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Playing Games of Sense in Edwin Morgan’s Writing

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Monika Kocot

Monika Kocot’s book on Edwin Morgan’s literary achievement, both poetry and drama, foregrounds the themes of cultural transgression, dialogism of the author’s creative design, and various, potentially subversive games of sense creation: «verbivocovisual» constellations, mythopoetic «writings-through» and intersemiotic translations.
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Chapter Two: Latent Textuality and the Rhetoric of Re/Mis-Reading in “Message Clear”

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2.1 Semantic Frontiers and Emergent Sense(s)

In his book-length study of Morgan’s work, Colin Nicholson writes what follows: “[F]ascinated by the zany, the arcane, the absurd, the possible futures anciently set and possible pasts figured futuristically, social, personal, linguistic and cultural othernesses comes to us in the poetics of communicative rationality, which often operates through mind-bending syntax” (5). In Nicholson’s view, Morgan is repeatedly searching for semantic frontiers where “centripetal pressure separates and centrifugal energy draws together” (5). And it seems that Morgan’s interest in exploring semantic boundaries is most visibly seen in his concrete and “emergent” poems whose morphodynamics24 point at indeterminacy of meaning.

This chapter is an attempt at analysing Morgan’s visual, and to be more precise, visual concrete poem, “Message Clear,” in which the poet mobilises concern about the loss of the “epistemic anchoring” (Nicholson 6), and ventures into meditation upon the nature of language (including poetic language), sign and meaning.25 The poem belongs to a group of “emergent” poems, as Morgan calls them, which exemplify the poet’s predilection towards playing games with quotations taken from well-known texts of culture. Amongst “emergent” poems, there are “written through” versions of passages from Dante’s Inferno (“Nightmare”), Robert Burns’s “To a Mouse” (“Dialeck Piece”), Bertold Brecht’s “Von der Kindesmörderin Marie Farrar” (“Plea”), Rimbaud’s “Une Saison en Enfe” (“Seven Headlines”), or even Communist ← 55 | 56 → Manifesto. The poems’ final lines, quotations from Dante, Burns, Brecht, and Rimbaud, are in the original Italian,...

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