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Saturday, 26 January 2008

If poetry was a team sport...

One of the unfortunate, perhaps inevitable, consequences of Burns Night and all that jazz is the distinct impression it can leave that Scottish poetry began and ended with Burns, whereas the exact opposite is the case. Indeed, if poetry was a team sport I would wager any odds that Scotland would win the U.K championship hands down, and for all I know the European and World titles also. They would certainly clean up where the youth trophies were concerned. Who should be the national coach, might form an interesting topic for debate, though my unhesitating choice would be Edwin Morgan, surely the doyen of poets north of the border. How appropriate then that The Guardian should today, the day following Burns Night, have made him the subject of its Life in Poetry. Excellent timing! Sarah Crown credits him with having helped "shape Scotland's postwar identity and a generation of writers," but concludes that "he will be best remembered for his guarded love poetry".

And that is not the end of it, for today thousands of Morgan's books, including fifteen thousand copies of From Saturn to Glasgow - Fifty Favourite Poems will be given away across Glasgow via libraries, schools and bookshops as the city honours its poet laureate and the Scots Makar (National Poet). Furthermore, the heritage Lottery Fund has chipped in with £50,000 to acquire and house his extensive archive. These honours follow the shortlisting of his book Book of Lives for the T.S.Eliot Prize, 2007.

Go to The Poetry Archive to listen to recordings of his poems or to Lt Scotland for a choice between reading and listening. At Glasgow Arts you can read Christopher Whyte's essay on Morgan's love poetry.

Here, though, is the text of Strawberries. Is this not one of the finest love poems ever, do you not think?


There were never strawberries
like the ones we had
that sultry afternoon
sitting on the step
of the open french window
facing each other
your knees held in mine
the blue plates in our laps
the strawberries glistening
in the hot sunlight
we dipped them in sugar
looking at each other
not hurrying the feast
for one to come
the empty plates
laid on the stone together
with the two forks crossed
and I bent towards you
sweet in that air

in my arms
abandoned like a child
from your eager mouth
the taste of strawberries
in my memory
lean back again
let me love you

let the sun beat
on our forgetfulness
one hour of all
the heat intense
and summer lightning
on the Kilpatrick hills

let the storm wash the plates

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