Edwin Morgan (4 stars)

A Book of Lives (Carcanet)


Every so often, a collection of poems comes along which warrants closing the door, leaving emails unopened and the phone unanswered to read it from cover to cover. A Book of Lives is one such publication. As Scotland’s Makar, it’s pretty much expected that anything written by Edwin Morgan will be impressive, but this set is far more than that. Tremendous in scope, it rampages through the bloodshed and battlefield of Bannockburn; drifts with delight through ‘the blue glow of starlight lapislazuliing the dust-grains’ of the big bang; flies alongside Sputnik; laughs at the poet squatting over a hole-in-the-ground train toilet; manages to make the Scottish Parliament splendid; and listens in on a conversation in Palestine.

Sorrowful, playful, teasing, funny and yearning, ‘Love and a Life’, with its startling tales of the everyday, is the most moving. Then, from the short and sweet ‘Valentine Weather’ to the monumentally tragic ‘Twin Towers’, Morgan’s lives can almost be heard breathing as he captures their tales. Rimbaud lies in agony, longing for Verlaine while ‘poetry burned in him like radium’; Darwin is delighted by finches in the Galapagos; the citizens of Leningrad starve in the siege; Morgan is overjoyed at the removal of scaffolding outside his flat; Boethius waits for death in prison; a cancerous cell and a normal cell, Gorgo and Beau, converse; and an old woman delights in Drambuie and a duet on her 94th birthday. I recommend you shut the door on your own world and immerse yourself in his.

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