All entries for Friday 20 August 2010

August 20, 2010

Edwin Morgan 1920–2010.

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I was just writing up a few notes on the influence of Edwin Morgan on the poet Jen Hadfield, when I heard that Morgan died this week . Ben Myers writes of Morgan on The Guardian webiste:

Edwin Morgan was a singular voice in a country with a literary tradition rich in singular voices. He managed to be both an outsider and an academically respected writer who rose to be one of the best of his time; a defender of the underdog and the individual who was nationally lauded when, in 2004, he was elected the first Scots Makar, the Scottish Parliament’s equivalent of Poet Laureate. It was a position that formally recognised Morgan as the national treasure many had already long since viewed him as.

In memory, I post a poem by Morgan that has been a huge influence on Hadfield.*

A View of Things

what I love about dormice is their size
what I hate about rain is its sneer
what I love about Bratach Gorm is its unflappability
what I hate about scent is its smell
what I love about newspapers is their etaoin shrdl
what I hate about philosophy is its pursed lip
what I love about Rory is his old grouse
what I hate about Pam is her pinkie
what I love about semi-precious stones is their preciousness
what I hate about diamonds is their mink
what I love about poetry is its ion engine
what I hate about hogs is their setae
what I love about love is its porridge spoon
what I hate about hate is its eyes
what I love about hate is its salts
what I hate about love is its dog
what I love about Hank is his string vest
what I hate about the twins is their three gloves
what I love about Mabel is her teeter
what I hate about gooseberries is their look, feel, smell and taste
what I love about the world is its shape
what I hate about a gun is its lock stock and barrel
what I love about bacon-and-eggs is its predictability
what I hate about derelict buildings is their reluctance to disintegrate
what I love about a cloud is its unpredictability
what I hate about you, chum, is your china
what I love about many waters is their inability to quench love

Edwin Morgan (1920-2010)
  • References to ‘A View of Things’ crop up in quite a few of Hadfield’s poems. In Amanacs, Hadfield’s ‘Staple Island Swing’ quotes Morgan’s poem in the epigraph (‘What I hate about love is its dog’) and ‘Love’s Dog’ in Nigh-No-Place is riffing on Morgan too:

What I hate about love is its me me me
What I love about love is its Eat-me/ Drink-me

Jen Hadfield and the Inspiration of Place.

This week I have been working away at writing up a profile of the writer Jen Hadfield for the American publisher Scribners and Sons. I always find it useful to immerse myself in other poets’ work and I usually find that, by the time I reach the surface again, I have learned a great deal. When I was writing my PhD thesis, I devoted myself to the poems of Gwyneth Lewis , Pascale Petit and Deryn Rees-Jones, and I still notice their influence on my writing.

With Hadfield though, I am learning new lessons, particularly in terms of writing about place. Many of Hadfield’s poems devote themselves entirely to reconstituting sense experiences in words. The reviewer Stephen Burt suggested that Hadfield’s aim is to produce sensibilia, sense experiences that are usually beyond the human mind. The detail of Hadfield’s poems is astounding and intimate. It presents us with familiar things in an unfamiliar manner. So a flinching hedgehog becomes a flinching kidney in a frying pan, an image that suggests too the vulnerability of animals in human worlds.

Hadfield lives on the Shetland Isles (specifically West Burra), and in interview, she has talked about how the isolation of the place is nourishing. She enjoys the loneliness, but also the dangers from wind and weather, which remind her of her own mortality every day. This experience of weather is quite unusual in Britain (though the snows last winter gave many people an insight into how Britain would cope with extreme weather: not very well!).

Extreme weather is an everyday feature of the USA. Driving across the States this summer, I encountered incredible heat in the desert; long, winding roads alongside sheer drops in the Rockies; and on the way home in the Mid-West a tornado. Living in Pennsylvania, the winter is intimidating too, the snow snapping power lines, blocking roads, drifting up to stop windows and doors. As Hadfield suggests, however, there is something awe-inspiring about seeing this weather at work: an experience is that both humbling and invigorating. This isn’t an especially new insight, but, having lived in the UK for most of my life, the capricious and indomitable weather in the US has come as a wonderful surprise.


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