Natural Causes (Chatto Poetry 1987)
Love in a Life (faber & faber 1991)
A Graph Review: 50 with high points 70
Two books, several years apart. The first published some 25 years ago and the other four years later. Written by a poet immediately recognised for his skill and quality and now stands with the best of English Poets. I am more than happy to read these, his style is of narrative, rhythm and variation, with images that both show and threaten to break away from the theme of the poem, the collection.
The two books are written by the same hand but the later, Love in a Life shows a growth in strength of handling verse, dexterity in imagery and story-telling that stands alone. Confidence in his own voice fills every poem of this second collection.
Natural Causes 9780701132712. Paperback
Both books contain many stark images. Elements of death feature throughout. Yes, you might say, but such good death! He is by no means alone in having death trailing around his poetry, it is a theme well taken by many, past current and no doubt future. It is a common theme for poets of any age and Andrew Motion links in with a full range of ability.
Love in a Life 9780571161393. Hardback. 0571161014. Paperback
All I can do, apart from be jealous, is let you know that here are two books worth reading, in order, together, however you fancy! There are 19 poems in the second and 9 in the first. A pleasing variety in length, some poems much longer than many in newer books I have read/reviewed.
UK Poet Laureate from 1999 to 2009, the first poet to accept the laureateship on condition he carried it for ten years rather than for life. Seems a sensible arrangement as the award, though an honour is no doubt something of a burden with the expectations of ‘writing to order’ for National Events. Mind you, either it happens or it doesn’t, is good or is not. Would it be a snap of the day that survives, good or bad in the public arena? Any art is of the day and sits somewhere in the eye of the beholder. If it survives on a scrap of clay or an apple tablet for a thousand years, when it is discovered, art/a poem may be still be judged as either good or bad. Labelled art or artefact.
Natural Causes, won the Dylan Thomas Prize, 1987.
The skill in producing these two volumes shines through. The use of language and rhythm, line lengths that vary and break like a conversation, sometimes with rhymes and par-rhymes tucked in. His poetry contains the smooth and staccato of speech and mood. Language is part of the schematic, with dramatic changes of word-tone having the effect of an unexpected prod in the ribs. Shifting images that break away from the scene but add balance to the subject work like cinematic shots that flick from subject to subject or current time to memory. Much is in free verse but some cling to a little more formality.
Labels like narrative and imagist can sit easily but like all labels I prefer to use them in broadest sense and often just tuck them out of sight. There is a quote likening him to Edward Thomas (about whom A.M. has written) which is okay by me but you can add other links like Dunn, Hughes and Larkin, (who appears in one poem and is nodded to in another). I have also read that he liked Ivor Gurney for his spontaneity, something which A.M. also appears to have.
His tone is more strident than Ed. Thomas, tender meets anger meets confidence and he certainly does not tie himself down to rhyme that Gurney did.
I usually select a few favourites, with a total number of 28 over two books I just picked four. I am fond of:
‘This is your subject speaking’. In memory of Philip Larkin (Natural Causes)
Partly because I visited Hull University a few times when Larkin was still Librarian, never met him but the red brick building is impressive and sticks in the memory just because I knew he was there(!). As with Larkin, Andrew Motion’s poetry sticks in the mind.
And also: A Blow to the Head; Toot Baldon; Tamworth; ( all from Love in a Life)
Andrew Motion, poet, read him.