Monday, 7 September 2015

Symmes Roll

In breaks at work these last weeks I've been dipping in and out of James McGonigal and John Coyle's fine and generous selection of Edwin Morgan's letters. They're a treat.

A lovely surprise, this Friday last, stumbling across an account of Morgan reading Ian Wedde's masterpiece Symmes Hole. The Scottish Pacific rises up again! The contact was via - who else? - Alan Riach.

Morgan takes a while to warm up to the novel, writing to Riach in April 1987:

“Well I finished that extraordinary Symmes book and have now passed it on to Dr McCarey from whom you will doubtless receive a ‘second opinion’. I must admit I skipped here and there, finding the ubiquitous triple dotting … extrememly irritating …. And the disconnectedness that might be a virtue in poetry … somewhat worrying in a prose story. I think I was also a mite disappointed that the title promised more than ever appeared; perhaps I was misled by Verne/Poe/ERBurroughs expectations; the hole, in fact, seemed to be fairly peripheral as holes go. Like your father, I enjoyed the ‘sea’ parts of it best, especially such longish passages as escaped the plague of dots. The great virtue of the book is in what it brings together; you’re forced to think and rethink. Its weakness, no it’s not exactly a weakness, its problem for most readers I imagine is simply its density, and the very difficult of perceiving a goal. Anyhow I’m very grateful to you for shooting it across my bow.”

He continues to other subjects, before finishing:

“Dan Sweigert, of Batavia (Illinois, not Indonesia) is busy setting my ‘Message Clear’ to piano roll music (for player pianos). Letters become holes in rolls. Symmes Roll, and a vicus of recirculation from the northern periphery –“

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