scotland’s poet laureate. He was the first to hold this post, created to recognise the achievement of Scottish poets throughout the centuries.

Find out more about Edwin Morgan through the Scottish Poetry Library’s Poets A-Z.

Steve’s stories Wednesday, 25 November 2009

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As an English teacher I carry a hundred poems with me. On most days there is a piece of poetry in my head – not in an “Auntie Wordsworth” type of way as John Osborne once put it but in a much more demanding and dynamic way. They are there whether we want them to be or not!  English teachers tend to have their favourites poems that they cosset, dress up and pull out of a drawer to show and I’m no different.

Jack Pretsky’s “The Ghoul” made a group of thirteen year olds actually recoil with horror. (The boys asked me to read it again!) Numerous John Hegley poems have made them laugh and I remember a stunned silence when I read Edwin Morgan’s “Stobhill” to a group of seniors. All these poems and others and the impact of their reading on others is something I carry with me.

On a more prosaic level  there is a line from a poem, by a little known poet called Isaac Ewan, that has been with me since I was a teenager, “Be kind in this cruel world, be kind.” As twee as that might sound I have found that as I’ve got older kindness is a very powerful thing. The fact that he was a stretcher bearer in World War One gives that line a certain poignant resonance for me.

Steve teaches English Literature at Holyrood High School

Chris’s story: The Computer’s First Christmas Card Wednesday, 25 November 2009

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I am forever indebted to my Advanced Higher English teacher, Steve Munro, for introducing me to Edwin Morgan and my favourite poem, ‘The Computer’s First Christmas Card’, which set me down the messy path of writing poems. It takes what is often a terrible setting for poems – prompting the flowery contemplation of snowflakes, blah blah – and actually makes it worthwhile. It’s funny, nonsensical, an experience to read out loud, and even looks wonderful on the page. It also appeals to my geeky computer side and is remarkable for being written in 1968 when computers were in their infancy. If ever I feel like I’m losing track with writing, this uncompromising and unapologetic poem tends to sort it out.

Chris is part of the editorial team of Read This Magazine and his chapbook, “You Old Soak” is available from Read This Press.

Claire’s story: ‘When you go’ by Edwin Morgan Wednesday, 25 November 2009

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I first came across Edwin Morgan when I studied the Stobhill series in about second year of high school. I really liked the flimsy Xeroxed poems I was given, so I dug some more Morgan out of the school library. This particular poem struck a chord with me even at the tender age of 13! I loved all his work, but it stood out from all the rest.

When I first discovered the poem, I loved its simplicity — at the time I was being forced to analyse literature to within an inch of its life in class, and I liked the fact that this poem couldn’t be picked to bits, it was an open and shut case. I was always a poetry geek and I remember showing this to friends and saying ‘look, not all poetry sucks!’, with varying results…

Now, I’m more emotionally involved with the poem. It always, without fail, makes me cry when I read it… and every time it happens, I’m a bit shocked. I know it off by heart after all, but there’s something so terrible and so sweet about it that it always just blows me away. I don’t know any other poem that has quite the same effect.

Claire is a poet, lecturer in English and Communications at Telford College, and a blogger. Her website is a fantastic resource for emerging poets: http://www.readthismagazine.co.uk/onenightstanzas/