Now: Glasgow 5 March 1971
'Glasgow 5 March 1971' by Edwin Morgan
The poet says...
"[These] are based upon actual things which have happened as reported in the newspapers or on television. I try to imagine somebody had been there with an instamatic camera, and quickly taken a photograph. The whole thing is presented directly in economic, visual terms. I try not to add comment, but there's a very careful presentation which very often does include a kind of invisible comment."
A critic says...
"The only immediate criticism I would make is one which applies to the rest of Edwin Morgan's work – if there is a weakness it is that the poems are too often controlled, the technique too precise, the effects too well calculated. This is, of course, to criticise the man for his virtues: his control and precision has so often produced fine poetry. But there are times when I would prefer to see the rawness of a poet's words rather than a highly-polished artefact, no matter how effective."
Morgan published two collections (or one and a half anyway) of what he called 'instamatic poems': Instamatic Poems (1972), and the 'Takes' half of Grafts/Takes (1983). Those in Instamatic Poems are based on newspaper reports dated from June 1970 to June 1972; those in Grafts/Takes from July 1971 to October 1973.
In Nothing Not Giving Messages, Morgan comments in more detail on the instamatic poems (pp.26-8 and pp.72-6).
- The first six poems in 'Instamatic Poems' share the date 5 March 1971; the remaining poems are dated only by month and year.
- The latest publication date of instamatic poems held in the Archive at the Scottish Poetry Library is 1992.
- There are two poems titled 'Glasgow 5 March 1971'. The first line of the one referred to here is "With a ragged diamond".
Make a collection of newspaper reports that strike you. It's probably most rewarding to take 'human interest' stories rather than more abstract or issue-based articles.
- Choose one that stays with you.
- Write about it as an 'instamatic poem', that is
- write in the present tense
- write about something seen
- write in the third person
- write about a single moment
- keep the poem truthful to the source.
Remember you are describing a photograph, rather than being present yourself and experiencing it directly.
- Photographs are silent – so don't include reported or direct speech, or sounds.
- Think about how you sequence the information you present: although the photo doesn't take place over a period of time, the poem still has a beginning, middle and end.
- How you present things, and what you choose to include and exclude is up to you, but retain a correlation between the event described by the poem and the original cutting.
- Feel free to use words and phrases from the reports, but don't be restricted by them; feel free also to write the poem using your own choice of words.
- Think about what is happening in the foreground, the middleground and the background. The most important event can take place as near or as far away from the camera as you think appropriate.
When writing the poem, keep the vocabulary and the style simple – the focus of the poem is the event that's being described.
Write a poem using the same principles as above, but based on your own experience.
- Choose a particular place you know well, such as a house you lived in, or somewhere you worked.
- Jot down some notes about this place, thinking about
- a person or people you knew there
- some objects there
- some colours there
- any plants or animals that were there
- a memorable event that took place there.
Now, in your mind, take a photograph of that place.
- Where is it – inside or outside, which room, and so on?
- When is the shot taken – the time of day, the time of year?
- Who is present?
- What are they doing?
- What things can you see around them?
- What is happening closest to you?
- What is happening furthest away from you?
Once you have a clear image of the scene in your mind, describe it as an 'instamatic poem'.
Read this and other instamatic poems in…
Morgan, Edwin. Instamatic Poems.
London: Ian McKelvie, 1972.
Morgan, Edwin. Grafts/Takes.
Glasgow: Mariscat Press, 1983.
Illuminations. Summer/Autumn 1992. p.22, '2 Instamatic poems from 1990'.
Morgan, Edwin.Collected Poems
Manchester: Carcanet, 1990.
Resource written by Ken Cockburn, April 2009
Glasgow 5 March 1971
With a ragged diamond
of shattered plate-glass
a young man and his girl
are falling backwards into a shop-window.
The young man's face
is bristling with fragments of glass
and the girl's leg has caught
on the broken window
and spurts arterial blood
over her wet-look white coat.
Their arms are starfished out
braced for impact,
their faces show surprise, shock,
and the beginning of pain.
The two youths who have pushed them
are about to complete the operation
reaching into the window
to loot what they can smartly.
Their faces show no expression.
It is a sharp clear night
in Sauchiehall Street.
In the background two drivers
keep their eyes on the road.