Andrew Motion’s prose memoir In the Blood (2006) was widely acclaimed, praised as ‘an act of magical retrieval’ (Daily Telegraph) and ‘a hymn to familial love’ (Independent). Now, twelve years later and three years after moving to live and work in the United States, Motion looks back once more to recreate a stunning biographical sequel – but this time in verse.
Essex Clay rekindles, expands and gives a tragic resonance to subjects that have haunted the poet throughout his writing life. In the first part, he tells the story of his mother’s riding accident, long unconsciousness and slow death; in the second, he remembers the end of his father’s life; and in the third, he describes an encounter that deepens the poem’s tangled themes of loss and memory and retrieval. Although the prevailing mood of the poem has a Tennysonian sweep and melancholy, its wealth of physical details and its narrative momentum make it as compelling as a fast-paced novel: a settling of accounts which admits that final resolutions are impossible.