Children, meet your Makar

23rd April 2010 at 01:00
An archive dedicated to the much-loved Glaswegian poet Edwin Morgan is helping schools to enthuse pupils about his work

Edwin Morgan's poetry is well-known in schools. For the past year the Scottish Poetry Library's archive of the Scots Makar's work has been offering secondary and primary classes resources to widen their use of his poems. On April 27, the Glaswegian poet's 90th birthday, the collection reaches its own first birthday.

The archive was compiled by Hamish Whyte, Morgan's friend and publisher, and bought by the Scottish Poetry Library with Heritage Lottery funding. Julie Johnstone, librarian at the Scottish Poetry Library, describes it as a remarkable collection, including Morgan's earliest newspaper cuttings, complete with scribbled corrections, and miniature books handmade by the author himself.

"We can trace the first publication of a poem and see how it moved through the years, and through different anthologies," she says. "It is interesting to show pupils the ways poems can be published. It opens their eyes to the possibilities of what a poet can be."

Temperature and humidity are carefully controlled to preserve the collection in the Edinburgh-based library. The building is 10 years old and sandwiched between a 16th-century gable end and an original close wall. Morgan's writing desk, chair and typewriter sit beside four or five closed stacks of his published work.

The library has a children's area often visited by primary school classes on their way home from a tour of the nearby Scottish Parliament, but the Edwin Morgan resources are available more widely. They were initially sent to schools across Scotland, with the help of Learning and Teaching Scotland, and are now available online.

Simon Hall, principal teacher of English at Kirkwall Grammar in Orkney, visited the archive on a trip to Edinburgh last September. He picked up some Edwin Morgan badges and posters to take home. When the school year began, he used them in a sequence of lessons with S1 pupils on Morgan's `The Loch Ness Monster's Song' and `The First Men on Mercury'.

Unfortunately, there were not enough badges to go around, so pupils contacted the archive to ask for more. "I got the class to draft an email to the Scottish Poetry Library, and it sent an enormous goodie bag full of badges and posters and things," Dr Hall says. "The kids were delighted with it."

It was not the first time he had used Morgan's work with pupils: Kirkwall Grammar has a long tradition of teaching his poems at all levels. It was, however, the first time Dr Hall had used any of the Scottish Poetry Library's resources in class, and he found the simple novelty of the badges and posters helped engage his students.

"The poems speak for themselves and kids always respond well to them, but they love having something to take away in their hands."

Among the library's teaching resources are suggestions for reading, writing and cross-curricular exercises. Dr Hall's S1 pupils came up with an imaginative list of "Earth facts" and "Earth dos and don'ts" for extraterrestrial visitors, inspired by `The First Men on Mercury' (see box, right).

The teaching resources were compiled by Ken Cockburn, a poet who previously worked for the library as an outreach worker. In the winter of 2008-09 he started leading poetry sessions in schools and reading groups, and continuing professional development sessions with primary and secondary school teachers. He then produced lesson plans and teaching materials based on these experiences, choosing poems that spanned the six decades of Morgan's career.

At Kirkwall Grammar, like many schools, there is a significant tradition of teaching Morgan's work at secondary level, but Mr Cockburn is adamant there is a wealth of material suitable for use with primary pupils. "I did a session with primary school teachers in Glasgow," he says, "and a lot of them knew of Morgan's work. Some had studied English at Glasgow University in the 1960s and 1970s and had been taught by Morgan, so he was a familiar figure to them. But I was surprised to find that his work wasn't really used in primary schools, and I think by the end of the session a lot of the teachers were too. There are plenty of poems accessible for primary- age children."

Edwin Morgan's 90th birthday on April 27 will be celebrated by the launch of two new books, Dreams and Other Nightmares, a collection of new and uncollected poems published by Mariscat Press, and Eddie @ 90, a Scottish Poetry Library publication of tributes to Edwin Morgan.


- We come in peace from the third planet. Would you take us to your leader? - Bawr stretter! Bawr. Bawr. Stretterhawl?

From `The First Men on Mercury'

- Sssnnnwhuffffll? Hnwhuffl hhnnwfl hnfl hfl? Gdroblboblhobngbl gbl gl g g g g glbgl.

From `The Loch Ness Monster's Song'

- There were never strawberries like the ones we had that sultry afternoon

From `Strawberries'

- Don Pedro had four dromedaries, Don Pedro d'Alfaroubeira had, And he rode around the world for a fad. - The very diversion I'd organise If I possessed four dromedaries.

`The Dromedary'


Earth facts

There are lots of dangerous animals, including humans.

The polar ice caps are melting.

You can't walk on water.

You have to buy stuff.

We travel by bus, bike, walk, cars, vans, aeroplane, boats, trains, and motorbike.

Earth has gravity.

Glasgow is the friendliest place in Britain, and the murder capital of Europe.

A tonne of feathers is the same weight as a tonne of bricks.

Norway is the best place in the world to live.

Rain is wet: Sun is hot.

Planet Earth is the best.

Earth dos and don'ts

Always listen to people in blue.

Wear clothes.

Try not to release too much carbon.

Use toilets.

Don't steal sweeties from babies or children.

By S1 pupils at Kirkwall Grammar, Orkney. Inspired by `The First Men on Mercury'.

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