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Saturday, 21 March 2009

Motion Unbound

Andrew Motion has been a poet laureate that Eyewear could deal with - in the way that Pound had commerce with Whitman.

Motion has been good - more or less - for poetry in Britain, 1999-2009. His most important work may have been his poetry about bullying, and the Iraq War (related themes), but for most people, the Poetry Archive will seem the lasting monument. I personally regret never having been asked to record for that Archive, but then again, nothing about the poetry establishment in the UK will ever surprise me - I have lived here for over 6 years, and am still treated like an arriviste every day.

Anyway, back to Motion, whose support of my work with Oxfam and those poetry CDs was instrumental. His agreement to read at the first-ever Oxfam event way back in 2004 (five years ago now) meant that Wendy Cope also came onboard, as well as Agbabi and Dark. After that event, all the other great and talented poets were more willing to appear. I think Motion is a very fine, serious poet, and a complex, deeply intelligent, and sensitive man. I also think he is somewhat old-fashioned, but in a flexible and open-eyed way; he tried to more than cope with the rapid changes of our times - and embraced new poetics, and media, more often than not.

This post is occasioned by his article in The Guardian, today, marking his coming retirement. It's refreshingly honest, though perhaps still guarded (more will come later I assume). For one thing, he suggests that Hughes' "great poet" status may be a disservice to the man and work (which is ironic, since no one has done more in these isles to establish Heaney's great poet status than Motion, with, I think similar results there).

Another thing he points out is how negatively journalists, even the top editors, approach poetry, and poems - they are not news, and to be news, they need to be mocked or undermined. I have a similar thought. Recently, after launching The Manhattan Review Young British Poets anthology in London - and the night was a resounding success - a journalist approached me, to say he had wanted to write an article for The Sunday Times about the new generation of young poets, but his editor "didn't like poetry and thought it was dead" so had killed the story.

Too many UK journalists are sour on poetry, and infect the good news with their own toxins. In this way, the lively and burgeoning poetry communities of the UK, in all their variety and passion are daily diminished.

I agree with Motion that poetry, as he writes today, is an essential aspect of being human - or can be. Religion, poetry, myth, dance, music, drawing - all such "primitive" aspects of our imaginative existence tend to be shunted aside in a world devoted to management-speak, consumption and commerce, and science on the march - which is tragic, especially now, at a time when it is becoming evident that industry and science has gifted the world with an unpayable bill, and global warming may - Heaven forbid! - destroy us.

One thing nags at me, though, about Motion's complaint that writing engaged lyric poems about the Royals was taxing (for him, nearly impossible apparently) - it seems hard to fathom. I don't understand it, myself. Obviously, Motion believes poems must be occasioned by organically-sympathetic experiences, in much the same way as Wordsworth. If he followed the more mechanistic line of Larkin, let alone someone more ludic, or artifice-interested, like VF-T, he could well have created fascinating texts about the Royal Family - unmoored from any personal connection, true, but no less poetic in their exploration of language. The connection between spontaneous inspiration and poetic achievement that Motion inscribes in this essay will, in a small way, limit how poetry is understood in Britain - or, rather, reinforce 200-year-old beliefs.
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