Monday, November 26, 2007

A Book of Lives

I pour the amber
of a poem over it.

"1955, A Recollection"


No matter how beautiful that image is, it may imply a poetry that is static and reminiscent—and that is not at all what the poems in Edwin Morgan's A Book of Lives are. A long sequence called "Planet Wave," beginning with "In the Beginning (20 Billion BC)" and concluding with "On the Way to Barnard's Star (2300 AD)" bursts into splendid moments over and over again:

The earth dreams like a dog in a basket,
twitching, it likes to show it is alive.

"The Lisbon Earthquake (1755 AD)"

And look, a finch on the back of a tortoise
as if it had been listening
lifts its beak and begins a singing
so piercing it gives no end to that beginning.

"Darwin in the Galapagos (1835 AD)"

When Hendrix plucked, it was the mane of a lion.

"Woodstock (1969 AD)" [which concludes with a stunning poetic evocation of the fracturings of Hendrix's version of "The Star Spangled Banner"]


Long sequences seem to be where Morgan really comes into his own. "Gorgo and Beau" is a dialogue between two cells, one cancerous and one normal. Morgan gives the cruel "Gorgo" the stronger voice (à la Paradise Lost):

"Nothing is more boring than a well-made body."

Beau, the normal cell, is less biting but still beautiful:

"Each one of us is a world, and when its light goes out
It is right to mourn."

"Love and a Life" is a sequence of thirty-odd poems with a striking form: seven lines, the first four and the last relatively long (and varying in length), the fifth and sixth shorter, with an AAAABBA rhyme scheme. It works powerfully, and with enough variety to carry one through the whole sequence, which involves often extremely explicit recollections of (mostly?) gay love affairs. The most striking involves a man who talks Scots and does not want to leave his wife:

"'Ah love ma wife an ma weans. Ah don't go aroon thinkin aboot you day an night.
Ah wahnt tae come in yir mooth, an see thee teeth a yours—see they don't bite!
Ah like ye right enough, but aw that lovey-dovey stuff is pure shite."


Marion McCready said...

This book's definitely on my Christmas list!

Andrew Shields said...

Hmm, I can't put it on mine, since I have it already. Perhaps Morgan's Collected?

Marion McCready said...

I have his 'selected poems' published by Carcanet which is a wonderful collection.

swiss said...

it's funny coming across people reading morgan outside of scotland. why should that be i wonder? i was neverinto him when i was younger but like him more as i get older and can't think of a better choice for makar

that said i'm more of a norman macaig person, both then and now, and even though the above post had me up the stairs looking for some morgan to read i automatically picked up my macaig as well

so if you're replete with morgan in your poetry collection and you've lacking maccaig i recommend his collected poems which features, at least in the hardback version, a nice cd of him reading. listening to it, a bit like listening to morgan reading, is like listening to a scotland that's just not long vanished, that's just out of reach

i'd listen to ivor cutler first tho...