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Bringing poetry to the everyman.

IT'S appropriate that Sir Andrew Motion is speaking at Liverpool's Everyman theatre - because the former Poet Laureate is determined to encourage every man and every woman that poetry is for them.

Sir Andrew, who was Poet Laureate for a decade from 1999, is visiting Liverpool next week to read from his recent collection, The Customs House, and some new works.

Many of his recent poems - including the Laurels and Donkeys sequence from The Customs House - are about soldiers' experiences in wartime, chiming with this year's commemoration of the centenary of World War I. Throughout his career, Sir Andrew has tried to help poetry shed its sometimes elitist reputation, and has worked to encourage schoolchildren to read and learn poems.

He co-founded The Poetry Archive, a website packed with recordings of poets reading their work.

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

His mission remains to make poetry accessible to all.

"That was one reason why I was so pleased to be laureate," he says, "because it gave me a really good chance to do that in a way an ordinary Joe could not.

"Poems, all the different forms of writing we call poetry these days, come from the world. They are about the world. They belong to the world.

"From time-to-time, people say that poetry is this chi-chi, remote, rarefied, even irrelevant activity. But sadly, that's learned behaviour.

"Personally, I think poetry is as natural as breathing. It's a form that involves breathing - the shape of the poem is determined by the breathing of the poet. Whether it's a rap, or the more traditional stuff I do, it's the same."

And while poetry can be complex, he says, the need to create and read verses is universal.

"That's why we turn to poetry at times of crisis in our lives," he said. "It's on war memorials, it's read at funerals and marriages."

Sir Andrew has found himself focusing on war poetry as the nation begins marking the centenary of World War I. The timing is, he says, a coincidence - "but," he adds, "there is an obvious overlap between the things which I am interested in and what we are thinking about this year in particular.

"Over the next four years there will be moments of special connection. Now, then the anniversaries of The Somme and the end of the war. We cannot continue going at this intensity for the next four years. We would get fed up of it, and that must never happen.

"But my father was a soldier who fought in the last war, and my grandfather fought in World War I, so it's always been in my mind. Long before anybody was talking about 1914, I had written a lot of poems about war.

"A few years ago, around the time of my father's death and the time I stood down as laureate, I stopped writing. When I started writing again, I was writing about conflict - World War I, Iraq, Afghanistan, up to now.

"When I'd done a few poems, I thought 'maybe there's something here.' .' I ended up putting them into the sequence in The Customs House."

The inspiration for more war-based work kept coming. Sir Andrew will have a new book out next year, and will read some of those new works at the Everyman.

To mark the centenary of World War I, his work has even been set to music. On Sunday, the Barbican Hall in London will host the premiere of a new choral work by Sally Beamish, based on a poem from his Laurels and Donkeys sequence, that was commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra.

In all of his war work, Motion focuses on the thoughts of the soldiers themselves, rather than lingering on geopolitics or world leaders.

"It is the stories of those on the ground that pluck at the heartstrings," he says. "We want to know their stories.

"I'm sure that when poets write about war, they want to show their sympathy for the suffering that war can provoke. But you have to be incredibly careful not to make it grandstanding, or preachy, or violence tourism.

"I wanted to write completely un-egotistical poetry. The poems aren't about my responses to war, though they're implicit. I want them (the poems) to belong to the soldiers."

He has spoken to many who have returned from war, at one point visiting an Army camp near Germany to talk to recently-arrived soldiers.

"I feel so touched and impressed by the way they talk about it," he says.

"I visited a camp near Hanover. And I realised, being driven from the airport by a squaddie in an amazingly battered car, that this was the same route my father had come during the war.

"All the time I was moving around with them, I could hear him, in a figurative sense. That gave an element of pathos."

Sir Andrew Motion will be at The .Everyman on Thursday, November 6. For tickets and information, visit www.everymanplayhouse.com

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 31, 2014
Words:866
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