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Posts Tagged ‘Philip Larkin’

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

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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?

Read More »

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Crowdsourced Books, Twenties Muses, the World’s Worst Word

April 25, 2012 | by

  • Reckless, glamorous It Girls of the Jazz Age.
  • The strange tale of Bram Stoker.
  • For the first time since 1945, there will be a new German edition of Mein Kampf.
  • Perhaps inevitably, a crowdsourced book written by the Internet.
  • This Philip Larkin tribute was fantastic.
  • The people have spoken, and they loathe the word moist.
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    Michael Robbins on ‘Alien vs. Predator’

    March 27, 2012 | by

    Michael Robbins.

    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 »

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