Sydney Graham was a Scottish poet, usually referred to as Sydney by Edwin Morgan, but more commonly known as W S Graham (1918-1986). On the 95th anniversary of Graham’s birth we bring you the first in a series of blogs highlighting some of the gems from MS Morgan D – Correspondence: Named individuals
In Beyond the Last dragon McGonigal notes:
W.S. Graham had left school at fourteen to take up an apprenticeship as an engineering draughtsman in his Clydeside home of Greenock. He had followed up on his interests in art and literature through evening classes at the University, however, and was introduced to EM through a mutual friend…. This led to a strong friendship between the two poets, and they sustained a correspondence across many years in which their lives diverged. Graham seemed ‘a dashing, good-looking person then’, as well as being poetically gifted, and they provided each other with engaged and careful responses to the verse they were writing. [p60]
W S Graham was often associated with Dylan Thomas and the post-war 1940s neo-romantic group of poets. During the 1940s he published his first collection of poetry Cage without Grievance (1942), which was followed by The Seven Journeys (1944), 2ND Poems (1945), and The Voyages of Alfred Wallis (1948) [MS Morgan DG/10].
Graham moved from his adopted home of Cornwall to the hub of the Bohemian London literary scene in 1948. Here he came into contact with T S Eliot, the then editor of Faber and Faber, who went on to publish The White Threshold in 1949. This was reportedly Graham’s first important book, while the ‘poems still reflected Thomas’s influence… Graham’s own voice emerged, as well.’
While MS Morgan is a large collection of personal papers (extent: 20 m), EM himself has significantly helped when it came to cataloguing the archive. He was clearly an organised person and the order he imposed upon his papers, which is fairly comprehensive and logical, has allowed us to capture that arrangement and maintain, to some extent at least, the collections original order.
MS Morgan D – Correspondence: Named individuals is primarily correspondence with, or about, named individuals. Morgan arranged most of this correspondence into named files. The evidence of the original folders suggests that these files were added to over time and that some were referred to again and again. Initially, bundles of correspondence with different individuals would be stored together in one folder, with the names of the correspondents written on the outside. If correspondence with a particular individual became extensive, it would be allocated its own dedicated folder and that individual’s name would be scored out on the original folder. If a correspondent died, EM would draw an upside down cross beside their name on the outside of the folder and sometimes record their life dates.
The early correspondence, which dates from the 1930s and 40s, all have unique folders, crafted by EM himself. A number from this period also have handwritten notes on the front stating: ‘earlier letters either lost or destroyed’. McGonigal notes: ‘In preparation for a war from which he might not return, EM burned personal letters…’ [p62] However MS Morgan DG/10: Sydney Graham has a longer note:
MS Morgan DG/10: Sydney Graham contains 22 items in total and has a date span of 1938-1981, with the vast majority dating from the 1940s & 1950s. These are primarily letters from [William] Sydney Graham to EM, with one copy of a letter from EM dated 26 December 1969. A number of the letters contain either manuscript or typescript poems, and/or extracts from poems, including: a typescript version of ‘To My Mother’ signed and dated ‘WGS 6-6-48’, which is annotated with a note to EM, that includes Graham’s temporary address in New York; and a typescript copy of ‘Sonnet’,
‘As brilliance fell I girded me with voice…’
annotated with a brief letter and dated ’25-10-48’. There are also postcards, telephone messages, and a copy of W S Graham’s publication ‘the voyages of alfred wallis’.
Correspondence files from the 1940s and 1950s usually only contain incoming letters to Morgan. This correspondence is ordered chronologically and often individual letters have been numbered in red ink by EM. When this numbering is not sequential it suggests that there has been some weeding of the correspondence. Letters sent from EM to Sydney have been found in MS Morgan T – Correspondence: Miscellaneous, and further exploration of this series, will undoubtedly throw more light on the collection’s arrangement as a whole.
For further information on the correspondence between EM and W S Graham please see ‘Triple-distilled: Edwin Morgan’s Epistolary Spirit’ by James McGonigal PN Review 213, Volume 40 Number 1, September – October 2013.
James McGonigal Beyond the Last Dragon: A Life of Edwin Morgan (Sandstone Press Ltd, 2010)
Categories: Special Collections