CHAPTER TWO Edwin Morgan’s Scrapbooks
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28 CHAPTER TWO Edwin Morgan’s Scrapbooks Dorothy McMillan One afternoon not very long ago I was looking at Edwin Morgan’s Scrapbook number nine.1 At page 1708 my eye caught writing that was familiar to me: it turned out to be on a postcard sent by Charles Salter to his colleague, in the English Literature Department, Edwin Morgan. Here it is: Dear Eddie (‘enchanted eddy’) It is a thankless task writing to you as the script will only have permanence if you reject the illustration, otherwise you will strip off the one to stick the other into your scrap book: in any case the emblematic effect of the genre of picture p.c – the turning over – is lost. I am being very unintellectual but it is such a relief one’s remarks being listened to with respect, this is largely because they are made in a language foreign to the other members of the party. I am writing this in the hut shown. Charles Salter Both men are, of course, illuminated by this card but a closer look reveals even more about Edwin Morgan’s characteristic methods in his Scrapbooks, methods which I suggest reveal and half conceal much about the essays and poems that he produced in the period up to The New Divan in 1977. Morgan ensured that his friend Charles Salter got it both ways. He contrived to split the postcard in two and pasted the picture on the page opposite with two lines drawn to link the corners of the asymmetrically placed half-cards across the volume opening, so that the house referred to in the postcard is clearly identifiable and one imagines Charles Salter in it writing the card. I find this delightful – funny, friendly, resourceful – but also indicative of a kind of need for 29 control, an intention to defeat constraints by a refusal to be limited by what seem to be obvious limits. Of course you cannot have both sides of a postcard at once – unless … This is, as Morgan writes below, ‘Sharp Scrapbook Practice’. In this way he circumvents the rules while refusing to ignore them. The postcard also raises questions about the intent of the Scrapbooks: Charles Salter must have seen them; indeed, the postcard suggests they were common knowledge among Morgan’s colleagues, or at least those who knew him more intimately. Elsewhere there both is and is not a kind of audience implied. Sometimes an audience is directly addressed but elsewhere the books are introverted, turned in on themselves, like their pages, hugging their secrets. Nevertheless, one has throughout a sense that one is being invited in perhaps to rediscover one’s own history as well as the history of the whole universe. I certainly encountered my own past in disconcerting ways. Page 3276 of Scrapbook Fifteen carries a story from the Sunday Mail about forty-nine students, a number ‘foreign’ or ‘coloured’, charged with breach of the peace after a party in Buccleuch Street, Glasgow, in 1961. I had a lucky escape, then, for it was the following year that I went to a boozy party in that flat. The same volume contains news of Yuri Gagarin, Kingsley Amis, a visit of visiting Russians to Tunnocks Bakery – ‘They make sputniks we are told but they cannot make caramel wafers’ – and the hanging of eighteen-yearold Francis ‘Flossie’ Forsyth, which I am ashamed to admit I had forgotten. In an interview with Donny O’Rourke in 1989 Edwin Morgan explains that the Scrapbooks contain ‘things that had caught my eye and had struck me in some kind of way’.2 At O’Rourke’s suggestion he agrees that the Scrapbooks might have been a ‘surrogate activity’ for writing poetry, since they stopped just before his poetry started to achieve success and wider readership with The Second Life in 1968. Morgan’s biographer, James McGonigal, provides indispensable information about the Scrapbooks as part of the digitisation project ongoing at Glasgow University Library.3 He stresses that Morgan regarded the Scrapbooks as part of his oeuvre and sought some kind of publication. Edwin Morgan was surely right to regard his Scrapbooks as works of art or a work of art, but the problems of reproduction may well prove insuperable. Only some kind of exhibition which enables the attenders to experience the physicality of the Scrapbooks can convey their special quality. For a start McGonigal’s commentaries on fourteen digitised page images (some of double openings) take about five thousand...


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