CHAPTER THREE Full Flourish: Major Collections of the 1960s and 1970s
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40 CHAPTER THREE Full Flourish: Major Collections of the 1960s and 1970s David Kinloch A tree struck by lightning offers the image of an energised universe standing on its head. As Edwin Morgan writes in ‘Three Trees’, first published in his 1977 collection The New Divan: My roots burrow in rainclouds. I grow down to earth at midnight. I am the negative of a tree. […] Roots up twigs down’s the power. […] I can’t make it a world of chance but what I can, I do.1 This queerly inverted tree finds its unlikely neighbour in a ‘water-skiers tree’ and a new creature, an ‘impacted windscreen tree’: a tree of porphyry in hair-fine crystalline divisions showing the saved man at the wheel his shivering substance. As John Ashbery had exclaimed some years earlier in his poem ‘Some Trees’, These are amazing: each Joining a neighbour, as though speech Were a still performance.2 41 All these trees are in relation and remind one – as Reginald Shepherd has noted with regard to Ashbery – of a Baudelairean universe where ‘perfumes, sounds and colours correspond’.3 But Nature in that late Romantic poem echoes in such a way that its individual constituents seem to merge in a ‘unity’, however dark and unfathomable. And there Morgan and Ashbery part company with the inspirational French poet, the emphasis placed firmly on images which transform the trees into networks or constellations that communicate unusual and fragmented ways of being in the world. As Gilles Deleuze writes in his introduction to A Thousand Plateaus: We’re tired of trees. We should stop believing in trees, roots, and radicles. They’ve made us suffer too much. All of arborescent culture is founded on them, from biology to linguistics. Nothing is beautiful or loving or political aside from underground stems and aerial roots, adventitious growths and rhizomes.4 Morgan’s ‘lightning tree’, with its ‘aerial roots’, behaves with a voracity more akin to that of a weed, of ‘couchgrass’ (Deleuze, 9): skeletal quickeners briefest if bravest, a fuse of spirits of fear lit over fields. (CP, 349) ‘Many people have a tree growing in their heads,’ says Deleuze, ‘but the brain itself is much more a grass than a tree’ (Deleuze, 15). ‘Three Trees’, then, while it is also a version of Morgan’s frequent use of the monologue to give inhuman entities a human voice, is a further clarification of the aesthetic that receives its most sophisticated and extended expression in the long poem ‘The New Divan’ (CP, 295–329). This makes the title of the collection in which both poems appear. This chapter’s approach, therefore, will be to attempt to make sense of the ‘full flourish’ of Morgan’s activity over the three major collections of the 1960s and 1970s by looking at the earlier books, The Second Life (CP, 145–202) and From Glasgow to Saturn (CP, 233–94), through the prism of The New Divan’s (CP, 295–382) achievements. In the process, it will also visit and map the ‘constellations’ of poetry that rhyme through these books, turning them into a deliberately loose confederation: concrete poetry, love poetry, epic poetry, Glasgow poetry and science fiction poetry. major collections of the 1960s and 1970s 42 david kinloch * Morgan was not a writer of manifestos per se – although his introductions to some of his collections of translations sometimes read in this way. But his manifesto does exist: disguised, modest in tone, almost an apologetic explanation for the ways in which his collections do not work. In response to a question about the links between the ‘various aspects of his writing’ in an interview with Robin Hamilton in 1971, Morgan commented: I don’t think that I personally do see those links … I’ve always tended to do quite different things, and I don’t try very hard to see whether they all come from the same thing or are all to some extent related.5 Four years later, in response to Marshall Walker’s attempt to establish a relationship between Morgan’s realist Glasgow poetry and the science fiction poems in From Glasgow to Saturn he remarked (NNGM, 54): Looking back I think the more imaginative side of it came first and getting down to the local part of the environment came later. There has been an attempt, perhaps, to bring the two together but it may be that I don’t try to bring things together in that particular kind of...