Andrew Motion, Natural Causes (Chatto Poetry 1987)
Andrew Motion is one of those poets you can know about without having a clue about his poetry. I knew he was the Poet Laureate who broke with tradition and actually resigned from the post, the chair of the Man Booker Prize committee that produced some controversial short lists in recent years, someone who is disparaged in passing in hip poetry circles, in short, someone who had been pigeonholed as typically middlebrow. But I don’t think I’d read a single line by him.
I bought this book for $2 at Sappho’s, which probably means there are plenty of copies around, and I should be glad it’s not adorned by student marginalia. I enjoyed it a lot, perhaps because there’s a strong narrative element, and I’m a sucker for narrative. Two substantial sequences stand out: ‘Scripture’, about Motion’s time at boarding school, to which he was sent, barbarically, at the age of seven, and ‘This Is Your Subject Speaking’, an elegiac sequence in honour of his friend Philip Larkin, who died a couple of years before the book was published. There are some sweetly moving poems about his baby child.
I found a nice interview with Andrew Motion on the Oxford Poetry web site, where he talks among other things about his use of his own history:
But I still intend my poems to function as photographs taken from one person’s life, which are put on show to everybody else so that they might perhaps recognise things about their own lives from those photographs. I think that that process is more likely to succeed if you colour the photographs with those feelings which you have to say are yours, and personal. I’m sure this sounds very unsympathetic to the new critics, but that’s how I am.
Wisely, AM recognised the laureate as a death sentence, promised to serve a limited term, and entered the record books as the first Poet Laureate not to die in harness. Or so I am led to believe.
Yes, M, from this great distance it certainly looks wise. Being laureate didn’t seem to do Ted Hughes a lot of good.