The Sunday Herald: Edwin Morgan’s last gift to Glasgow … a poem for the Commonwealth Games

Posted on Sunday 3rd October, 2010

Katri Walker - The Sunday Heraldby Edd McCracken
The Sunday Herald

In one of his last acts before he died, Edwin Morgan, Scotland’s national poet, gave his blessing for one of his poems to be used in a short film to mark the handover of the Commonwealth Games from Delhi to Glasgow.

Due to receive its première on October 14, The City is the Film features 55 individuals from each competing country in the Games, reading lines from Morgan’s ode to Glasgow, A City. The poem opens with the lines: “What was all that then? What? That. That was Glasgow.”

Film-maker Katri Walker found all the readers living either in Glasgow or central Scotland, ranging from an 100-year-old from Belize now living in Wester Hailes to a 10-year-old from Mozambique currently going to school in Glasgow.

Walker described receiving Morgan’s blessing just days before he died in August as “bittersweet”. The 32-year-old video artist wrote to Morgan in his care home in Partick in July explaining the project, and why she wanted to use his poem.

“Six weeks later I got a reply,” she said. “He said the project sounds great and that he gives it his full support and he looked forward to seeing the finished film. And really sadly he died three days later. I was so delighted to get a response and then so sad that he died so quickly after that. It was a bittersweet few days. It makes it more important and poignant that I was working with his text.”

The City is the Film is part of the Walls of Light project. It is one of six films commissioned by Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts and Creative Scotland to mark the handover of the Commonwealth Games to Glasgow.

The other video artists involved are Henry Coombes, Alex Hetherington, Calum Stirling, Clara Ursitti, and Stina Wirfelt.

The films will be screened in various venues across Glasgow, including the Glasgow Film Theatre, CCA and Platform in Easterhouse. The CCA is encouraging people to get involved via social media and upload the film to their Facebook pages so the homage to the city gets the widest airing possible.

Walker decided to concentrate on Glasgow’s diversity rather than sport, but admitted that finding representatives from all 55 Commonwealth countries competing in the Games was difficult.

“In the end I was surprised I was able to find every country,” she said. “When I set out I was determined to do it, but a couple of weeks in I started doubting. But then, like a domino effect, it started happening. Once you meet someone from St Lucia, they know someone from Trinidad, and so on.”

New Zealanders and Australians were easy to find, she said. Those originating from the Pacific islands such as Vanuatu and Kiribati, less so. In the course of scouring the country’s universities, sports clubs, and cultural societies she discovered the hard way there are only three people from Tonga living in Scotland.

Walker filmed each reader at a location in Glasgow of their choice, somewhere within the city that had significance for them. The result is a South African at the Barras, a Sri Lankan on the Cathkin Braes Country Park, an Antiguan in Dowanside Lane, and a Maltese under Kelvinbridge, all reading fragments of poetry.

The oldest participant was 100-year-old Sam Martinez from Belize, who arrived here in 1942 to work in forestry. The youngest was 10-year-old Joana Insali from Mozambique.

Kenneth Osborne arrived in Glasgow from Montserrat in 1996, fleeing a volcanic eruption. The 46-year-old now works in a dental hospital. Like many involved in the film he had never read any of Morgan’s poetry.

“I knew nothing of him,” he said. “I didn’t really understand that style of poem, but I liked what it said about Glasgow. I am a Glaswegian now anyway.”