HE was one of Scotland’s literary giants, the country’s first Makar in modern times. Now Scottish poet Edwin Morgan is to be celebrated with a year-long programme full of art, song, writing and ideas that will pay tribute to his unique life and works during his centenary year.

Events to mark the legacy of Morgan, the celebrated Glasgow-born poet and translator who lived from 1920–2010, will mostly start from his birthday on April 27.

They include a major conference that month at Glasgow University, where he both studied and later taught. Exhibitions are planned at the National Library of Scotland and the Scottish Poetry Library, which both hold collections of his wide-ranging work, which covered the gamut of human emotion and was often infused with humour.

He published 25 collections of his own poetry, and translated hundreds of Russian, Hungarian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and German poems. Other work included plays, literary criticism, essays and journalism.

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Glasgow University Library also holds part of his prolific collection which includes letters from all the major poets of 20th-century Scotland, with carbon copies of his own side of the correspondence, photos, diaries, unpublished poems, scripts and more. At the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art (GOMA) a symposium to accompany its Domestic Bliss exhibition, which features a portrait of Edwin Morgan in his West End home by the late artist and writer Alasdair Gray, will be organised as part of centenary celebrations.

Morgan was gay and in a long-term, though not exclusive, relationship with John Scott – the man he described as the love of his life – from 1963 until they were estranged before Scott’s early death from cancer in 1978.

But despite haunting love poems – including One Cigarette and Strawberries – Morgan did not risk coming out until 1990, nine years after homosexuality was decriminalised. A special print, marking the anniversary of decriminalisation is also planned during his centenary year.

Glasgow’s Hunterian Art Gallery is also planning to mark the 100th year since his birth in the city, and the poet will take centre stage at both the city’s Aye Right book festival in February and Edinburgh’s International Book Festival in August.

At the Tron theatre a series of promenade performances, inspired by Edwin Morgan’s works, will be staged throughout the theatre space during Mayfesto. Groups of audiences will be led down corridors, into lift shafts, up stair wells, as well as into the theatre auditorium and back stage areas.

Also in May the Glasgow School of Art choir will perform Jay Capperauld’s choral work, the Unspoken – which takes its lyrics from the closing stanzas of Morgan’s poem of the same name – in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, which holds a bust of the poet.

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Other events as part of the programme are to be announced by the Edwin Morgan Trust later this year.

Sian McIntyre, of the Trust, said: “Edwin Morgan’s poetry and life will inspire a lively, multifaceted celebration that includes workshops, live music, readings, exhibitions, discussions and new creative responses. Throughout his life he pushed the boundaries of poetry, for example collaborating with musicians Idlewild and Tommy Smith and visual artists John Furnival and Ron O’Donnell.

“Significantly, Edwin Morgan lived during a time when homosexuality was a criminal offence – many of his love poems before this time are genderless and capture the spectrum of experience of love and lust.

“As Scotland’s first National Poet and a forward-thinking, internationally renowned writer, Edwin Morgan’s legacy provides an ideal opportunity to open the doors to new ways of looking at our world.”

Alan Riach, a professor of Scottish literature at Glasgow University who is also a poet, said: “The programme promises to address a range of areas that were central to Edwin Morgan’s work, including the national and international context.

‘‘It’s about Scotland, the East and the West, translation from different languages, poetry in so many forms, concrete, sound, lyrical, epic, formal, colloquial – the lot.”

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Morgan – who was born in Glasgow’s West End and raised in Pollokshields and Rutherglen – was considered one of Scotland’s leading literary lights. He was said to be the last survivor of the canonical “Big Seven” – the others being Hugh MacDiarmid, Robert Garioch, Norman MacCaig, Iain Crichton Smith, George Mackay Brown and Sorley MacLean.

The National: Edwin Morgan was one of Scotland's Big Seven poets, shown in a painting by Alexander Moffat Edwin Morgan was one of Scotland's Big Seven poets, shown in a painting by Alexander Moffat

THE academic published his first poetry collection in 1952 but it wasn’t until his later 1968 collection – A Second Life – that he really rose to prominence.

He received an OBE in 1982, and was made the first Poet Laureate of Glasgow in 1999, and then of Scotland, as the Scots Makar, in 2004. He wrote the official poem for the opening of the Scottish Parliament when he was 81.

In the poem he urged those charged with the building to “Open the doors! Light of the day, shine in; light of the mind, shine out!”

As Morgan was unable to attend the event due to ill-health, fellow poet and playwright Liz Lochhead, who went on to become Scotland’s next Makar, read it on his behalf.

He opened the Edwin Morgan Archive of printed and recorded material at the Scottish Poetry Library on his 89th birthday, and his 90th birthday party at Glasgow’s Mitchell Library, also marked the publication of a gathering of uncollected and new work, Dreams and other Nightmares. He died later that year.

Riach added: “He was an innovator. He drew on the whole literary history of Scotland and the world and turned it all into a contemporary efflorescence of writing and creative activities.

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‘‘He was a teacher, infiltrating new material into territories that had been burdened by conservatism and highlighting the value of brilliant precedents into worlds dulled by the dimness and weight of unquestioned tradition.

“Put it another way: he was a lamplighter, illuminating areas some folk would prefer be kept in the dark. He was a knifegrinder, sharpening the intellect, making understanding keen. He was a fisherman, drawing things up from the depths you had not suspected were there and he was a friend, an encourager of others, an enthusiast for the good and the great, a sparky and insightful critic and a praise-singer among the best of them.”

He claimed Morgan’s Sonnets from Scotland could be set alongside Alasdair Gray’s Lanark and Liz Lochhead’s Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off, as three “stunning examples in poetry, fiction and drama, which revitalised the sense of what literature can do, to reimagine the past and bring the future into new configurations of possibility”.

Professor Willy Maley, who also teaches literature at Glasgow University, claimed the poet had a vital legacy that deserved to be remembered in a special way.

He said: “Edwin Morgan was a one-off, a poet and translator of international renown and also an extremely important critic, something that isn’t always appreciated.

‘‘He was fearless, experimental, innovative and daring and he shares these qualities with Muriel Spark, whose own centenary is just past.

“Scotland has not always recognised its writers as the national treasures they are – perhaps in part because the nation itself is in some sense undeclared or ‘in waiting’.

“Writers are its legislators and no one has done more to put Scotland on the literary map than Edwin Morgan.”