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The Water Tower
Andrew Motion reads an extract from his Proms poem
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Wednesday, 19 July, 2000, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Motion's poetic mission
Andrew Motion
Motion: "I see myself as a town crier, can opener and flag-waver for poetry"
By BBC News Online's Rebecca Thomas

Poet Laureate Andrew Motion is on a mission to convince everyone that poetry is, and should be considered, part of their everyday lives.

Since becoming the UK's official royal poet last year, Motion has followed the primary function of his role by marking special state events with a poem.

The marriage of Prince Edward to Sophie Rhys Jones was one such occasion. The Queen Mother's 100th birthday celebrations is another.

I would like to see poets associated with all sorts of surprising places, everywhere from zoos to football clubs

Andrew Motion

But at the other end of the scale, Motion has also been hard at work trying to give his role more general public relevance.

He has written verse to mark events and causes of more personal public concern, such as the Paddington rail disaster and the charity Childline.

He has also embarked on a series of visits to schools and colleges to spread this enthusiasm for poetry to the younger generation.

"I see myself as a town crier, can-opener and flag-waver for poetry as well as wanting to write poems about various events that seem suitable to me," Motion enthuses.

Sophie Rhys Jones
Sophie Rhys Jones: Motion wrote a poem for her wedding

His latest initiative to take poetry in the wider public domain will be in evidence from Wednesday when he launches the all-new BBC Poetry Proms.

The series of four weekly themed readings, from several eminent poets, will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in the interval of each Wednesday's Prom.

Many of the works have been specially commissioned and for his part Motion has written a brand new piece The Water Tower about his childhood - in the theme of the first Poetry Prom, youth and age.


The poem, explains Motion, is about the water tower that stands outside the village where he grew up.

"The way I interpreted the youth and age idea was to think of visiting the village on the Essex/Suffolk border where I grew up and where my family have lived for many generations.

The best poems are those which speak to us about the important things in our lives in a way that we never forget

Andrew Motion

"I drive past this tower now and remember making it the target for my walks as a teenager growing up. Whenever I see it, I have a sense that I am re-encountering my young self."

Motion says he hopes the poem will strike a chord in the memories of everyone who hears it.

If it does, it will reinforce his conviction that poetry holds a relevance in all of our lives.

"The best poems are those which speak to us about the important things in our lives in a way that we never forget," he explains.

"Any heavier definition than that begins to collapse under its own weight and exclude many forms of poetry.

"But we live in a very diverse culture and the great opportunity that poetry has now is to make sure that all its various voices have an equal and proper space given to them.

The Proms
The Proms provide a large and varied audience

"In this way they can link up with the lives from which they arose in the first place," he expands.

The idea to make the Proms just such an opportunity arose during what Motion tags a "poetry motivational" supper with like-minded people.

Everyone agreed that the Proms - with a large and varied audience - would be a natural situation for their vision of poetry to occur.

However, stresses Motion, in order to really make a difference poetry has also to start infiltrating unexpected areas of life.

"I would like to see poets associated with all sorts of surprising places, everywhere from zoos to football clubs," he laughs.


Motion has been working with the government to promote his ethos at grass roots levels among the young.

The government has, he says, been "very receptive" to his wish to see poetry protected and promoted in the National Curriculum.

Part of this work has involved Motion visiting schools and academies to talk to children about the value of poetry.

Ted Hughes
Ted Hughes was a "discreet" Poet Laureate

It is, Motion admits, an ambitious project since even he recalls how remote the poetry he was taught at school seemed.

"The idea of a living poet coming to the school and talking about their work was absolutely unimaginable when I was growing up.

"It wasn't quite as bad as saying that the only good poets were dead poets but it was nearly like that."

However, by highlighting the contexts in which poetry could and does already influence their lives - such as TV and pop music - Motion has found his young audiences generally receptive.

Motion also admits that only a handful of children know what the Poet Laureate is or does.

But the confusion, he observes, also extends to the nation's adults. It's a situation he hopes to rectify in the course of his work.

"The Laureate is a mysterious position. It's very ancient and very honourable but it hasn't always been clear what a person in a such a position might do," he says.

"My predecessor Ted Hughes wrote some extraordinary poems but he wasn't someone who had a very developed interest in appearing in public in the way that I am prepared to do.

"Part of my interpretation of the role is to demystify it and prove that no matter how sophisticated the language, poetry latches on to very primitive human pleasures of reflection and association - which we forget as we grow older at our peril."

The Poetry Proms begin on 19 July at 2010 BST on BBC Radio 3.

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