Posts Tagged ‘Philip Larkin’
May 3, 2012 | by Adam Wilson
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?
April 25, 2012 | by Sadie Stein
March 27, 2012 | by Emily Witt
Reading the poetry of Michael Robbins is kind of like driving around the parkways and frontage roads of America’s suburbs. His poems have a Best Buy, a Red Lobster, a Kinko’s, a Pizza Hut, and a Guitar Center; they reference the slogans of Christian billboards and the bumper stickers of hippies; they offer the choice between Safeway and Whole Foods and between the corporate classic-rock station, the corporate urban-music station, and All Things Considered. The poems are heavy with concern for the elephants, the whales, and the freedom of Tibet. They have a Rhianna song stuck in their heads.
Among poets, Robbins follows in the footsteps of Frederick Seidel and Paul Muldoon in writing about contemporary life using more traditional poetic forms and rhyme. He also references and sometimes even quotes Philip Larkin, John Berryman, Theodore Roethke, Wordsworth, and others. But Robbins is more playful and less grandiloquent than his sometimes-grim forefathers: after reading his first book, Alien vs. Predator, the two things I kept thinking of were not poetry at all, but rather the short stories of George Saunders and the video art of Ryan Trecartin. As Saunders did with marketing jargon and Trecartin with reality television, Robbins congeals his suburban idyll, transforming its vacant vernacular into unsettling poignancy. And sometimes it’s even funny.
I reached Robbins by phone in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. We spoke the day after Rick Santorum’s victory in that state’s Republican primary.
Where are you working right now?
I’m a visiting poet at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, which is where I’m staying and just waiting until I get out of this city.
You don’t like it?
The people are great at the university, my students are great, but Hattiesburg is … it’s just like if you opened a university in a Taco Bell, basically. It’s just the ugliest place I’ve ever seen in my life. Read More »
October 12, 2011 | by Sadie Stein
A cultural news roundup.
June 17, 2011 | by Lorin Stein
Father’s Day is coming up, and this year I want to get my dad something he’ll actually read. The last three books I am certain he has read are: something by George Pelecanos, Lush Life by Richard Price, and certainly something by Sue Grafton. What would be something different, but not too different?
Bryant? My long-lost half-brother? Can it really be you?
On the theory that our fathers are the same person, I would recommend Pete Dexter, Scott Spencer, the oft-mentioned-in-this-column Elmore Leonard, and maybe most of all The Main, by Trevanian, about which I remember almost nothing except that Dad lent it to me once when I was home sick and said it was really good. (And that I liked it, too.)
Dear Paris Review,
I have been struggling to understand the final stanza of Philip Larkin’s “Church Going” for a month or so. The more I think about it, the more I doubt my thoughts. Could someone please help give an explication of the stanza? I’m having problems answering bigger and smaller questions—for example, why is the air “blent”? Who is recognizing “our compulsions”? And why are they “robed as destinies”? And by whom are they robed? And to what is “that” referring in the line “that much can never be obsolete”? The final two lines baffle me as well. I’m sorry. Usually I am a very good close reader, but I have failed with this one. Please help. —Caroline Grey
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.
P.S. It wouldn’t hurt to remind your readers how to read poetry well. Consider this a general service, too.
Thank you for sending me back to “Church Going.” I enjoyed rereading it and thinking about it again. I’m afraid these (very rudimentary, very literal-minded) answers will have occurred to you, but here is where I’d start:
May 9, 2011 | by David Orr
Philip Larkin was the first poet I understood. He wasn’t the first poet I could write a reasonably coherent college essay about (that was probably George Herbert), nor was he the first poet whose poems I memorized (Vachel Lindsay, although in fairness, I was twelve). But Larkin was the first poet whose sensibility I felt I grasped in most of its dimensions: he appeared not as a blueprint, but as an actual structure. And a very peculiar structure at that. When I think of Larkin, I imagine a cathedral filled with cheap gray metal desks, or possibly a strip mall with a belfry. Indeed, Larkin combines so many opposed elements of lyric tradition and modern consciousness that he comes close to being the writerly equivalent of a folly—and he has a folly’s ability to seem simultaneously monumental and embarrassingly personal.
Yet people still often describe this complicated figure in one of two fairly straightforward ways. The first is to claim that Larkin is a wry poet of good-natured grumbling and resolute sanity, a portrait that has the virtue of being so inaccurate as to form a likeness in negative. The second way, which became more prevalent after Andrew Motion’s dirt-dishing biography was published, is to claim that Larkin was a nasty man whose poems are filled with secret nastiness that reveals the fundamental nastiness of … well, something really nasty. Great Britain, maybe. (I’ve written about some of these issues before; you can read further here, if you’re curious.)
Maybe it’s enough to say that Larkin—like Stevie Smith, like Bishop—is the kind of poet we seem bent on reducing, in part because he often seems desperately eager to contain something about himself. One of the more interesting perspectives on Larkin appears in an essay by Donald Justice from 1995. Justice’s nominal subject is Larkin’s short yet masterful poem “Coming,” but the real topic is exactly this kind of restraint:
It has been claimed for Larkin that he was never sentimental, never brutal. But the truth is that I find him both sentimental and brutal, though in different poems, or in different parts of the same poem … Irony, diffidence, skepticism, wit: not all of these together are enough to keep out a certain unreasonableness of feeling—the sentiment, the sentimentality—that keeps rising up out of Larkin’s poems. Actually, it is what saves them. Doesn’t everybody really know this?
Everybody doesn’t know it, actually. Even now.