The poetry in Motion is stirred by his own father's experiences of the war
Sir Andrew Motion has won awards for his poetry and prose writing with an acclaimed biography of Philip Larkin, the novella The Invention of Dr Cake, a memoir In the Blood and a sequel to Treasure Island, Silver. He was Poet Laureate for ten years and knighted in 2009 for his services to literature.
It is a glittering career which makes it all the more surprising to learn that Andrew had a very ordinary upbringing.
"My childhood was very unbookish," he says. "My mum and dad were country people doing country things which did not include reading. They weren't interested in cultural or intellectual matters at all.
"That life was really given to me by my English teacher at school when he started teaching me at A-level.
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"Day one it walked in to my head and turned the lights on and it has never wavered."
Having discovered his passion during his schooldays, Andrew, 61, is an enthusiastic advocate for inspiring young people. Next week he comes to Falmouth to take part in the Splash festival where he will talk about his new book of poems, The Customs House, but also become involved in a competition to find the Young Poet Laureate of Falmouth.
He credits his school teacher for being responsible for introducing him to great writers.
"There were very interesting things that he gave me to read, including a lot of poets that have remained favourites ever since. Hardy, Thomas, Larkin and, memorably as he has recently died, Seamus Heaney. I met him in 1970 and I had my book inscribed by him. That was 43 years ago.
"And I was off... off to university, the first of my family to go. I was reading English and a lot of other people were writing much better poems than me. It was a great reality check.
"For me, it hadn't been a quantum leap from reading to writing. There were issues of confidence, of course. But I always say to students now, just do a bit. There's no better way to understand other people's poems than to have a go at it.
"I published my first book quite young. I was 23 when it came out and I had gone to teach English at Hull because of Philip Larkin. He doesn't travel and he hates everybody so I thought, if I want to meet him I'm going to have to go there. And we became great friends."
In the search for Falmouth's young Poet Laureate, Andrew and two other judges will hear ten contestants perform their poem with any aid whatsoever – their dog, cat, budgie, powerpoint or fancy dress – in front of an audience at The Poly on Saturday at 11am.
Last year's writing event for young people involved lots of dogs and illustrators in Dog Tales. It may prove to be a tough act to follow, but Andrew's zeal for passing on his own love of words spurs him on.
"With the greatest respect to teachers today, they often find themselves in the grip of a curriculum which doesn't let them speak," he says.
"The curriculum is designed in a way to make people think that what matters is the subject. The most thought-provoking poems are the ones that hit their subject pretty obliquely.
"There's a tendency for people to think about poetry too precisely.
"They are about sound and music and imagery and should not feel too high bound. You don't have to understand a poem. That's not getting across to children.
"We need to make room for thinking about different kinds of poetry. But wonderful things are happening. I don't want to sound like an old grouch."
After the search for future poets, the spotlight will shift in the afternoon to Andrew's own work and his new collection of poems, The Customs House.
The book is in three sections, and opens with a sequence of war poems, Laurels and Donkeys, which draws on soldiers' experiences from the First and Second World Wars, through to the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Customs House was, in part, inspired by his own father's experiences. Andrew acknowledges that his father, like many men of his generation, shied away from talking about what happened.
"My dad was better at talking to my children than to me," he says. "As a child I thought he didn't talk much about the war because nothing much happened.
"It was because he didn't want the shittiness to fall into my life."
One of the poems in the book is about Harry Patch, the Somerset First World War veteran who died at 111, the last survivor of the Western Trenches. It is just 20 lines and it makes me cry.
"It's supposed to," says Andrew. "The subject is death and it's an elegy. All of my poems are elegies for me.
"I picked up a lot of things when I talked to Harry Patch. I wanted to write the poem in a way that took account of what he'd done but at the same time make it emotional.
"The collection does follow a historic trajectory, but the geography changes."
At the Falmouth event Andrew will also read from The Cinder Path, shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, and Silver, the sequel to Treasure Island, before questions about his writing and a book signing.
He's looking forward to what he says is a "wonderful" festival.
"The more the merrier of these things as far as I'm concerned. It's a wonderful celebration of reading and all things cultural and educational while still being entertainment.
"It's wonderful for the community in these self-knowing times and for people to be able to say – 'we care about this'."
For Splash festival details visit falmouth.co.uk.