ANDREW MOTION Biography - Famous Poets and dancers


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Andrew Motion's lifelong interest in John Keats recently culminated in his           
acclaimed biography of the poet, the first for 30 years. Ever since Shelley's       
Adonais presented Keats as a gilded youth driven to an early death by vitriolic     
reviews, this popular image has distorted reality: " All important writers need     
to be re-evaluated at least once every generation; just as history evolves, so       
different things about people become interesting and problematical, " explains       
In an attempt to breach the barrier time imposes, in 1995 Motion embarked on a       
voyage retracing Keats' last journey to Italy in the autumn of 1820. In the         
final throes of tuberculosis Keats sailed from London. Leaving behind his           
beloved Fanny Brawne and, so he thought, all hopes of poetic immortality.           
Accompanied halfway by an Omnibus camera crew, Motion describes the journey as "     
the most interesting thing I've ever done in my life. " It did however, bring an     
inevitable sense of separation as well as an opportunity to empathise with his       
subject, as he notes in his work;" There is Keats signalling to me from 200         
years away. He is writing something down, throwing it forward for me to catch.       
Now he is speaking… But the wind and waves drown what he says; his voice never     
reaches me." The book's last 50 pages- chronicling Keats' final days- have a         
lyrical momentum deepened by Motion's discovery of his own serious illness.         
Later diagnosed with a benign tumour, the experience heightened his sense of "       
time repeatedly running out…I did think about Keats' final illness in ways I       
wouldn't have usually. I'm sure that it made the book better, more intense but I     
thought it was carrying research too far!"                                           
Keats initially trained as a doctor and long believed in poetry's healing           
capacities, an aspect the book emphasises. Motion firmly endorses this; " I can     
think of no higher ambition for my work than that it might be a comfort to           
people in moments of extremity. I have tried to write poems that address the big     
emotions of life." Salt Water, his 1997 volume, tackles just such universal         
themes as it explores both the destructive and redemptive qualities of water. At     
the very moment he celebrates the "dazzling cross-hatchery of traffic and           
currents," the image of a friend drowned on the Marchioness swirls into mind.       
" My background is very unbookish indeed, " he maintains. " My father was a         
brewer like his brother and his grandfather before him. There were books at home     
but no-one read them." Motion believes the impulse to become a poet springs from     
an intuitive source. " In some measure, being a poet is something that's given       
to you. It's a primitive, visceral, purely emotional thing with me. This is why     
Keats' idea of diligent indolence is so valuable- creative downtime when your       
intellect isn't working. I write every month or six weeks and worry if I'm late!"   
Today Motion maintains twin careers as poet and biographer; his authorised study     
of Philip Larkin, drawn from personal knowledge, won a Whitbread Prize in 1993.     
Larkin and Keats seem to occupy antithetical positions in the poetical spectrum:     
"Keats is certainly easier to live with as he said yes to life! But Larkin's         
poems, with their wonderful quality, depend on him saying no; you can't wish he'd   
cheered up because that would be fatuous!"