The Edwin Morgan Papers: cataloguing the poems

Edwin Morgan in 1940. (MS Morgan Scrapbook 11)

Edwin Morgan in 1940. (MS Morgan Scrapbook 11)

You’ll see from previous Edwin Morgan posts that we’ve been working through the poet’s unique and extensive collection of papers held in Special Collections. To mark the third anniversary of his death (19 August 2010) the online description has been updated with a more detailed break-down of the contents; look out for further information which will be put online over the next few weeks.
Morgan was meticulous in his filing. This is especially evident in the sequences of personal and professional correspondence, drafts of poems and translations, and the papers relating to his speaking and writing engagements, spanning many decades. As far as possible, we have retained his system of arrangement.

James McGonigal notes in his biography of EM how the earliest manuscripts of his poems (written as a teenager in the 1930s) are neatly handwritten ‘on to the blank back pages of unused stamp albums…’ (Beyond The Last Dragon, 2012, p54) EM also kept typewritten copies of his poems in a separate sequence of files and it’s interesting that the first volume of these is a ‘Movaleaf Illustrated Stamp Album’, inscribed by EM as his ‘Poembook’.


Blank stamp album sheet. On the reverse, EM has written ‘The Pond’ (1936).

Although the early manuscripts are neat and tidy, the contents of these files are primarily true ‘drafts’, containing plenty of crossings out, amendments and annotations for researchers to mull over. Most can be compared with the published versions which mainly appeared in collections by Carcanet and Mariscat, and are available in our Scottish Poetry collection. One of EM’s best known and popular poems is ‘The Loch Ness Monster’s Song’, written in July 1969 and published in From Glasgow to Saturn (1973). The manuscript draft shows that even playful, imagined language was carefully crafted.


Draft, 1969, later published as ‘The Loch Ness Monster’s Song’.


Draft of ‘Mutation’, a Colour Poem, 1969

Other interesting finds include a pencil draft of one of EM’s ‘Colour Poems’ accompanied by scribbles in different pens and a note at the bottom:
black is black
other words in various colours’
This is the draft for ‘Mutation’, one of 5 poems printed at Glasgow Print Studio and published by the Third Eye Centre in 1978. The published version we hold is currently highlighted in our online exhibition, 50 Treasures of Special Collections.

Alongside the main cataloguing work, undertaken by Sam Maddra, we recently ran a short project to complete the listing of the manuscript poems. We are grateful to the Friends of the Library for funding the cataloguing of over 500 poems, written between December 1980 and 2003. Thanks are also due to Nick Anderson, who worked on this project and had the sometimes tricky task of deciphering first lines, which did not always match published ones, or for which no published version could be found.


Opening line of an untitled poem, 1981.

Works from this period include poems written by EM after he was appointed Glasgow’s Poet Laureate in 1999, many of which were published in his 2002 collection, Cathures. I moved to Glasgow in that year and one of my first memories is of hearing EM read some of these new poems one evening at the Art School. Very taken by EM’s energy and dark humour in, among others, ‘Burke and Hare’, I subsequently queued up in Borders bookshop to exchange a word and get a signed copy. A decade later, it’s a pleasure to be taking care of EM’s papers and making this wonderful collection accessible.

An afterthought: at the launch of the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award yesterday, a writer remarked on the long gestation period which may occur between an idea and the writing of a poem. On 26 June 1985, EM wrote ‘Cantus Interruptus’, with the sub-title ‘A poem which would have been written in November 1972 if the writer had not had to take a seminar’.  His former students at the University of Glasgow who have spoken of his positive influence as lecturer and tutor, would no doubt understand the momentary distraction of a writer constantly alert to the whole world around him.

All images from Edwin Morgan’s papers appear courtesy of the Edwin Morgan Trust (SCIO).

Categories: Special Collections

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1 reply


  1. The Edwin Morgan Papers: Squaring the Circle | University of Glasgow Library

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