Edwin MorganThe inaugural Edwin Morgan Poetry Award with its £20,000 [$31,300] first prize was one of the highlights of this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival. After the Award, I polled some of those involved for their reaction to it.

Asked what she thought of how the Award had been put together, and its significance, Robyn Marsack, Director of the Scottish Poetry Library commented

The Award was specificed in Edwin Morgan’s will, so it has been run according to his wishes. He wanted to reward and encourage poets under 30. When we were running it at the Scottish poetry library, I was quite anxious, because with about ten days to go before the closing date, there were only about four entries in, and I was getting a bit nervous about that. Our poets do hold back, but they all came in in the last week, so we had 40 entries. I was very happy about that; a good standard.

We announced the shortlist so there’s a bit of a buzz when the finalists are announced. I was very pleased that the trustees were willing to also reward the shortlist as well as the main person. I know some people feel that you could have done a lot of good for six poets by giving them an equal share rather than giving one huge award, but they all got some, and some recognition. For the winner, it is the intention that it should make a real difference; not just a passing difference but a real difference.

Commenting on Edwin Morgan’s legacy, Marsack said:

One always sees after the death of a great poet, a dip a few years later. And I haven’t really felt that with Edwin. I think he is quite a presence, and the prize and the translation prize will continue that. And it’s absolutely in his spirit, because he was a huge encourager of other poets, and very generous with his time, and I think that all fits with the kind of person and poet that he was.

Noting that it was “pure coincidence” that the first Award fell in the Scottish independence referendum year, Marsack conceded that “Edwin would have been a Yes voter. You don’t have to worry about misrepresenting him by saying that.” And she added that the Award “takes part in a whole cultural confidence surge” thanks to the independence debate – but not a narrow and chauvinistic one. “The Edwin Morgan Award shows that. [On the shortlist] There’s an American woman there who’s been living here for a long time, there’s an Englishman whose mother was Scottish but has been living in London. We can feel more elastic about nationalism and what it means to be Scottish.”

Asked for her view on the significance of the Award, runner-up Claire Askew said:

I hope it’s going to be really significant, because I’m a big fan of how this Award has been put together. It was said in the ceremony by one of the judges that prizes should not just be about their winners, and too often all the media focus is on the one who wins. And they’d obviously worked hard this time to draw all the attention to the shortlist, and to all the poets in the shortlist, to make sure they all got support and encouragement and money that would help us all towards publication. And that is a really refreshing and nice way of doing things.

And as for her evaluation of Morgan himself, she said:

He’s a poet who has managed to do that amazing thing of being able to travel. If you go to the US and Europe, people know who he is, which is rare for a Scottish poet. People can quote whole poems of his by heart. He’s a poet who gets under people’s skin in a really good way. The judges for the shortlist were right in saying you could see his influence. Everybody tapped into him, but in their own way. It seems like the way he influenced everyone was completely different. He’s influenced an entire generation of writers. And he’s taught in schools across the UK, and he’s going to carry on being this wonderful influence. And he was such a nice bloke: this nice warm generous guy. This Award shows what a generous man he was.


The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail newteleread@gmail.com.