A guest blog post by Annie McCoid, from the Memorialising Scottish Literature & Culture placement, working on MS Morgan G/11-12 in Archives and Special Collections
Archives & Special Collections at the University of Glasgow is home to a wide range of collections, including Morgan MS, the collection of Edwin Morgan’s papers. Edwin Morgan was the first Makar (poet laureate of Scotland) and one of the most influential Scottish writers of the last century. I was lucky enough to be able to work with the manuscripts as part of a placement project for my course in Scottish Literature at the University.
When up on the twelfth floor of the library in the ASC Reading Room, it’s hard not to have your eyes roam over the fantastic views of Glasgow. You can look out over the city and sure enough you are likely to find a crane at work, constructing a new part of this ever-changing landscape. Edwin Morgan himself wrote a piece for Glasgow University’s Handbook for Freshers students in 1985 describing the changes he’d seen in his lifetime living in the city. He writes about the ways in which Glasgow’s streets became less busy as the city expanded outwards. On the horizon, you can see the skyscrapers that communities were moved into during Morgan’s lifetime, and you can imagine how the city was once much smaller and the hills on the edge of the landscape were much closer.
In this same piece of writing – there is both a manuscript and a typescript of it at the collections – Edwin Morgan talks about how the street of his birth even changed its name from York Drive to Novar Drive. When I first read this I knew the name rang a bell and wondered where I had seen it before. It wasn’t until later that day, on my way to the local convenience store to buy some bread that I saw the street sign which read ‘Novar Drive’. It was then it really hit home to me how Edwin Morgan was not just a literary figure but also, in a sense, a neighbour and how so much of Glasgow holds traces of Morgan’s life. In fact, it was almost like he was giving me a walking tour of the city as I went through my project placement at Archives & Special Collections. Each week I would come into the reading room and in the following days would have stumbled across a place that Edwin had mentioned in his letters or manuscripts, such as the Third Eye Centre (now the Centre for Contemporary Arts) on Sauchiehall Street where there had been a book launch for Moira Burgess’s ‘The Glasgow Novel’ (for which Morgan had written the introduction). Looking at MS Morgan you become struck by how connected Edwin Morgan was to Glasgow, but also how Glasgow has been shaped by Morgan, who seems to have left indelible traces of his work and life all over town.
Edwin Morgan studied at the University of Glasgow and taught here from 1947, becoming a titular professor of English Literature in 1975. However, his work at the university was not confined to the lecture hall, he was frequently asked by student publications for advice for university students as wells as for his opinions and recollections of University of Glasgow life. In his piece with the punning title ‘Univers(iti)es’, Morgan talks about the purpose of universities, exploring the meaning of the word as a little universe as well as encouraging students to go sunset watching and write poetry about it. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how the poetical aspects of Morgan’s writings are rarely – if ever – absent. Between letters of correspondence and manuscript drafts, there are often little notes Morgan has written to himself in the collections that almost appear as little bursts of poetry peeking out and hiding where you might not expect them: in the moments of everyday life.
In addition, when engaging with MS Morgan, you get the sense that Morgan was a great force in encouraging other people, especially young people to write. Not only in his work with the university publications but also in the way he curates ideas such as a chapter on ‘list’ poems for secondary school students. In much of Edwin’s works I encountered on my placement, Edwin had made several drafts before sending off his finished work for publication; more often than not there was a manuscript and a typescript with careful amendments and notes annotated on each one. The level of attention to detail that Morgan had is apparent as soon as you encounter MS Morgan. Each file that I worked with had been organised and arranged by Morgan himself with special ideas in mind so that it felt like you could see his train of thought in the collections themselves. Indeed, as well as the evident fastidiousness that Morgan had there is also the impression of his incredible output and work ethic that he had. There is an abundance of essays, talks, and reviews; most of which are accompanied with correspondence and drafts that show how each of his works progressed from an idea into a finished piece of writing. It is almost hard to believe how Morgan had the time to become such a monumental poet on top of his writing outside of poetry and his work with the University of Glasgow. Sitting in Archives & Special Collections, reading MS Morgan and looking out across the landscape, it is easy to imagine Edwin Morgan as a real literary giant whose footprint can be found all throughout Glasgow.