Every so often, a collection of poems comes along which warrants closing the door, leaving emails unread and the phone unanswered to read it from cover to cover. Book of Lives is one such book. As Scotland's Makar, it's pretty much expected that anything written by Edwin Morgan will be impressive, but this collection 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 brings to life 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.
If you like poetry but without the convoluted, unnecessary flowery verse, then this book is a great introduction to Edwin Morgan. Edwin Morgan is a poet who does not try to entrap you into feeling inadequate on your knowledge of Grecian mythology, or that your vocabulary is brutishly simple. This book has some great poems which, although not necessarily complicated, are clever and thoughtful, without being pseudo-philosophical. Poems like 'Gorgo and Beau' are thought-provoking, whereas 'My First Octopus' is purely for a chuckle. This is a wonderful book and a great way to introduce somebody to poetry who is not particularly keen.
Sadly passed three years ago - this surprised me as it seemed more recent - this collection reflects familiar concerns from global politics to Scotland as home. One of the genuine innovators, these are mainly longer narrative poems and they do command/demand attention in their reading. There's tenderness and humour and pride, this latter as in the opening poem about the opening [!] of the new Scottish parliament building, but also great anger as in the powerful poem 'The War On The War On Terror'. And I still have much to explore with this volume.