You ask the questions

Such as: Andrew Motion, now you've done Keats, will you be writing a biography of Bob Dylan?
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The Independent Online

Andrew Motion was born in London in 1952. After reading English at University College, Oxford he moved to Hull where he taught English at the university and met the poet Philip Larkin. This was followed by a stint as editor of the Poetry Review and then poetry editor of Chatto & Windus. His first collection of poems, entitled Pleasure Steamers, was published in 1978 and his most recent volume of selected poems was published by Faber earlier this year. Motion has also written biographies including those of Philip Larkin, John Keats and Wainewright the Poisoner, alongside two novels. In May 1999, Motion was made Poet Laureate. He is also Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.

Andrew Motion was born in London in 1952. After reading English at University College, Oxford he moved to Hull where he taught English at the university and met the poet Philip Larkin. This was followed by a stint as editor of the Poetry Review and then poetry editor of Chatto & Windus. His first collection of poems, entitled Pleasure Steamers, was published in 1978 and his most recent volume of selected poems was published by Faber earlier this year. Motion has also written biographies including those of Philip Larkin, John Keats and Wainewright the Poisoner, alongside two novels. In May 1999, Motion was made Poet Laureate. He is also Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.

Some readers think that you betrayed your friend Philip Larkin in writing your frank biography. How would you reply? Rees Murphy, by e-mail How can it be a betrayal to combine truthfulness with compassion? At least, that's the mixture I tried to come up with.

You have said that, sometimes, poets should swear (ie use obscenities). When, and why? Bill Morgans, London I'm not sure that I have ever said that poets should swear, but I am perfectly happy to think that they might, should a suitable occasion arise. Larkin's poems are an interesting case in point here. Given how much most of us swear most of the time, it's striking how the four-letter words in his poems retain their power to shock and surprise us. That element of shock and surprise is vital to the poems' power.

In your opinion, what is the greatest poetic work written in English? I promise to give it my attention. Nicholas E Gough, Swindon Wordsworth's Prelude, the 1805 version, for distilling the period and the experience we understand as Romantic, which is really no less than the period we still live in.

Does your middle name begin with E as in E Motion? Nicholas E Gough, Swindon No doesn't. It begins with P as in ProMotion.

Keats versus Dylan: You have written a life of John Keats; could you do the same for Bob Dylan? S Massey, Bristol

Absolutely. I'd love to write about Dylan one day but I can't imagine myself doing so without being granted an audience with him, or preferably lots of audiences. I'd want to talk to him about himself and his work rather than leave it to friends and cuttings files. I've been trying to get to see him when he was over here this time but he just moves around in a cloud of people. Someone told me he last gave an interview of this sort eight years ago, so it seems a pretty tough nut to crack.

Re your fine poem about bullying for ChildLine: do you know what happened to the boys who bullied you at school in later life? Thomas Spears, by e-mail

I'm glad you enjoyed it, if enjoyed is the right word. I've no idea what happened to those boys in later life, though I could say something nasty about them. The poem was commissioned by ChildLine, who wrote to me out of the blue when they wanted to generate publicity for the fact that they were about to get a call from their "millionth child". In the same sort of spirit, I've written a poem for the Salvation Army. And I'm also interested in current issues of national identity. I'm trying to write something for the Census. Who we are and what makes us up is now a question that we should think about a lot more.

It seems to me that these are exactly the kind of commissions that a poet laureate would welcome if they wanted to re-describe the post in a way which both respected the past and made sure that poetry could be part of our national conversation in new ways. I think it's important for the poet's voice to be heard among the other voices that call on our attention all day and every day - politicians, journalists and so on. The poet's voice moves at a different speed and allows us to think differently and, I hope, more deeply about how we live.

Is there any subject that you would consider taboo for a poem? M Sacks, by e-mail Absolutely not. I think it's important that poets continue to think of subjects, and ways of approaching those subjects, which are surprising.

How early in your career did you get sick of seeing, above any review of your work, the headline "Poetry in Motion"? R Poole, Somerset I saw it the first day a book of mine was reviewed. If I had a pound for every time I've seen that headline, I'd be living in the Cayman Islands.

Do you think a poet should have a larger vocabulary than ordinary mortals? KT Delves, London I don't think of myself as having a particularly large vocabulary. I am deeply interested in words, I love etymologies and multiple meanings and so on, but I don't think poets as a matter of fact should have a large vocabulary. It's not the most peculiar words in the best order, it's the best words in the best order. Often the best poems are simple: "My true love has my heart and I have his" - you don't have to plunder the dictionary to get that.

Have you claimed your possett of sack, or whatever it is that poet laureates get paid, this year? Hilmary Sharrock, by e-mail It's a butt of sack and no, I haven't. The butt of sack has got nothing to do with the Palace or Downing Street, it's a gift from the King of Spain and the reason I haven't got it yet is my fault because I haven't been to Spain to choose it. The good news is that it is 750 large bottles of sherry. The bad news is that it's per 10 years, not annual, though maybe that's just as well...

I enjoyed your first novel and I seem to recall you were planning to write several more. Did you lose interest in writing fiction? Maureen Beesley, Cheltenham I found that I was incapable of doing it - partly because I felt that I was somehow betraying poetry. I have a kind of devotion to poetry which other kinds of writing can easily compromise.

Andrew Motion will be reading as part of Poetry International on 13 October at the Royal Festival Hall. He will also be giving the Laurie Lee lecture on 21 October at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature (01242 227979)

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