Poet Laureate comes to Congress

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date: 6 September 1999

embargo: 00.01hrs Wednesday 8 September 1999

Trades Union Congress

Attention: arts and labour correspondents

two pages

Poet Laureate comes to Congress

For the first time in its 131-year history, the TUC is to be presented with its very own Congress poem, courtesy of the Poet Laureate, Professor Andrew Motion.

Professor Motion will read the poem - entitled In a Perfect World - to the TUC in Brighton next Tuesday (14th), taking the stage after speeches from Prime Minister Tony Blair and Sir Herman Ouseley, Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality.

The 30-line poem describes a walk along the bank of the River Thames from Richmond to Westminster, passing signs of Britain's industrial heritage. Written in the first person in a contemplative vein, the poem touches on issues of personal and collective freedom.

Professor Motion describes his work as a public poem written in an intimate voice. It is his fifth public commission since his appointment earlier this year, and the first for a national organisation the size of the TUC.

General Secretary John Monks commented: "We are honoured and delighted by the Laureate's acceptance of our invitation which I know will be appreciated by the hundreds of trade unionists gathering in Brighton this weekend."

"The poem evokes liberty in a gently paced and beautifully understated way. The sunshine stroll both recaptures the legacy of our past and looks buoyantly to the future. It also reminds us that others around the world are still denied the basic freedoms we take for granted."

The full text of the poem is reproduced below:

In a Perfect World

I was walking the Thames Path from Richmond

to Westminster, just because I was free

to do so, just for the pleasure of light

filling my head, just for the breeze like a hand

tap-tap-tap-tapping the small of my back,

just for the slow and steady breath of dust

fanning on flints, on cobbles, on squared-off

slab-stones - dust which was marking the time

it takes for a thing to be born, to die,

then to be born again. The puzzled brow

of Parliament filled the distance, ducking

and diving as long parades of tree-clouds

or skinny-ribbed office blocks worked their way

in between. The mouth of the Wandle stuck

its sick tongue out and went. The smoke-scarred walls

of a disused warehouse offered on close

inspection a locked-away world of rust

and sand flecks and slate all hoarding the sun.

That's right: I was walking the Thames Path east

as though I was water myself - each twist

and turn bringing me out on the level,

leading me hither and thither through brick-chinks

into the hush of my clarified head,

into the chamber where one voice speaking

its mind could fathom what liberty means,

and catch the echo of others which ring

round the rim of the world. Catch and hold.

The buttery sun kept casting its light

on everything equally. The soft breeze

did as it always did, and ushered me on.

Next week the TUC makes a second foray into the arts world when a Comic Relief video calling for all the unpayable debts of the world's poorest countries to be cancelled - shot by Oscar-winning director, Anthony Minghella - is shown in Brighton on the Wednesday morning.

Note to editors: Reproduction of any or all of this verse is subject to agreement from Professor Motion's agent: Pat Kavanagh, Peters Fraser and Dunlop, Drury House, 34-43 Russell Street, London WC2B 5HA. Tel: 0207 344 1000.

Andrew Motion was born in 1952. He is now Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Andlia, a member of the Arts Council of England and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His work has received the Arvon/Observer prize, the John Llewelyn Rhys Prize and the Dylan Thomas Prize. He was appointed as Poet Laureate in May 1999.

Other media enquiries: Liz Chinchen 020 7467 1248, pager 01399 744115

    Issued by the TUC, Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS. 020 7636 4030

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