Motion, Andrew (Peter) 1952-
MOTION, Andrew (Peter) 1952-
PERSONAL: Born October 26, 1952, in London, England; son of Andrew Richard (a brewer) and Catherine Gillian (Bakewell) Motion; married Joanna Jane Powell, 1973 (divorced, 1983); married Janet Elisabeth Dalley, 1985; children: two sons, one daughter. Education: Oxford University, B.A. (first-class honors), 1974, M.Litt., 1978. Hobbies and other interests: Cooking.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Peters Fraser and Dunlop, 5th Floor, The Chambers, Chelsea Harbour, Lots Road, London SW10 OXF, England.
CAREER: Poet, biographer, novelist, editor, and critic. University of Hull, Hull, England, lecturer in English, 1977-81; Poetry Review, London, England, editor, 1981-83; Chatto & Windus, London, poetry editor, 1983-89, editorial director, 1985-89; professor of creative writing at the University of East Anglia, 1995-2003; Royal Hollway, London, professor of creative writing, 2003—.
MEMBER: Royal Society of Literature.
AWARDS, HONORS: Newdigate Prize, 1975, for Inland; Arvon/Observer Poetry Prize, 1981, for The Letter; Rhys Memorial Prize, 1984, for Dangerous Play; fellow of Royal Society of Literature, 1982; Dylan Thomas Award, 1987, for Natural Causes; Somerset Maugham Award, 1987, for The Lamberts; Whitbread Award for biography, 1993; appointed poet laureate of England, 1999; Gregory Award; Cholmondeley Award; Cheltenham Prize.
Inland (single poem), Cygnet Press (Oxfordshire, England), 1976.
The Pleasure Steamers (single poem), Sycamore Press, 1978.
The Pleasure Steamers (poems; includes "Inland" and "The Pleasure Steamers"), Sycamore Press, 1978, 3rd edition, 1983.
(Editor) The Poetry of Edward Thomas, Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, England), 1980.
Independence (single poem), Salamander Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1981.
Philip Larkin, Methuen (London, England), 1982.
(Editor, with Blake Morrison) The New Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry, Penguin (London, England), 1982.
Secret Narratives, Salamander Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1983.
Dangerous Play: Poems, 1974-1984, Salamander Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1984.
The Lamberts: George, Constant, and Kit (biography), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1986.
Natural Causes (poems), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1987.
The Pale Companion (novel), Viking (London, England), 1989.
Famous for the Creatures (novel), Viking (London, England), 1991.
Love in a Life (poems), Faber & Faber (London, England), 1991.
Salt Water (poems), Faber & Faber (London, England), 1997.
Keats (biography), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998.
Wainewright the Poisoner: The Confessions of Thomas Griffiths Wainewright (nonfiction), Knopf (New York, NY), 2000.
(Editor) Here to Eternity (poetry anthology), Faber & Faber (London, England), 2001.
Public Property (poems), Faber & Faber (London, England), 2002.
(Editor) First World War Poems: The Selected Poems of Isaac Rosenberg, Faber & Faber (London, England), 2003.
The Invention of Dr. Cake (novel), Faber & Faber (London, England), 2003.
Also author of The Letter. Some of Motion's manuscripts are housed at the University of Hull.
SIDELIGHTS: In 1999, British poet Andrew Motion was named poet laureate of England, following in the footsteps of such powerful figures of English literature as Geoffrey Chaucer, Alfred Tennyson, and—most recently—Ted Hughes. Speaking with Mary Riddell in the New Statesman, Motion noted that his fondest wish would be to be compared with some of the greats of English poetry. "I know who I'd like to be with when I'm dead—[A. E.] Housman, [Thomas] Hardy and, particularly, Edward Thomas." Motion, the author of several volumes of collected poems as well as biographies and a novel, is considered one of the late twentieth-century's most gifted English poets, winning several major literary prizes and issuing critically acclaimed collections of poetry. Widely recognized for his narrative poetry, Motion fashions fictional characters or portraits of actual figures to give voices to his own feelings on life, love, and loss.
His first collection, The Pleasure Steamers, is largely made up of Motion's award-winning poem, "Inland," which depicts its seventeenth-century narrator's forced move to a new village after a flood. Feelings of fear, insecurity, and helplessness are explored as the narrator and other villagers are cast out of their homeland. Inland, according to Times Literary Supplement critic John Mole, "is a considerable achievement in itself, but it becomes increasingly interesting as one reads and rereads the poems grouped around it in the collection's first and third sections. It can be seen as an historical paradigm of Andrew Motion's own acute sense of isolation. He too seems to be a stranger in his own land, and poem after poem finds him becoming the ghost of himself."
The other sections of The Pleasure Steamers include poems penned after Motion's mother was injured in an accident while horseback riding and left comatose for several years. The accident parallels with "Inland"'s flood; Motion was suddenly thrust into a strange and unsure place with the loss of his mother's vitality and presence. Using the voices of an English family, Motion writes of his "horsey" childhood on an estate, of storing away his mother's clothes, of years of visiting his mother's bedside, and, finally, of dealing with her death. Commenting on Motion's connecting of historical events with present feelings, Mole wrote: "It is the tension between his sense of belonging to, and being refined out of, the world he describes which gives Mr. Motion's work its distinctive strength." Mole concluded that "Pleasure Steamers is an impressive book."
Motion further explores the process of grieving a lost love in his lengthy poem "Independence." Set in India, the work is narrated by a man who married in 1947, the year of his country's independence, but lost his young wife and unborn baby after his wife suffered a miscarriage. The poem focuses on public and private independence as the narrator's political freedom is overshadowed by the prison of grief now built around him, but also offers a poignant study of bereavement. "'Independence,'" wrote Mole in a Times Literary Supplement review, "is a work of vivid surfaces and considerable depth." Claude Rawson, in the London Review of Books, noted that "Motion is very strong at rendering the particularities of grief," and found the poem "a bold as well as a delicately orchestrated success."
As in "Independence," Motion looks through the eyes of others to create storytelling verses in Secret Narratives, a collection inspired by secrets: wartime codes, letters, diaries, and whispers. Historical figures, among them Anne Frank and Albert Schweitzer, appear in the poems, which often contain mystical messages. One of the poems inspired Times Literary Supplement reviewer Tim Dooley to remark that "Wooding," "a poem of no special intellectual ambition, shows most clearly the strength of feeling Motion can wring from a minimum of technical effects and explains why it is no insult to his predecessors to see this poet as a natural heir to the traditions of Edward Thomas and Ivor Gurney." Dooley found that the poems in Secret Narratives "also underline how persistently the subject of mourning has enabled Motion to produce writing of the finest quality."
In addition to his widely read narratives, Motion has edited poetry collections, penned biographies, and issued two critical studies, the first being The Poetry of Edward Thomas. Motion's look at Thomas has been praised for its thorough examination of Thomas's work and life. Times Literary Supplement reviewer C. H. Sisson commended Motion's work on the widely read Thomas, writing: "One cannot be entirely convinced of the necessity for so much expatiation but, given the existence of the genre, one must say that Andrew Motion has done his work well and that there should be no call for such another study for some time to come."
The second of Motion's critical studies focuses on the work of England's much-loved poet Philip Larkin, about whom Motion also published a biography, Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life. Motion's insight on Larkin, who died in 1985, was gained by his friendship with the colorful poet, a rotund, balding character who, in his last years, wrote and spoke prolifically about his unsuccessful attempts at love, his obsession with pornography, and his personal prejudices. In a lengthy New Yorker critique of Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life, Martin Amis found the biography "confidently managed, and chasteningly thorough; it is also an anthology of the contemporary tendencies toward the literal, the conformist, and the amnesiac. Future historians of taste wishing to study the Larkin fluctuation will not have to look very much further."
Motion earned yet another literary prize with the publication of his biography The Lamberts: George, Constant, and Kit, which delves into the destructive ways of a talented family. George Lambert, who died in 1930 at the age of fifty-seven, was Australia's leading painter early in the twentieth century. With his wife, Amy, he moved to Paris, where he took a mistress and subjected his wife and children to abuse. One of his sons, Constant, was a gifted musician and composer of The Rio Grande for orchestra and chorus. An alcoholic, Constant died in his forties, as did his son, Kit, manager of the rock group The Who and producer of the rock-opera Tommy. At his death, Kit was feeding a twelve-year addiction to heroin.
Infidelity and abuse abound in Motion's portrait of the Lamberts, which London Times critic James Wood deemed "a deeply moving chronicle of sheer human waste, balanced by the composed obliquity of Motion's prose." Wood also noted: "Most biographies merely sift the top-soil of history, confirming the already known. Andrew Motion's The Lamberts is a biography that mines much deeper, retrieving old truths and creating new realities." A New York Times review of The Lamberts by Michiko Kakutani also commended Motion's work for being "sympathetic rather than voyeuristic in tone. In fact, in telling this story of talent and loss and missed connections, this story of wayward fathers and damaged sons, Mr. Motion has succeeded in producing both an exemplary family biography and an absorbing social history."
Motion has also written about the life of Romantic poet John Keats in a work described by America contributor Nicholas Jones as an "eloquent and strong-minded study." "As the definitive biographer of Keats for the turn of the twenty-first century," Jones continued, "Motion … gives us a more intensely human Keats than we have known before—more fiercely masculine, more conflicted about women, more embedded in political liberalism, more anxious about his own powers and his will to create and more subject to a debilitating, near-clinical depression. This Keats is multifaceted and earthy," the America contributor concluded, "and Motion rightly places him in a complex and fascinating historical world of personalities and ideologies." "Motion's new biography," declared Phoebe Pettingell in the New Leader, "turns out to be a bracing antidote to popular culture's frequently sentimentalized view of Keats. [Motion] … knows how to sauce his portraits with post-modern acerbity without obscuring his admiration for his subject." Kim Woodbridge noted in Library Journal that "Motion has provided a thorough examination of the social, familial, political, and financial forces that shaped the real man rather than the poet of myth."
The appointment of Motion as poet laureate in 1999 created a stir among literati worldwide. Many critics questioned the appointment for political reasons, debating the wisdom of nominating a relatively proestablishment figure to follow the well-known, relatively radical Hughes. "Though Ted Hughes's laureate poems were themselves something of an embarrassment in an often brilliant career," wrote Michael Glover in the New Statesman, "he gave the job a lift that it hadn't had this century because, unlike so many laureates before him, he had indeed been a good poet. With Hughes as laureate, the image was refurbished." Motion's designation, these critics felt, marks a step away from the "people's poet" they believed Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour government would search for. They suggested alternatives, including Seamus Heaney, who refused; Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, who reportedly was interested, but who lives outside Great Britain in the West Indies; and Carol Ann Duffy, a Scottish poet described by Jean Richardson in Publishers Weekly as "a feisty lesbian." "The choice of Motion ('minor, obscure, conservative')," wrote New Statesman contributor Riddell, "was variously lambasted ('an insult to the country's intelligence,' 'a bag of shite')." However, Riddell concluded, "the issue is not whether he is too tame for his establishment post or too radical. The question is whether such an inward-looking man can square his 'real identity' with the populism required of a punters' poet….We shall see."
Since his appointment as poet laureate, Motion has continued to turn out poetry, to edit anthologies, and to produce two further well-received titles, one, the nonfiction Wainewright the Poisoner: The Confessions of Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, and the other the 2003 novel, The Invention of Dr. Cake. Motion's 2002 volume of poetry, Public Property, includes a half dozen of his poems crafted for official public occasions. Adam Newey, writing in the New Statesman, felt that the "key signature [to the collection] is one of loss and grief," and that the "best poems are the evocations of the poet's mother and of a greener England." Newey concluded that Motion has demonstrated "how the laureateship can develop and take its proper place in the life of the nation."
Motion returns again to biography with Wainewright the Poisoner, the story of a minor nineteenth-century Romantic painter, critic, and writer, friend of numerous artists, and patron of William Blake. Thomas Wainewright remains best known for his excesses: accused of murdering his uncle for his inheritance, and also his mother-in-law as well as his wife's sister, Helen, he lived in exile from England for nine years. With Helen, death by poisoning seemed to be the diagnosis, and Wainewright had taken out several insurance policies on her life, all of which pointed to his guilt. Motion's account "takes for granted the guilt that Wainewright's contemporaries could not prove," according to Book's Penelope Mesic. The same critic praised Motion's "considerable literary power" with which he is able to forge a "Wainewright empty enough to be plausibly capable of any selfish action." Less favorable was the assessment of Contemporary Review's Richard Whittington-Egan, who felt that despite its "verbal skills, this biographical excursus seems to me to disappoint." However, other critics were more positive in their analysis. Booklist's Michael Spinella found that Motion "has brought to the page a vibrant, fascinating, and nearly undocumented life," and "crafts a … tale as complex and compelling as if Wainewright himself had written it." Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., writing in Library Journal, called the same work a "fascinating account," while a critic for Publishers Weekly felt that Motion "succeeds admirably" in "portraying a man who embodied the Romantic idea that 'good and evil grow on the same tree.'" A contributor to the Economist had similar praise for this "remarkable biography." Told in a confessional style, Motion's book has, according to Nicola Upson in the New Statesman, "as many faces as its subject."
For his 2003 novel, Motion turns to a subject familiar to him from his own biographies, the poet John Keats. In Motion's telling, Keats does not in fact die of consumption in Rome as the world believes, but instead returns to England where he lives in obscurity, practicing charitable acts. Taking the pseudonym of Dr. Cake, Keats lives anonymously until the end of his life when his secret is discovered by William Tabor, a doctor who is recording health statistics on the poor. Sam Leith, reviewing the novel in the Spectator, noted that Motion "uses his story to play with theories of biography, the nature of inspiration, and the character of the Romantic mind."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 47, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988.
Contemporary Poets, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 40: Poets of Great Britain and Ireland since 1960, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.
Jones, Peter, and Michael Schmidt, editors, British Poetry since 1970: A Critical Survey, Carcanet Press, 1980.
Motion, Andrew, Pleasure Steamers, Sycamore Press, 1978.
America, September 12, 1998, p. 21, Nicholas Jones, review of Keats.
American Spectator, September, 1993, p. 72.
Atlantic, September, 1993, p. 104.
Biography, fall, 2000, Howard Engel, review of Wainewright the Poisoner: The Confessions of Thomas Griffiths Wainewright, p. 830.
Book, September, 2000, Penelope Mesic, review of Wainewright the Poisoner, p. 80.
Booklist, December 15, 1997, p. 680; June 1, 2000, Michael Spinella, review of Wainewright the Poisoner, p. 1836.
Contemporary Review, September, 2000, Richard Whittington-Egan, review of Wainewright the Poisoner, p. 183.
Economist, April 10, 1993, p. 99; March 29, 1997, p. 92; November 15, 1997, p. 13; March 18, 2000, review of Wainewright the Poisoner, p. 12.
Library Journal, December, 1997, Kim Woodbridge, review of Keats, p. 106; June 1, 2000, Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., review of Wainewright the Poisoner, p. 126.
London Review of Books, June 17-30, 1982, Claude Rawson, review of Independence, pp. 20-21.
National Review, September 6, 1993, p. 65.
New Leader, November 15, 1993, p. 15; December 29, 1997, Phoebe Pettingell, review of Keats, p. 20.
New Republic, July 19-26, 1993, pp. 30-37.
New Statesman, May 24, 1999, p. 20; May 31, 1999, p. 44; June 21, 1999, Mary Riddell, "Andrew Motion," p. 18; February 28, 2000, Nicola Upson, review of Wainewright the Poisoner, p. 60; October 14, 2002, Adam Newey, review of Public Property, p. 53; November 24, 2003, Adam Newey, review of First World War Poems: The Selected Poems of Isaac Rosenberg, p. 53.
New Statesman & Society, April 2, 1993, p. 24.
New Yorker, July 12, 1993, Martin Amis, review of Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life, pp. 74-80.
New York Times, April 29, 1987, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Lamberts: George, Constant, and Kit.
Publishers Weekly, May 24, 1993, p. 73; November 10, 1997, p. 60; July 26, 1999, p. 17; May 22, 2000, review of Wainewright the Poisoner, p. 83.
Spectator, October 6, 2001, Grey Gowrie, review of Here to Eternity, p. 68; February 22, 2003, Sam Leith, review of The Invention of Dr. Cake, p. 39; May 3, 2003, "The Spectator's Notes," p. 12.
Time, September 6, 1993, p. 69.
Times (London, England), October 31, 1987, James Wood, review of The Lamberts; May 19, 1999, p. 1.
Times Literary Supplement, August 11, 1978, John Mole, review of The Pleasure Steamers, p. 906; January 23, 1981, John Mole, review of Independence, p. 80; April 2, 1982, Tim Dooley, review of Secret Narratives, p. 392; August 19, 1993, p. 886.
BBC Online, http://www.bbc.co.uk/ (July 26, 2004), "Andrew Motion."
BBC Radio 4 Online, (July 26, 2004), "Andrew Motion."
ContemporayWriters.com, http://www.contemporarywriters.com/ July 26, 2004), "Andrew Motion."
PageWise Web site, http://nc.essortment.com/andrewmotion_rcty.htm/ (July 26, 2004), Amanda Hodges, "Biography of Andrew Motion."*