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Behind the scenes at the Scottish Poetry Library

Rockets for Edwin Morgan

Russell Jones writes ahead of Rockets for Edwin Morgan (Thursday 25 April, 6.30pm, SPL, £7/£5 concession & Friends).

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It’s not often that you’ll be reading a sonnet and then suddenly find yourself researching neutron bombs or how astronauts go to the toilet, but such is the vibrant and varied nature of Science Fiction Poetry.

It’s a genre that few have heard about, but it’s gaining momentum with contemporary poets. Edwin Morgan, the great poetic ventriloquist of our time, certainly wasn’t the first poet to write science fictional verse, but he was a major and influential voice in reflecting the joys and dilemmas of his life time, those that came before him, and those that might come after.

It’s no surprise, then, that Morgan was drawn to science fiction as a source of inspiration. His supreme graffitos, “CHANGE RULES!” and “Unknown is best” embody his tireless effort to reinvent and reignite the way we think about life. The science fictional world becomes one of ultimate exploration, throwing away the anchor of social and poetic conventions in a bid to explore the “what ifs” of human potential. Morgan opened the port hole for many new writers to pick up their model ray guns and get writing poems that rocket into unknown spaces. And you, dear reader, are invited to hear the results...

Off then, into the stars! Join us at the Scottish Poetry Library to hear those rocketing words from some of the UK’s most exciting and experimental poets. They will be reading their work from a brand new collection of science fiction poems published by Penned in the Margins:  Where Rockets Burn Through: Contemporary Science Fiction Poems from the UK.

The collection includes a preface by Alasdair Gray and an essay on science fiction poetry by Steve Sneyd. It brings together the work of over 40 contemporary poets from the UK as they zip through dimensions, slip in time and trip along distant planets. Far from being merely superficial flights of fancy, these poems can challenge our understanding of our own time and experiences. Gwyneth Jones argued that the science fiction future is “an extrapolation of the writer’s present. It deals with society’s preoccupations at the exact time of writing”, and similarly the poems in Where Rockets Burn Through deal with contemporary problems and concerns, and the potential outcomes they may present, just as Morgan’s poems had done and still do for his readers.

The Scottish Poetry Library is the ideal setting for this event (there’s not a poetry library in outer space...yet), not only because it holds the Edwin Morgan archive – a frighteningly glorious and substantial body of his work – but because it is a hub for contemporary poets in Scotland. The library has celebrated Morgan’s pioneering poetic ventures for years (a favourite of mine being “What I love about poetry is its ion engine”, a line from Morgan’s poem ‘A View of Things’, being painted on the library’s wall) and this event is a continuation of those celebrations.

The poets will be reading their favourite science fiction poem by Edwin Morgan, with a few words on why they chose it, and then blasting into some of their own work in the genre. A short film by Edinburgh film producer Dan Warren, based on Edwin Morgan’s science fiction poem “In Sobieski’s Shield”, will also be shown for your viewing pleasure.

So strap on yer space boots and join us for a night of intergalactic poetry as we remember Edwin Morgan and his stellar words: “The last refuge of the sublime is in the stars.”

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Russell Jones is an Edinburgh-based writer, editor and researcher. His collection of science fiction poems, The Last Refuge, was published in 2009 by Forest Press. He co-moderates the poetry department of writersdock.org, writes articles on children’s literature for therustykey.com and travel articles for exploration-online.com. He is the editor of Where Rockets Burn Through: Contemporary Science Fiction Poems from the UK and guest editor for The Interdisciplinary Science Review. He is currently completing a PhD in Creative Writing whilst tutoring in Scottish Literature and Creative Writing. He has researched and published on Edwin Morgan’s science fiction poetry.

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