Former Scots Makar Morgan’s centenary celebrated by trust and new publishing

Former Scots Makar Morgan’s centenary celebrated by trust and new publishing

April 2020 marks 100 years since the birth of renowned Scottish poet and translator Edwin Morgan, with several projects in the works to celebrate. Morgan published 25 collections of poetry, as well as writing plays and translating hundreds of poems. His poetry spanned genres and pushed the boundaries of the form, and he collaborated with musicians and visual artists. He received an OBE in 1982 and was made the first poet laureate of Glasgow in 1999, then Scots Makar in 2004, a post which he held until his death in 2010.

The Edwin Morgan Trust had planned a year-long events programme for the centenary, featuring collaborations with galleries, libraries, festivals and theatres across the country. Given the Covid-19 pandemic, it is re-imagining its physical programme to celebrate Morgan’s work online instead. Robyn Marsack, a friend of Morgan’s and the trustee leading the centenary festivities, said: “When Edwin turned 80, he wrote a poem about pushing the boat out into the unknown. ‘Unknown is best!’ he declared. I can’t guess what he would have thought about the pandemic, but I can be sure that his restless, dauntless imagination would have engaged with it.”

A new video channel bringing together diverse voices to celebrate the late writer’s work and life, Hold Hands Among the Atoms, will go live on what would have been his 100th birthday, Monday 27th April. It will launch  with a short film featuring contributions from Morgan’s friends, collaborators and fans, including Liz Lochhead, Alan Cumming, Damian Barr, Carol Ann Duffy, and Imtiaz Dharker, sharing their memories of Morgan and reading his work. A new video will be released on the 27th of every month until December, and video artists will create collages reflecting Morgan’s polyglot approach to artforms, starting with Glasgow-based Aideen Doran. 

The trust is also introducing an artist grant scheme, The Second Life, supported by Creative Scotland and the Saltire Society. This will provide funding for creatives from a variety of artforms to respond to Morgan’s work, giving it a “second life”. To encourage engagement from people across a range of backgrounds, the trust has created an advisory panel, which will nominate eight recipients to receive a £1,500 grant; eight £750 grants will be offered to respondents to an open call for submissions. Marsack explained: “We wanted to encourage artists to reach audiences through all the various media at their disposal in the way that Edwin, with his wide interests and curiosity, would have wished.”

Publishers are marking the centenary, with Birlinn publishing The Edwin Morgan Twenties series—five volumes containing 20 thematically selected poems, each introduced by a writer, including Ali Smith and Michael Rosen, available individually and as a box set—under its Polygon list. Scots Makar Jackie Kay is also introducing one of the collections. She described Morgan as “a great experimentalist and a pioneer [who] embraced all sorts of different forms and technology” and encouraged and influenced “a whole line of poets who followed on after him”.

The anniversary programme will draw to a close with a partnership with Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery, which opens its new space in February 2021. This will include exhibitions, performances and events celebrating the outcomes of the centenary programme.