Nationality: British. Born: London, 26 October 1952. Education: Radley College, 1965–70; University College, Oxford (Newdigate prize, 1975), B.A. (honors) 1975, M.Litt. 1977. Family: Married 1) Joanna Jane Powell in 1973 (dissolved 1983); 2) Janet Elisabeth Dalley in 1985, two sons and one daughter. Career: Lecturer in English, University of Hull, 1977–81; poetry editor, 1982–84, and editorial director, 1985–89, Chatto and Windus publishers, London; editor, Poetry Review, London, 1980–82; editor, Faber and Faber publishers, London. Appointed poet laureate, 1999. Awards: Eric Gregory award, 1978, 1987; Cholmondeley award, 1979; Arvon Observer prize, 1981; John Llewelyn Rhys prize, 1984; Dylan Thomas award, 1987; Maugham award, for biography, 1987; Whitbread award for biography, 1993. Agent: Peters Fraser and Dunlop, 5th Floor, The Chambers, Chelsea Harbour, Lots Road, London SW10 OXF. Address: c/o Faber and Faber Ltd., 3 Queen Square, London WCIN 3AU, England.
Goodnestone: A Sequence. London, Workshop Press, 1972.
Inland. Burford, Oxfordshire, Cygnet Press, 1976.
The Pleasure Steamers. Manchester, Carcanet, 1978.
Independence. Edinburgh, Salamander Press, 1981.
Secret Narratives. Edinburgh, Salamander Press, 1983.
Dangerous Play: Poems 1974–1984. Edinburgh, Salamander Press, 1984.
Natural Causes. London, Chatto and Windus, 1987.
Two Poems. Child Okeford, Dorset, Words Press, 1989.
Love in a Life. London, Faber and Faber, 1991.
The Price of Everything. London, Faber and Faber, 1994.
Salt Water. London, Faber and Faber, 1997.
Selected Poems. London, Faber and Faber, 1999.
The Poetry of Edward Thomas. London, Routledge, 1980.
Philip Larkin. London, Methuen, 1982.
The Lamberts: George, Constant and Kit. London, Chatto and Windus, 1986.
Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life. London, Faber and Faber, 1993.
Keats. London, Faber and Faber, 1997.
Editor, with Blake Morrison, The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry. London, Penguin, 1982.*
Manuscript Collection: University of Hull.
Critical Studies: "'I Could Have Outlived Myself There': The Poetry of Andrew Motion" by Michael Hulse, in Critical Quarterly (Oxford, England), 28(3), autumn 1986; "'All the Lives I've Led': The Uses of Fiction and Autobiography in the Poetry of Andrew Motion" by Mary Conde, in Anglistentag 1992, edited by Hans Ulrich Seeber and Walter Gobel, Tubingen, Niemeyer, 1993.* * *
Andrew Motion is one of a group of younger contemporary English poets whose work reveals a fascination with "narrative," with, that is, the potential effectiveness of refracting some kind of story or plot through an essentially lyric form or sequence. His early volume The Pleasure Steamers contains one such lengthy sequence, "Inland," which, in the character of a Fenland villager of the early seventeenth century, tells the story of the introduction of enclosures from the point of view of someone dispossessed by them. The main effort of the sequence is to point up the fragility and brittleness of the personal life when set against its controlling context in the public world:
Tomorrow, high tides will press
our future from us
back into emptiness;
so now, unpin your hair,
open your dress.
This becomes a characteristic procedure in Motion's work. Effects of pathos are created by the attempt at some kind of interiority of empathy with the sufferings of fictionalized characters usually drawn from episodes of English history: the seventeenth-century Fenland, World War II, the end of the British Empire in India.
In selecting such episodes for his material, Motion—who has written a critical book on Edward Thomas—reveals himself as a quintessentially English poet. The word "England" echoes through some of his work. In one poem it is an England that "turns out of the sun," and the powerful sense of loss in Motion's work is intimately responsive to the experience of a nation, or a class, undergoing the anxieties and uncertainties of postimperial and postcolonial withdrawal. This sense of loss also derives, however, from the tragic experience of Motion's own adolescence, when his mother had a riding accident and suffered in a coma that lasted until her death ten years later. This grim circumstance recurs in a number of different forms in Motion's work but particularly in the third section of The Pleasure Steamers, where the effects of pathos are in complete consonance with those of "Inland":
Whatever time might bring,
all my journeys take me
back to this dazzling dark:
I watch my shadow ahead
plane across open fields,
out of my reach for ever,
but setting towards your bed
to find itself waiting there.
The narratives in Motion's poems, then, take their particular edge of unease from the way their predominant emotions act as some kind of filter or mask for the poet's own. Their obliquities and lacunae, features remarked on by a number of reviewers, avoid direct statement and leave a large part of the act of interpretation open to the reader. Halfway perhaps between personal lyric and dramatic monologue, such poems as "The Letters," "Resident at the Club," and the superbly complicated and inclusive "Independence"—the narrator being a retired Anglo-Indian widower whose wife has died in childbirth—return again and again to images of loss, abandonment, and estrangement and to a fundamental preoccupation with the final human loss, death, and its human response, grief. The poem "Open Secrets," which begins the volume Secret Narratives, explores Motion's own self-consciousness about these procedures in a way that suggests some further intensification of his own narrative strategies:
He was never
myself, this boy, but I know if I tell you his story
you'll think we are one and the same: both of us hiding
in fictions which say what we cannot admit to ourselves.