The sadness club
Photo: James Royall
Thursday 3rd January, 2008 | Posted by Caroline Graty
Whoever mistyped the Poet Laureate’s name on the sign in the venue foyer, renaming him ‘Andrew Notion’, made an apt mistake. December’s Connecting Conversations event with Andrew Motion and psychoanalyst Denis Flynn explored a wealth of notions; notions of childhood, memory and the public revelation of personal events, as well as the roles of poetry and psychoanalysis.
Motion acknowledged the similarities between the two disciplines, calling them ‘cousins’ with their shared interests in symbolic language, in looking below the surface of situations and in finding the general truths inherent in specific things.
But he saw a fundamental difference in the purpose of poetry and psychoanalysis, People go to a psychoanalyst to achieve a new understanding, he felt, whereas poetry was about the recreation and reappraisal of existing knowledge. We read poetry ‘in order for the language of the poem to surprise us back into a new knowledge of a truth. In other words, to be reminded of something we’d forgotten we knew, rather than to discover something we didn’t know before we started off.’
The conversation touched on many of Motion’s works, including his biographies of Keats and Larkin and his own childhood memoir, In the Blood. He can remember his childhood clearly, ‘painfully clearly sometimes’. He puts this down to the tragic riding accident that befell his mother when he was in his teens, an event which sealed his memories ‘as though in a giant marmalade jar’. One of his reasons for writing the memoir was to excavate the events that shaped him. ‘It’s in childhood that the lifelong important things happen,’ he said. ‘I’ve never met a poet who doesn’t depend on their childhood in some absolutely vital, vitalising way.
Motion spoke about the way his work made use of his personal experiences, such as his mother’s accident, in a very public way. ‘We make these calculations about what we can bear to say, what we can bear to let on about, when we're writing,’ he said. ‘Graham Greene talks about the writer having a sliver of ice in their heart, actually it's an iceberg. We can always bring ourselves to say … more than other people think we might be prepared to, it's part of being a writer.’
His reading of the poem Serenade, about the horse that threw his mother, left me agreeing with Motion’s view that poetry is ‘the sadness club’. Have a listen to it on the audio file, available to download free from this site, and hear sadness crafted into beauty.