As Scotland's makar Edwin Morgan turns 90, the literary world salutes an indomitable genius
• Edwin Morgan's verse is still fresh as he celebrates his 90th birthday.
ON TUESDAY this week, Edwin Morgan will turn 90. He means many things to a great many people: mercurial, indomitable, shamanistic, a boundary breaker, generous, a genius, Scottish and international, ageless. So here's to Eddie, Scotland's makar, 'the capo di capo', the grandest of grand old men, in advance of his day.
A L Kennedy: writer
Edwin Morgan has always been an example of how to truly be a writer, the real thing – how to be generous with time and words and actions, how to keep a young and agile and enquiring imagination, how to be kind and human and a good person, how to communicate with heart. I saw Edwin read when I was a schoolgirl, never thinking that I would write. My first boyfriend (who was not a good boyfriend) read me Edwin's love poems over the phone (they were very good love poems) and one of the very first readings I gave myself was alongside Edwin and it made me proud and terrified to the soles of my shoes. He's a great man and a great treasure and all good things to him always.
Hamish Whyte: Edwin's editor, publisher and friend
One of the things I like about Eddie's poetry is the restless energy it can exhibit – constantly investigating new areas, trying different voices, experimenting with new forms, in a relentless exploration of what it is to be human – and even beyond human. ('nothing is not giving messages' he says). He's indomitable in his work and as a person.
Robyn Marsack: director of the Scottish Poetry Library
How marvellous it is for Scotland to have as its national poet a writer so open, adventurous, curious, encouraging, energetic, humane. All the things Edwin wishes for the country's politicians, in their new building, he has been in his work, with the vital added component of immense linguistic gifts, and a spirit of playfulness that works against the Calvinist bent he also understands. There are single poems I treasure, as many readers do, but it's the whole work (including the latest volume) that I'd like to salute, the magnificent, life-long devotion to the art of poetry.
Hayden Murphy: journalist and friend
We embrace; geographically distant, emotionally entwined; as he goes into his 90s and I for one (among the many I'm sure) know that Yes, yes, yes, he "is the man" of words, of fidelities to same, of knowledge that the imperative is we share the same with all the passion and craft that he himself has made his art. In his generosity we privileged to know him also know he is ageless; a Blake Innocent among us.
Janice Galloway: writer
The first words I read of Eddie's were the Loch Ness Monster's Song. I was a music student at the time and discovered a poem that didn't need any to be a song. Mr Morgan is a kind of shaman, making sense out of nonsense and clearer sense out of that which begins as rational. His use of noise – a music – in words is something I cherish.
Andrew Greig: writer
I have a photo here on the window ledge of my writing shed. Taken in the last year he lived in Whittingehame Court, at the end of a meal. The table is crowded: plates, bottles, glasses. We – Iain Banks, Ken McLeod, Ron Butlin and myself – have eaten too much, drunk too much. Eddie has been on sparkling form; freed of the caution of his earlier years, he has been hilarious, hungry for news and gossip, witty, profound, informative. We are all looking, slightly glassy-eyed, towards the camera, toasting the moment. He is about to say "Have you boys ever tried absinthe? No? I have a bottle here, and I think we should try some."
That's Eddie Morgan, who has never ceased to explore and offer something new. He delighted in the ritual – the spoon, the sugar, the eye-blinking foulness of the stuff. Its full effects hit us only at Queen Street station, where, hallucinating slightly, we got ourselves ejected from the bar. All the way back to Edinburgh we raved about him, the writer and the man, a delight, an inspiration, utterly deserving of our homage and gratitude.
Ken Macleod: writer
Every memory I have of him is a fond memory: reading his poems in the Penguin Modern Poets (Bold, Braithwaite, Morgan), amazed to find a respected poet who wrote about space and computers, Glasgow and love; seeing him at the foot of a steep lecture theatre enacting his concrete poems, reckless of life and limb as he leaped about; several afternoons at his flat with other writers, at one of which we (well, mainly I) got drunk, and the following morning he faxed us a funny (and technically deft) poem about what he'd heard had happened to us on the way home. And seeing him quite unexpectedly a year or two ago at a reading in his honour, small and spry in his chair, and being quite overcome with affection for the man. Here's to him.
Gerry Cambridge, founder of Dark Horse magazine
What I most like about Eddie's poetry is its tykish optimism and energy. Almost a quarter of a century ago, coming out of the Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine under a brilliant full moon with other (then) young men and with Eddie, someone mentioned the beauty of the moon. Eddie, in that curious Protean voice: "Has anyone seen An American Werewolf in London? My fangs are growing longer by the minute."
Don Paterson: poet
Eddie is less a poet than a whole literature – he's the Scottish Pessoa, and one poetic personality was never going to be enough to contain such a planetary imagination. For that reason, he's easily the most broadly influential Scottish poet we're ever likely to see: every poet under the age of 70 has learnt from at least one Eddie. For me, it's the Eddie who wrote poems like the transcendentally moving From The Video Box, which starts as an hilarious skit about a guy in the final of an international jigsaw competition and slowly turns into a magnificent Zen prayer; what more can you ask of a poem than that it provokes two different kinds of weeping? It's also been a great gift to Scotland that Eddie seems to have suffered from what zoologists call 'negligible senescence' – his work so full of play and energy, it's always felt as if it was written in the full bloom of youth, as if he'd never known anything else.
Sheenagh Pugh: poet
Edwin Morgan is still writing and fast approaching 90? Hmm. Is there, anywhere, a writer living who is so eclectic, so universally erudite, so evidently not his purported age? If you read a new poem of his now, you could easily think it was by a man of 20 or 30, so fresh is his vision still and so unencumbered with habit or prejudice.... no, he can't be 90. That's just a rumour. Happy 30th, Mr Morgan.v
Dreams and Other Nightmares New and Uncollected Poems 1954 – 2009 is published by Mariscat Press.
• This article was first published in Scotland On Sunday, April 25, 2010