Poetry in the Age of Morgan
In the perennial absence of money, poetic prestige is largely a matter of praise, prizes and professorship, plaudits denied to many who deserve them. By these ‘market’ criteria the pre-eminent Scottish poets amongst those born since the mid-1950s are easy to identify, most of the prominenti having had their work validated in each of the customary ways. Increases in cultural self-confidence and constitutional power notwithstanding, publication in England continues to confer kudos. A sceptic surveying the scene and seeing these successful poets publishing, puffing, promoting and awarding each other prizes might be tempted to look askance at the actual poetry produced. By far the greater part of it, however, would easily survive such scrutiny. Its quality has ensured that the influence of these much-admired writers is felt far beyond Scotland. The attention nowadays paid to contemporary poetry means that in mid-career, these poets born between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s are not just incipiently canonical but already established in school lesson plan and university lecture room, again not merely in their native land. This is extraordinary. But extraordinary too is the strength in depth beyond any possible hyped, self-sustaining élite grouping: not seven but seventy, and then some, with a poetry infrastructure that has helped create, support and further this poetic ‘population explosion’.
The point is to try to think outside the canonical ‘box’. Yet, if a painter following Sandy Moffat’s Poets Pub did attempt a significant grouping from the generation and a half whose emergence coincided with the later period of Edwin Morgan’s (1920–) work, then the unreliable indicators posited above might suggest a short list of, say, Don Paterson (1963–), Carol Ann Duffy (1955–), John Burnside (1955–), Jackie Kay (1961–), Mick Imlah (1956– 2009), Robin Robertson (1955–), W. N. Herbert (1961–), Robert Crawford (1959–), Kate Clanchy (1965–) and Kathleen Jamie (1962–). Only four of these (comparatively) high profile poets live in Scotland and each of the quartet teaches creative writing at the university of St Andrews – Paterson, Burnside, Crawford and Jamie, internationally renowned writers who have been away and returned. Douglas Dunn (1942–), a great poet and esteemed