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Andrew Motion

Born in London in October 26, 1952, Sir Andrew Motion was raised in Stisted, in Essex, the son of an army colonel and brewery executive. He studied at Radley College from 1965 to 1970, where he was introduced to the poetry of Thomas Hardy, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, William Wordsworth, John Keats, and others. He later studied weekly with W. H. Auden at University College, Oxford.

In 1977, Motion's first collection of poems, The Pleasure Steamers, was published by Sycamore Press. Other early collections include Independence (Salamander Press, 1981); Secret Narratives (1983); Dangerous Play: Poems 1974-1984 (Salamander Press / Penguin, 1984), which received the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize; and Natural Causes (1987), which won the Dylan Thomas Award.

Since then, Motion has published numerous volumes of poetry, most recently The Cinder Path (Faber and Faber, 2009), which was shortlisted for the 2010 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry; The Mower: New & Selected Poems (David R Godine, 2009); Public Property (Faber and Faber, 2002), comprised of verses written during years of service as Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom; Selected Poems 1976-1997 (1998); The Price of Everything (1994); and Love in a Life (1991).

Neil Corcoran has commented on Motion's relationship to "narrative" poetry, explaining that "effects of pathos are created by the attempt at some kind of interiority of empathy with the sufferings of fictionalized characters drawn usually from episodes of English history: the seventeenth-century Fenland, World War II, the end of the British Empire in India." Motion's style has also often been compared to the British poet Edward Thomas.

Summarizing Motion's style for the Continuum Encyclopedia of British Literature, Rose Atfield has written: "His poetry is meditative, lyrical, and understated. The clarity and directness of his personal and narrative poems make them readily accessible, yet there are intriguing images and a sense of restraint that draw the reader in to the poems and suggest undisclosed undercurrents."

From 1977 until 1981, Motion served as Lecturer in English at the University of Hull, where he met and became close friends with the poet and librarian Philip Larkin. When Larkin died in 1985, his longtime companion Monica Jones requested that Motion consider writing a biography of his mentor and friend. Already serving as Larkin's literary executor, Motion obliged her and in 1993 published Philip Larkin: A Writer's Life (Faber and Faber), which won the Whitbread Prize for Biography. Motion also wrote Keats: A Biography (Faber and Faber, 1987), which inspired film director Jane Campion's adaptation, Bright Star in 2009.

Motion has also published several collections of autobiographical prose, including Ways of Life: On Places, Painters and Poets (Faber and Faber, 2008) and the memoir In the Blood (2006), as well as fiction, including The Invention of Dr Cake (2003).

Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1984 and knighted in 1999, Motion served as Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1999 to 2009. His other honors include the Arvon Observer Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award, among many others.

He currently lives in London, England.

By This Poet


The Ring

Soon my father will lose his wedding ring
but before that happens we take the path
along the cliff-edge past the sign that says
Danger: Keep Back because the waves below
have undermined it, and the next big storm
will be enough to bring the whole face down.

I know this but I can’t help looking down
and noticing how each wave throws a ring
of pretty foam that’s nothing like a storm
round fallen rocks forming a sort of path
for someone who might find themselves below
which no one ever would, my father says.

It’s much too dangerous, my father says,
new rock-falls any time might tumble down
and injure them, and while the sea below
looks calm, a quickly-rising tide would ring
and terrify them, devastate the path,
then drown them just as surely as a storm.

I hear him out about the calm and storm
and fall in line with everything he says,
continuing along the cliff-top path
until it leads us in a zig-zag down
onto the sea-shore where a wormy ring
of sand recalls the tunneling below.

My father says the North Sea is below
freezing almost, thanks to a recent storm,
and so he eases off his wedding ring
because the cold is bound to shrink, he says,
his fingers, and his ring would then slip down
and vanish like the dangerous cliff path.

He turns around to see once more the path,
the dizzy fall, the rocks, the waves below.
He thinks his only choice is to set down
on one stone of the many that the storm
has carried from their North Sea bed, which says
a lot about the power of storms, his ring.

It slides down out of sight as though the storm
has also switched his path to run below.
This neither of us says. He never finds his ring.