In this 1989 interview in the Off the Page series, the poet Edwin Morgan (born 1920) discusses his literary career and influences with Donny O’Rourke.
Morgan was born in Hyndland, in Glasgow’s west end, before the family moved to Pollokshields on the south side, then Rutherglen. His schooling was at Rutherglen Academy followed by Glasgow High School. He wrote “quite a bit” of poetry at school, starting when aged 11 or 12.
Then came Glasgow University, followed by service in Egypt, Palestine and Lebanon with the medical corps during world war two. He didn’t write at all during the war, “I tried, but wasn’t able to”, and believes it might have been easier to write had he been in a combatant unit, as were his fellow poets Hamish Henderson and Sorley MacLean.
Morgan also found writing hard after the war, and didn’t make his breakthrough until The Second Life, published in 1968. He believes that Glaswegians are too sentimental about their city and “the old tenement life”, and his From Glasgow to Saturn (1973) included poems about both the city and space exploration. He “liked the idea that the two things could be brought together in some kind of way”.
He taught at Glasgow University from 1947 until 1980; “I quite liked the idea of a regular job, it seemed to suit me temperamentally to have that."
Morgan began collecting cuttings for scrapbooks in 1931 and carried on until 1966. The scrapbooks contained “things that had caught my eye and had struck me in some kind of way”, and might have been a “surrogate activity” for writing poetry as they stopped just as his poetry started to achieve success.
He wishes he had felt able to write about his sexuality earlier than he did (in 1990), “but it just seemed impossible at that time, just because of the nature of the public attitude towards such things and the fact that my own upbringing had been so inhibiting”.