Andrew Motion is my hero because he set up the Poetry Archive with Richard Carrington. He has nothing left to prove. As my son is fond of saying: ‘end of’.
All the qualities which have made Motion a force in English poetry were in evidence again this week in the latest edition of Jamie’s Dream School. He was by turns terrified, authoratitive, humble, relfective and ultimately triumphant. Watching him move from nervous wreck to commanding presence reminded me again of the journey all teachers make in their efforts to communicate passion for their subject.
Poetry is absolutely Motion’s subject. Speaking with almost haiku-like precision he confirmed again his lifelong belief in poetry’s ‘civilizing, humanising, self-affirming and confirming power’. ‘My question,’ he said, ‘is whether I can be heard.’
His first lesson is based on the idea of looking at and describing a painting by Edward Hopper. It goes disastrously. Children storm out, voices are raised, little is achieved. I think at this point few of us would begrudge the former Laureate storming out in a huff himself. Instead, like all properly relfective teachers, he reflects, swallows a bit of pride and decides to change tack.
He meets with pupils on a one-on-one basis during the week, speaks to them as equals, gently setting out the challenge of allowing poetry into their lives.
His second lesson goes much better. Beginning with a ‘warning’ that any of them who do not want to be there need stay, he takes them outside to describe what they can see in as concrete language as possible. Once a few children have been removed, those that remain get down to what looks like serious writing, examples of which are read out at the end. What’s especially impressive is not just the ‘results’ that Motion achieves -it is the genuine sense of warmth and attentiveness with which he recieves their poems. He shakes each of them by the hand, bowing slightly, and inscribes their books with his name.
The force of his achivement is clear in the final pieces-to-camera of the pupils: ‘I learned that poetry is about expressing yourself. I never done that before.’