Venue: York Theatre Royal
The heart of Andrew Motion’s talk was based on the composition of Stevenson’s Treasure Island, discussing Jim Hawkins’ young adventure and how this forged the “archetype” for all subsequent pirate ideas. He explored the duplicitous relationship between Jim and infamous Long John Silver, an enigmatic character who could be interpreted as Jim’s father figure and enemy. This interestingly linked to Stevenson’s own life-experiences, which Motion believes is the “secret engine” behind Treasure Island. There is such an engine driving the author of every literary work.
Motion can associate with this motivation, he himself heavily influenced by his father’s death three years ago, as he said in a Telegraph interview “seeing him dead gave me the shock of my life… it seemed almost inconceivable that he would die. It was made all the more peculiar for me because we looked so very alike. As I looked at him on his deathbed it seemed as if I was looking at myself”. The parallel showed a fundamental impetus behind his reincarnation.
Motion described Silver as a “sequel” but was keen to stress that it is not a direct continuation. Rather, it builds on the original themes, finding new landscapes in the old map. He stated Treasure Island is as a novel “completely satisfying”, a “gold-standard” of pirate narratives, seeping still into the modern social psyche. It is a novel so renowned today that everyone feels they are familiar with it, even if they haven’t actually read it. While it is not my cup of tea it is clear that it still laid the pirate groundwork for posterity eternally. Silver therefore does not attempt to compete with the legacy of Treasure Island, particularly as aptly named Silver is not a received second rate medal but rather a self-imposition. In present times where the romantic masquerades of Pirates of the Caribbean are so fresh, Motion’s almost historical comprehension of the evolution of pirate tales was surprisingly insightful.
We were enchanted at first by the pink honeysuckle melody of Motion’s dulcet tones, but the power of this spell faded into a drone as time wore on. The zenith of the evening’s pleasure came not from a reading of a Silver excerpt, but from his poetry readings. Although they felt slightly incongruous with the core of his discussion, it was a scintillating few minutes of brilliance where Motion proved that his forte and his passion lie deeply embedded in poetry, not prose.
An original addition to the Takeover Festival, the only speaking poet the week offered, Motion moved us in his poetry, his sporadic emeralds of literary wisdom, but not as a speaker of prose.