Andrew Motion at “Warwick Words”, October 2006.
By his own admission, the job of the Poet Laureate essentially ceased many years ago, and now al that remains is a ceremonial position, with the loose responsibility to churn out the odd poem for “national” celebrations, such as the Queen’s birthday, for example. “You don’t have to actually do anything”, Tony Blair had told Motion when he was appointed, a sentiment quickly echoed by Her Majesty the Queen – “You have no obligations to do a thing.” A poet’s paradise then; you have potentially an entire lifetime, from the moment you are appointed, to do nothing but write poetry, and you get paid for it – plus, even better, you get a whole lot of publicity which very nicely pays for a few pleasant family holidays in the Bahamas. But Andrew Motion is an odd fellow – you see, he actually cares. He’s everything you don’t expect to him to be, he does far more than he needs to, and he does it not for the glory of the Queen (who he talks of with a kind of affectionate patience), and certainly not for the glory of himself. He does it all for the advancing of the modern public’s consciousness and their appreciation of poetry. You see, here we have a really unusual species in the world of celebrity; a genuinely nice man.
I felt that I couldn’t really not go t his reading at the Warwick Words Writing Festival – I mean he is the Poet Laureate, and I’d never heard him read before, and well, I just had to, hadn’t I? The theatre in which he was performing was nearly empty and I was easily the youngest person there by about sixty years (with the exception of Motion himself who is only fifty-two years old, and therefore a veritable youngster) – I had a feeling this didn’t bode well. Predictably therefore, I had a wonderful evening. Within the first ten minutes I can genuinely say I was head over heels for Motion, as he smiled shyly every time we applauded his readings, and in the end had to ask us to please stop, it was embarrassing, and what would he do if we didn’t clap for a poem? Every time someone asked him question, he’d thank them politely, and then go on to answer it extensively, but always careful not to stray too far from the point. I don’t think I’ll ever forget his reading of some poems about his childhood, and the memory of the horse that would one day cause an accident, that would kill his mother, only after ten years in a coma. The childhood affection for the animal, as well as the adult man’s anger at it, mixed in his voice as he read the simple poem (one he described apologetically as “going over the page”), creating a stillness in the room that made the poem all the more moving.
He also talked convincingly of his ambition to raise the public’s awareness of poetry through his position, and said modestly that he hoped that even though he might not achieve his aim, he might, he hoped, have set the wheels in motion for future Poet Laureates. And although I may be biased as an aspiring poet myself, it has to be noted that he has the charming, unconscious ability, to make anyone want to write; he is unpretentious both in his poetry and in himself, he makes the world of poetics accessible, but even more than that, he makes it attractive. He is not overtly clever about this, nor does he preach – he is simply honest, and I think anyone who has met him would say that that is more enough to make them believe in him and his mission for this outdated position. He is not the Queen’s poet; he is the public’s poet. On the proviso, he’d be quick to point out, that we want him.
On a side note, as I left, he thanked me quietly for coming, and hoped I had a nice weekend. If it wasn’t for the door handle I was clinging to, I swear I would have swooned.