Speaking with Andrew Motion

Nina Lerner Interviews the Past Poet Laureate of Britain On His Move To Baltimore

Andrew Motion is currently a professor in the Writing Seminars department of Johns Hopkins University. Born and bred in England, he’s taught at the University of Hull and the University of East Anglia, worked at the publishing house Chatto & Windus and as Philip Larkin’s literary executor, and oh yeah, was the literal Poet Laureate of Britain from 1999 to 2009. If you don’t know what that is, Google it. This guy is a big deal. Check out his list of published works here. He also founded an awesome website called The Poetry Archive that features recordings of poets reading their own work.

He’s observant, expert in all walks of life, charming (as 10 seconds of the audio recording will show you), and my professor in writing for two semesters running. We recorded this chat after our class on Tuesday. These are his thoughts on wealth disparity, community, opportunity and more in Baltimore. We’re lucky to have him here.

Moments that may need an explanation:

At 0:45, “the Reading Program here” refers to the graduate program in Writing Seminars, which Motion has just taken over. The graduate students have seminars and workshops for their own work run by Motion while also teaching sections of the undergrad class Intro to Poetry and Fiction by themselves.
At 2:13, the “people coming to read for us” are professional authors and poets that the school brings in to do readings of their work (read: it costs $$$). Motion thinks the readings should be announced to a wider audience than just the Hopkins campus. The graduate students in Writing Seminars themselves participate in weekly readings of their own pieces.
At 4:20, the 40 years of his life spent living in “one of the greatest cities in the world,” means London, Oxford, and at times, East Anglia and Hull.
At 6:59, “the art museum around the corner” is the Art Gallery of Fells Point.www.fellspointgallery.org/
At 9:30, “what had happened here” refers to the protests and bursts of violence that came to Baltimore after the injustice over Freddie Gray’s death in April 2015.
At 9:39, “as we were saying earlier in a different context this afternoon” refers to our poetry class’s discussion a few hours earlier about imagined worlds vs. reality in reference to John Keats’ 1819 poem “Ode to a Grecian Urn.”
At 12:06, secondary school means high school.
I’d like to clarify that despite what I said at 12:42, I do know what a checkbook is. I was using hyperbole; don’t worry, Mom! (Also, I actually find knowing presidential history helpful and relevant. I could’ve thought of a much better example of wasted time in schools – like maybe learning endlessly about how to identify the different types of rocks or something.)
12:57 references “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written in 1798.
13:22 talks about the poem we discussed in class, “The Windhover” by Gerard Manly Hopkins, written in 1877.
At 14:19, I said, “But for the future being…?” Nice one, Nina. For the future TIME being.


Nina Lerner is a writer, filmmaker, New Yorker, dog lover and chronic disappointment to her parents. She writes for the JHU-based comedy newspaper The Black and Blue Jay and once had a glamorous, unpaid summer internship for a talent agency in NYC. She loves the theater, horrible sports teams and Paul McCartney. Her parents are actually very proud of her.


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