I felt churlish beginning to read Dreams and Other Nightmares
. These are new and previously unpublished poems from Edwin Morgan who recently turned 90 and boasts a formidable corpus of work. See, these are the first of Morgan's poems I have properly acquainted myself with and I indulged in doubts as to whether this was the most suitable entry portal for this most eminent and productive poet. But then, this is poetry and any poem found anywhere is a good place to start, certainly when they are Morgan's as this collection attests.Dreams and Other Nightmares
aerates some fine poems; by turns grave, garrulous, reflective, resonant and funny (in both senses). One of the bracing early poems in the book underscore some of these themes. ‘Heckler' sees Morgan called out on the accuracy of a date mentioned in a lecture on 17th and 18th century writers. Morgan:
How to move forward - had I got the date wrong after all?
My mind struggled for purchase, for room to manoeuvre.
And if one date was wrong, then possibly all.
This currency of doubt, memory's haze and revelation is accepted in many other poems. Perhaps most explicitly in ‘From a Nursing Home':
Have you started thinking about it?
- About what?
- What we mentioned before.
First and last things. Don't say you've forgotten.
Then reverberates in the next poem ‘Sappho and the Weight of Years':
And oh, the soul grows heavy with the body.
Complaining knee-joints crack at every move.
To think I danced delicate as a deer!
I especially enjoyed ‘Grafts', the sequence in which Morgan has taken a discarded phrase of a Michael Schmidt poem and from this springboard constructed his own full pieces. One of these, ‘Resistance' - which tells of a group of partisans in a safehouse waiting for a coded knock with dreadful consequences - is perhaps my favourite in the entire collection and another, ‘Skins' evinces Morgan's mastery of love missives:
Naked now, we have no salutation.
The bodies we don't know
don't know each other or themselves.
We introduce the stranger to the stranger.
Love gets more fraught, strained and nearly lost later on. ‘Amsterdam Revisited', ‘The Quarrel' and ‘Happiness' are satisfying evocations of the frictions and rapprochements of relationships. ‘The Quarrel':
but I found I was in tears
in silence, with my back to you,
hardly caring if you knew.
It is not all so ruminative, though. Take ‘Giving a Talk on Finlay in Reykjavik' which feels particularly topical and tonally wry:
Icelanders are not conservationists, they know how many
millions of minkes are waiting for them in the
And in ‘Pieces of Me' a short series of svelte place poems, Morgan's register is meditative, sure, but he does not let this swamp the humour and need to recount lucidly and directly.
Ultimately, it is hard to read Dreams and Other Nightmares and not feel some urgency: urgency to appreciate Morgan's mastery in his 90th year and urgency to delve further into his collections to discover more poems like the ones in this selection. Sharp, occasionally brittle but smacking of vitality and polished craft. You will certainly relish this book as I have; and I am a Morgan latecomer - with a lifetime to catch up on.