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Posts Tagged ‘Philip Larkin’

Another Evening Gone

November 19, 2014 | by

If you never have, watch this 1964 episode of the BBC show Monitor, in which John Betjeman interviews Philip Larkin. It is twenty-four minutes well spent. There’s the poetry: Larkin reads “Here” and “A Study of Reading Habits” and “Toads Revisited” and “Church Going” and “Wants.” Betjeman inventories the wares of a Hull department store like a mystical incantation.

There's the deliberate portrait of Larkin's circumscribed existence: we see his flat, the cemeteries and streets where he walked, and of course, the library where he worked.

Betjeman was a great champion of The Whitsun Weddings, and his knowledge of and admiration for Larkin’s work is clear. The portrait is certainly what both poets would have wished, carefully orchestrated from its location to its doleful closing quotation. And yet, there is the great, odd moment when Betjeman says, “I envy you, being a librarian. It must be marvelous to have something to fall back on.”

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He Killed the Hedgehog, and Other News

August 28, 2014 | by

Philip Larkin.

Philip Larkin. “His letters to girlfriends were full of little drawings, showing them as cute squirrels or bunnies or honey bears.”

  • Philip Larkin: Not always a tremendous admirer of people, but an ardent lover of animals. “His secretary Betty Mackereth remembers how, ‘He just stood at the window of his office, looking out, and said: “I mowed the lawn last night; and I killed the hedgehog.” And tears rolled down his face.’ ”
  • James Meyer, who was for thirty years an assistant of Jasper Johns, has pled guilty to stealing at least twenty-two of Johns’s works—an estimated $6.5 million value. 
  • We live in a world where not one but two new apps promise to re-create “the experience of a manual typewriter, but with the ease and speed of an iPad.”
  • Against Against: “In recent years, there has been an ‘Against [X]’ epidemic: against young-adult literature, against interpretation, against method, against theory, against epistemology, against happiness, against transparency, against ambience, against heterosexuality, against love, against exercise, et cetera. The form announces a polemic—probably a cranky one, and very likely an unfair one. But an essay with such a title has inoculated itself against the criticism of being too polemical or tendentious—after all, did you read the title? Caveat lector!”
  • In Pittsburgh, a nonprofit called City of Asylum provides free housing and a stipend “for foreign-born scribes who endured imprisonment, or worse, in their home countries.”

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On Epitaphic Fictions: Robert Louis Stevenson, Philip Larkin

April 29, 2014 | by

The second in a three-part series on writers’ epitaphs. Read yesterday’s installment here.

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John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson, 1887

There is very little that’s puzzling about Philip Larkin’s two-penny upright “This Be the Verse” (1971):

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can.
And don’t have any kids yourself.

“This Be the Verse” is arguably the best-loved English poem of the last half of the twentieth century. Funny, frank, transgressive—human—the poem has stood up admirably in pub, alley, and classroom. (Of how many humans with fancy titles can this be said?) But what about that awkward title? How did a writer as good as Larkin fuck up his forms of to be?

The title’s oddness is no empty gesture. The words “This Be the Verse” point us toward one of the sweetest, un-Larkin-esque poems in the language, Robert Louis Stevenson’s self-composed epitaph. When it’s published in an anthology, it usually appears as two stanzas called “Requiem,” but on Stevenson’s tomb, the epitaph is presented as a single block under his name and dates, without punctuation or title: Read More »

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Philip Larkin’s “The Trees”

April 10, 2014 | by

daffodils

Photo: 4028mdk09, via Wikimedia Commons

It is spring now, and very hard not to feel in clichés. Especially with daffodils everywhere—and very cheap they are, too. “Telephone flowers,” a friend of mine calls them. I buy them by the armful; don’t you?

When I was thirteen, I wrote my first and last piece of fiction. It was about an old woman in a nursing home suffering from dementia and planning her garden through the winter. It was called “Living Time.” Even by thirteen-year-old standards, it was mawkish and I knew it. Because—the silliness of that act of ventriloquism aside—what new is there to say about spring? Read More »

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Dramatic Deaths, and Other News

October 21, 2013 | by

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  • Citing health concerns, Alice Munro says she will not travel to Sweden to accept her Nobel in person.
  • “For the first time I felt myself in the presence of a talent greater than my own.” The long, strange friendship of Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin.
  • “People are messes, every one of us.” Editor Giancarlo DiTrapano talks Tyrant. 
  • For its sixtieth anniversary, the Crime Writers’ Association has asked its six hundred writer-members to choose the best crime novel of all time. Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Raymond Chandler fight it out.
  • Speaking of hot competition, the ten most dramatic deaths in fiction.

 

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Dear Sally Draper, Maybe Wait a Few Years to Read This

May 3, 2012 | by

Dear Sally Draper,

You know what’s weird? You could be my mother.

I mean, you’re not, obviously. My mom’s a ginger and Jewish, and her sixties childhood was really quite different from yours, what with her not having Don Draper as a dad or Betty as a mom, and her not seeing her step-grandmother go down on Roger Sterling in the back room at an American Cancer Society Benefit.

So yeah, sucks to be you.

But what if things had gone differently? What if my mom had stayed with that painter who looked like Charles Manson and once punched my grandfather in the face, and my dad had met you instead among the bohemians inhabiting seventies Jerusalem, drinking wine on Old City balconies, discussing poetry and politics, and inhaling the sweetly mingling odors of bellflower and frying falafel?

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