November 27, 2009

Larkin in the Library

We found a fantastic Have-Your-Say in the library suggestion box.

Here is what someone had written under the library's invitation to
Please share your thoughts with us

Morning at last: there in the snow
Your small blunt footprints come and go.
Night has left no more to show.
Not the candle, half-drunk wine,
Or touching joys; only this sign
of your life walking into mine.
But when they vanish with the rain
What morning woke to will remain,
Whether as happiness or pain.

-- Philip Larkin

Did the person who left this know - of course they did, they must have - that Philip Larkin worked his entire adult life as a librarian in Hull, a city in Yorkshire so off-side that its only other claim to fame, that I know of, is being the hometown of the great Mick Ronson. It's one of the few things I knew about him. The others are that he wrote a poem which started with the remarkable lines "They fuck you up, your mum and dad/ They may not mean to but they do" and that in letters to his friends he used disparaging terms about a number of ethnic groups and women. I pictured him reclusive, crabby, funny, English, unemotional. But as often happens, there were many more things to know once I took the time, inspired by this anonymous donation.

Philip Larkin - older than I realised - started writing poetry in the thirties and got his first job as a librarian during World War II, in Shropshire, in a library so small that he was the only employee. One of his duties was to light the library's gas lamps. The librarian he replaced was over 70, which means, if my calculations are right, that he would have been born about the same year as Charles Dickens died. And Philip Larkin stopped writing poetry in the 1970s, just as Mick Ronson, dubbed "The Pride of Hull", was playing guitar for David Bowie on the mountaintops of Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust.

During those forty years, this man who described himself as looking like an egg, with a bald head and black plastic glasses, this man who was not actually a recluse but certainly solitary, who replied when asked if he wouldn't like to visit China "I wouldn't mind going if I could come back the same day", lived three long, contemporaneous love stories -- the three women proffering hostile stares over his deathbed -- and published no more than a few slim volumes of poetry. He was reputed to be the most costive of artists, according to John Banville in the New York Review of Books. Rarely can I not make even an educated guess at the meaning of a word, but costive was beyond me. It turned out to mean constipated.

Luckily, like most librarians Philip Larkin couldn't bear to throw anything away, and after his death over a hundred poems were found and published in the Collected Poems, all of them works any less perfectionist of a poet would have published without a qualm. For one particularly fine love poem it was noted that he might not have published it to avoid one of his lovers asking for whom he had written it.

You can read John Banville's  "Homage to Philip Larkin"  in the New York Review of Books online

and Richard Goodman's essay on Philip Larkin, librarian from About Larkin.

Then get Philip Larkin's Collected poems at the library

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 05:30


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