Former poet laureate and campaigner Sir Andrew Motion quits Britain for Baltimore

Speaking at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester the renowned poet described the UK as 'suffocating'

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Former poet laureate and environmental campaigner Sir Andrew Motion has announced he is to quit the UK in favour of a new life of “adventure” in the United States.

Speaking at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester the renowned poet surprised his audience when he described the UK as “suffocating”.

“I feel still so hard pressed to the national bosom that I’m suffocating,” he said, “so I’d quite like to go and live in America.”

Sir Andrew, who was poet laureate for ten years, chose to retire in 2009, making him the first poet not to keep the title until death. He added that he was not always comfortable with the subjects he was expected to write about.

“I’m not going to say this in a disrespectful way,” he said, “but I did spend 10 years feeling quite often that I was being asked to write about things which I had no strong feeling about. And that’s not easy.”

Recent unrest in Baltimore

Speaking to The Independent, however, the author, poet and biographer clarified that he was by no means “fed up of England, or leaving in a grump.”

“I love England,” he said, “although there are things I like less now and I have perhaps started to feel less entangled with the country emotionally.”

“The real reason I am leaving is because I have been offered a wonderful opportunity which promises a whole new adventure.”

Sir Andrew, 62, will take up the position of Professor of the Arts at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and will also teach a class in Elegy.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while and is logical for me to take on at this time in my life,” he said. “I want to do good in the world not just by sitting at my desk writing.”

Speaking on the recent unrest in Baltimore, Sir Andrew said he was also keen to get involved in charity groups through his work at the university, in particular by helping to counteract youth disenfranchisement.

“I also want to build a bridge between poetry and health,” he said, “I’m particularly interested in how something like poetry can have an amazingly positive effect on people with dementia, which is something I’ve seen first-hand.”

Quoting T S Eliot, Sir Andrew said: “I devoutly believe old men should be explorers. I want to see different geographies, meet different people and who knows what effect that might have on my own poetry. If I were to stay here in an unchanging lifestyle sitting in my ivory tower, I might have nothing to write about.”

Although his decision was not directly affected by the election result, as a Labour Party member he was “disappointed”. “In a way I’m glad to be spared some aspects of life under the new government – I’d hate to come back to visit a country without Scotland, free from the EU – it would be dreadful.”

Sir Andrew will stand down as president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, through which he has actively campaigned about environmental issues.

Alongside his teaching, Sir Andrew will continue his work on the Poetry Archive, set up in his time as laureate, expanding it online with additions from US authors.