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Edwin MorganTales from Baron Munchausen, Mariscat Press

Edwin Morgan’s poetry is the work of a hyper-inquisitive humanist. At least it would be if “humanist” were not so limiting a word for his relentless imagination. His range of subjects is vast: this is the poet who takes space exploration as seriously as medical science – very seriously – and whose poems have the formal and intellectually energetic push that stellar flight requires. Many of the objects and events which feature are either novel because they are highly topical (his Instamatic poems are perhaps the most obvious example of Morgan as a kind of ideal newsman) or because they imaginatively retrieve distant or long-past phenomena, real things and fantastical things. All are rendered under formal pressure by a master technician with a gift for concentrated narrative.

It is in fact remarkable that the globe-trotting moon-visiting shaggy-dog-storyteller Baron Munchausen has escaped Morgan’s writing until now. The Baron is perfect material. This sequence of twelve poems and an introductory “Letter” was written for a live perfomrance by Benno Plassmann but the poems, dancing in and around essentially an eleven-syllable line, stand up for themselves on the page, too. Here is the bragging but disarming military man whose favourite horse, cut in two by a falling portcullis, is successfully sown together again with laurel, the sprigs growing “In a green canopy that shaded him and me / For many a hot summer in Muscovy.” Here is a less fortunate beast, a carriage horse devoured by a wolf which in turn forcibly inherits its harness thanks to a superstrong Baron who rides the wolf-drawn coach into St Petersburg – “Great entrance to a great city, don’t you think?” And, most marvellous and telling (as an image for Morgan’s poetry), here is the Baron himself jumping from his own side’s flying cannonball to the enemy’s reciprocating one, exhilarated but thereby returned safely home: “What an unearthly duet – but life, life!”

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