The Sefton Festival of Literature opened on Wednesday September 19 and closes with a performance by poet Jackie Kay at the Atkinson Gallery in Southport on Sunday September 30. This is a small festival but manages to attract some big names, including John Mortimer with ‘Mortimer’s Miscellany’ and Andrew Motion, who read poetry and from his memoir In the Blood on Thursday night at the Atkinson. Motion is best known these days as Britain’s Poet Laureate, a post he has held since 1999 and which he intends to relinquish after ten years. But he is also a celebrated biographer and ‘flag waver’ for poetry, especially through the Poetry Archive. For those most familiar with Motion’s ‘By Order Of …’ poems his reading in Southport gave a refreshing and very personal account of his poetic life beyond the state appointment.
The evening began with poetry. Motion battled with a radio microphone in the period before the interval, but his reading was emotional and engaging. Many of the poems were elegies of one kind or another and his elegy for Philip Larkin, with whom he struck up a friendship during his time as a lecturer at Hull University, was my personal favourite. Larkin’s capturing of light in ‘The Whitsun Weddings’ is remembered in Motion’s own poem but although the poem recalls Larkin’s way of seeing with quite startling clarity, it is a remembrance, not a repetition.
Motion also read two poems about his parents: ‘Serenade’ about his mother and ‘The Mower’, about his father. In the latter an aside about his father buffing the ‘by appointment’ crest on the mowing machine even though it couldn’t be made to shine may indicate the poet’s thoughts on his own official stamp. These poems tied in well with readings from his autobiography In the Blood, published in 2006. As he hinted in the following question and answer session, here was the material that helped form him as a poet. Andrew Motion is known as a poet of innocence, loss, and remembrance, but as this reading showed he is more interested in understanding memory than presenting statements of events. Much of the work he read could be described as courageous, intensely personal, and fiercely truthful. But as he explained this is not the truth of the courtroom and the history book. It is much more interesting than that.
The Sefton Festival of Literature is organised by Sefton Council. Next week we will be featuring the winning entries in the festival’s creative writing competition.