from the late 1940s until 1980. From the many thousands of letters in these Edwin Morgan Papers (papers which also include manuscript drafts of poems and translations, his own and others’ artwork pasted into striking scrapbooks, libretti and screenplays, essays, reviews, scripts, lectures and travel diaries), it is possible to trace a poet’s response to, and active shaping of, a manifold life.
As editors we have attempted to map both that life and an age. In sequence the letters help recreate Morgan’s intellectual biography, documenting his eager engagement with artistic movements such as constructivism, American and Scottish modernism, sound and concrete poetry, poetry in translation, gay and avant-garde writing – and with the writers and critics involved in these. We begin in the late 1940s, but focus mainly on the last six decades of his life, from 1950 to 2010. He had burned personal letters when leaving to serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1940. He survived to return home, and appeared thereafter determined to keep a full record of whatever life presented to him. Th us personal and professional details emerge, with the charm and wit evident to all who met him.
Born in 1920, he tended to see his own long career turning quite radically with each decade – as it had suddenly changed from undergraduate studies to war service, and then from the narrow deprivation of 1950s Scotland to his ‘second life’ of cultural and emotional awakening in the 1960s, and again onwards into the darker 1970s, and so on. His letters refl ect these changing contexts. We have followed his preference for a decade’s-eye view in presenting the letters here.
Th ere are constants throughout, of course. A central theme is his desire to extend Scottish culture through engagement with literature from other times and places – with avant-garde American writing, with international currents of sound and concrete poetry from São Paulo to Vienna, and with Eastern European poetry in translation, notably from Russia and Hungary. His correspondence reveals an increasing involvement with poetic theatre in the 1980s and 1990s, and other ensemble work in jazz and orchestral music. His love of science and cinema was life-long.
Amidst commissions and deadlines, his customary correspondence with artists, fi lm-makers, composers, editors,
2 the midnight letterbox