Motion’s early collections of poetry include The Pleasure Steamers (1977); Dangerous Play: Poems 1974–1984 (1984), which received a John Llewellyn Rhys Prize; and Natural Causes (1987), which won a Dylan Thomas Prize. Known for narrative poems that often take up historical events in a meditative mode, Motion’s poetry manages clarity of expression while hinting at turbulent or unresolved depths. He has said of his own work, “I want my writing to be as clear as water. I want readers to see all the way through its surfaces into the swamp." Motion’s later collections include The Customs House (2012), The Cinder Path (2009), The Mower: New & Selected Poems (2009), and Public Property (2002), his first collection as UK poet laureate.
Motion’s collections of nonfiction prose include biographies of artist and poisoner Thomas Wainewright (2000), of Philip Larkin (1993), and of John Keats (1997). Motion has also published autobiographical prose, including the works In the Blood (2006) and Ways of Life: On Places, Painters and Poets (2009). His novels include The Invention of Dr. Cake (2003) and Silver: Return to Treasure Island (2012).
Motion is also cofounder of the Poetry Archive and former president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. In 2015, he moved to Baltimore, Maryland, to become the Homewood Professor of the Arts at Johns Hopkins University.