Larkin, cigarette unlit, almost gesticulating with it, sitting in a squat, claustrophobic living room, bunny beside him, LPs lining the shelf, is nattering with John Betjeman, & delineates the whereabouts of a Poet’s influences. After remarking that people often criticism him for being miserable (though he believes himself to often be, somewhat humourous & doesn’t explain how he deals with criticism, which is what Betjeman wants to know), he explains that

“One’s poetry is based on the kind of person one is & the environment they find themselves in— one doesn’t choose the poetry one writes…”

with the implication we might add, that it, chooses the Poet. Nice to think that the poems i wrote have a mind & picked me.
What interests me though is how conscious can a poet then be if the poetry has chosen them due to factors, not exactly out of their control, but having been accrued from a lifetime spent in the company of one’s self & their environment? Is all poetry in some sense, inescapably confessional? We must watch our step. If the poem has a mind of its own, does it, in return, confess us? Wish i could have asked Larkin this.
The Confessional as a school of poetry is still disliked by some (i have seen it mocked in Facebook feeds, by poets, with books of theirs on bookshop shelves) & even the writer’s that make up its canon, were none too favourable of the label. Berryman famously denounces it in his foreword to The Dream Songs. Roethke, though i read his book of prose writing On the Poet & His Craft, never (if memory serves) acknowledges it, nor even mentions it. Ted Hughes expresses its influence as freeing him from the fustiness of English poetry at that time, Plath introducing him to it.

—(Aside: perhaps anyone reading this with further insights can add it in the comments— i write all these pieces with the few texts to my disposal, what trustworthy essays i can rummage out of the internet; & these days i’ve found some good podcasts & old documentaries, i am at the will of my own volition, which is worrying)—.

What is the root of this criticism? Well, i’d hazard a guess that its due to the capitalization of “confessional” being viewed as a pointless annexation to poetry. Poetry is organically a medium in which the big I AM takes the proscenium, without much truculent opposition? We expect to read of somebody, of the poet, even when their subject is not themselves. The choice of theme & subject reveals much about the author. It stands in, whether directly or indirectly as an expression of self & environment— we are to interpret what we read after all.
If then, poetry is a mode of expression that capitalizes on confession, it doesn’t need to be endowed with any special relevance by being bent into the laws of a School. If what Larkin says has any validity, it stands to reason that if any noun should represent the poet’s efforts, then the poet’s name is a perfectly acceptable label to mark their poetic style & range.
We might add what his longtime friend Kingsley Amis says, that he is

“Almost [don’t be swayed by his passivity; i interpret this as a rhetorical forage for the correct words] convinced he’s telling me what he feels. That none of the attitudes, none of the sentiments, have been thought for the occasion, or are ones he doesn’t hold.”

So we have some evidence that Larkin is being himself in his poems.
i should outline, before i go on, my definition of both “Confessional” & “confessional”, in poetry, as i want it to be understood, going forward in this essay. My interpretation does not lean on the religious confession of sin or guilt, nothing so secretive, the poem may act as a confessional box, with a divider, behind which the poet may pour themselves outward; but nothing really so, dare i say, sinister— darkness & madness linger behind both; though faith too may be both an existential & spiritual problem for the poet, it is not exclusively a religious one.
Rather, i have always thought of it as a use of self to engage with the world through poetry, an act of cathartic release from the cooped up quarters of one’s mind, a jettison of anxieties that are caused by the world & can in turn, affect the world (of the reader) for good or ill. In short, treatment of environment & self.
Though Larkin is known for writing a you-can’t-fool-me-rational-democratic poetry, he isn’t always straight with us & i would put this down to his Englishness. We English, or at least a good chunk of us, don’t feel comfortable wearing emotions inside out. We cluster everything within & they wend their odd ways out in quirks & fumbling, but usually excessive politeness; Larkin was well mannered in the upper middle class English way.
Larkin, i’d say, reveals much in the locations he picks, which is why he persisted living in Hull for so many years: he didn’t want to be a writer who visits a place & writes as a tourist, but as part of the fabric of the region. Larkin has become synonymous with Hull, something i don’t think he’d quarrel with, though he never felt he belonged anywhere & dreaded that how we live measures our own nature as Mr Bleaney explains from his spartan boarding house room.
In the poem Here Larkin doesn’t tell us he’s swerving east, from rich industrial shadows towards Hull, but his closing line (if you’ve been to Hull) is a giveaway: as you approach Hull, you travel with the Humber to your right, large enough to not see much, if any land beyond it & it feels, once you finally arrive at the station, as if you’ve reached the end of England (or one of its ends). But i would contest that Hull is a figurative front for something celebratory.
Here, is the 1st poem of Larkin’s 1964 collection The Whitsun Weddings, which was his 3rd volume, following from 1955s The Less Deceived. He was drip feeding lines, erasing them to re-write them with minor adjustments, which in turn would be erased. For title poem The Whitsun Weddings, this went on for some 2-3 years; i think he began writing the title poem the same year The Less Deceived was published.
During the time of writing The Whitsun Weddings, Larkin was the librarian at Brynmor Jones Library. This casts a different light on his opening line swerving east, from rich industrial shadows. Is Larkin (perhaps, unbeknownst to himself) saying that he has finally reached the light at the end of the tunnel, or ocean at the mouth of the estuary, his route highlighted through the terrain of the creative impulse, having left the shadows of creative industry, the shadows of the quotidian, which, consider, he doesn’t use a bleak adjective to describe, but the word rich? This is an unexpected word choice & illustrates a desire to articulate that he is impressed with his industriousness, celebrates it even as the integral dynamo for his productivity, which despite being slow, does find its way. Larkin says somewhere that he couldn’t, nor would he want to be tasked with writing all day, if he were a full time writer; that he actually enjoyed working a day job, the order & duty. The title Here is telling: as if to say, “I am still here, writing & being industrious, even if you haven’t heard from me in a while.”
Larkin, is often charged with being miserable, as mentioned above, but i think some of this was a character he played. He knew like Dylan Thomas how to appeal to people’s sense of what to expect from a poet’s extrovert personality. His poems reveal much & to me, a conflicted man. The last line of the 3rd stanza leading into the 4th of his poem Here goes

Isolate villages, where removed lives
Loneliness clarifies.

Larkin never married. He hated marriage. Perhaps, it was a dislike of permanence, of something sticking & growing fetid; which is ironic considering his fidelity to place. Though it may only be the fact of his using the images that tell us so, permanence makes an appearance in the 3rd stanza, as a list of locations, which include tattoo-shops, the slave museum & mortgaged half built edges, which are all permanent things.
But despite the loneliness, there is a Romantic element burrowed away in Larkin’s stanzas. We have the pastoral of ships, the potential to journey beyond restraint, to become changed; a foreshadowing of a more Romantic Larkin, of Romantic content, or even just intent. In addition there is the luminously peopled air which ascends. A clear upwards motion, the people changed from the derogatory cut-price crowd. But then the ending leaves us, well me at least, feeling ambiguous & this is where i really draw my conclusion that Larkin is conflicted. Reaching the land suddenly beyond a beach Larkin concludes that Here may be

                                  ,..unfenced existence:
Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach.

Now unfenced existence may be a lusted freedom, a freedom we don’t even know we want, like the paradise he expresses previous generations secretly desire, when they see two youngsters who he guesses are fucking each other; but that paradise comes later in High Windows. However, if we are facing the sun, the sun is in our eyes & we can’t see this unfenced existence without squinting, & we can’t trust someone or even something untalkative to describe it to us & we also can’t touch what is out of reach. So all our senses are reduced to being useless fixtures. We are blank. But then we know the paradise is out there, it is ahead of us always. Is that it for Larkin? To exert yourself, with only the hope that the next poem will come? That time will gradually alter everything whether for better or worse, without us ever really witnessing it till much later?
There is always hope as long as the poet remains industrious, on his toes; so long as the confession is always on the tip of the tongue to be chased into form; so long as his characterizations of the tall I AM’s depictions of place, cooperate & soldier onward; then existence, i guess, remains unfenced, it must always be so for the poet;— what would a poet have to write about in a perfect world?

—(i want to repeat, as i have said in previous essays that this is not a definitive criticism with stable foundations, i know many who read these are extremely well read & can bring a lot to the continuation of the essay, through discussion; the comment feed in previous essays was great. So please, the comments are below & i am all ears & willing: do you think poetry is essentially confessional? What does that say about Confessional poetry? Is that the only poetry there is? Should i shut up & go jump in the sea? Do you think Larkin is Confessional or confessional in other way? Do you like/dislike Larkin? How about Confessional poetry? Do you confess [un]consciously in your poetry?  If this essay interests you but you don’t feel confident, do not be anxious, people are more magnanimous than you may think & your questions or criticisms with be received fairly. Thanks for reading. One last thing, Larkin’s poem here, for those who don’t know it, can be found easily by searching it in Google, it is very good)—.

Posted by:DPM

DPM is an idea-logue (sic) and object-oriented speculative realist, attempting to be response-able in an irresponse-able society.

52 thoughts on “The Larkin Industrial Complex: time for confession

  1. I think confessions can be easily faked if the writer has skill. Thus, an aesthetic of confession can at least sell books, whether or not what is confessed has actually been felt or has a real existential dimension (the writer’s consciousness). Humans have been known to fake empathy, so a poetic sociopath is possible. In fact I would argue that there are many academic writers who display such a trait: literary sociopathy! 🙂

    1. That’s a good point. That may be something of a characterization. Perhaps Berryman’s Henry or even Larkin courting the appeal of misery. Thomas did it too. It is a personality worn over the top of the author they use to both deflect critique & court attention from readers & the media.

      1. Playing the tortured artist is also another Romantic stereotype; the misunderstood genius warring against the Heavens with his pen… now just add a scarf and a beret and anyone can imagine they are a genius!

  2. I must confess to not being all too familiar with Larkin’s poetry. I have a line rattling in my head that I seem to remember being from a Larkin poem in the pov of a character who’d committed a murder, I think: “I found a thing to do…” Does that ring a bell? I’m duly humbled and intrigued on this count, anyway, so I’ll be reading up.

    In any case, I’m not sure if I agree with Dr. Schnee that a literary sociopath (I know the creature well) can really be so adept as not to reveal (confess?) in some way his/her true nature. In fact, the point I was planning to make as I was reading this, is that I do agree with dpm’s estimation of poetry, in that “It stands in, whether directly or indirectly as an expression of self & environment” — and that artifice and/or disingenuousness in poetry (especially) tends to give off a distinctive odor, like a rat, yet is no less revealing of the self and the environment of which it is a product.

    Also, I actually have a poem in my arsenal called, “Confessional,” which contains a good bit of self-criticism, and, of course, potty humor. I’ll post it sometime soon.

    1. i’m sorry, the line nor matter of the poem, don’t ring a bell, but i’ll whip through the Complete Poems later & try to find out.
      i see your point regarding the literary sociopath, but only if they are not the real thing, if they are posing as literary sorts, then it is quite easy to catch them in the act. i think that sort of dishonesty is easily noted by a strong reader. i realized i had problems in my early writing days, because i had no sense of place, which caused problems, it was only when i became comfortable with who i was in the poems & recognized how to be in the poem that i could use place. Living in Korea so long helped, but i’m interested to write about England, which i hope i’ll get to do again one day. i feel i must be living there again to do it right though, for it to be more earnest, which is odd because i am English & grew up there.
      Thanks for reading. Do you have a blog?

  3. I don’t really like Larkin. I think it has something to do with his attitude to jazz.

    Confessional poetry:
    I rather see poetry as an analogy of the sex/sexuality/gender debate. Confessional poetry is one of the manifestations of a kind of essentialism – the poet saying “This is me, this is how I am, who I am, and I can’t help it.” On the other hand we have the kind of poetry that cannot escape the culture from which it springs, the ideologies of the day (even if it kicks against them it lets them set the agenda), the language and its hegemonic code – that kind of poetry is performed, performative, a social and cultural product, like gender.

    I trust I have muddied the water. 🙂

    1. The water was filtered before how do you make it like this…
      I am interested in Larkin for being a poet with a proper job. His poems are technically brilliant & i think he’s earnest too. I don’t believe he wanted to be a snob, he was trying to evade it.
      I see your point with Confessional poetry, except for Roethke & Berryman. The others I’d defend the same way i might defend a self-portrait: why not use me to talk about the world, & the more screwed up i am, isn’t that more reason?
      How far is poetry a gender debate? Does that mean poets are fixed to writing from the pov of gender? Then why is confession not tied up with that? I think Larkin’s quote still stands to reason. We cannot escape our sex, even if our body & mind don’t agree some part of us finds or seeks the truth, maybe not always & maybe late, but there is an effort to figure it out.
      But i am a straight white man & i don’t want to think i know or sound like i know the problems of trans or gay people. I too didn’t choose these traits. This isn’t to sound defensive in order to be on the offensive.

      1. I didn’t say it WAS a gender debate, I said it was ANALOGOUS to the debate about gender (and sex and sexuality), where the two polarised positions are essentialist and cultural/performative. It has got nothing to do with YOUR being straight, white, and male, any more than it has to do with my being gay, white, and female. I don’t think I can put it any clearer than I did in my first message.

        The question I raised is whether a poet writes because of who he is, because of something intrinsic in him, or writes from a culture, because of something extrinsic. Saying “Both, of course,” doesn’t really work well, even though it’s easy to argue. We poets all like to think it’s down to our inner genius; it is (I would put forward as an argument) much more about the world we grew up in, the world that both nurtured and constrained us.

      2. Sorry. My fault entirely, i didn’t read that part about “analogy” properly. i need to read more carefully.
        i understand more clearly what you are saying now, i think.
        i am not a poet who believes there is a “genius” behind me churning the stuff out, but i know there is something within me that offers it me, i can’t control it, but i think i’m swayed to the poet relying on both the intrinsic & extrinsic. That is what i interpret Larkin as saying in his quote regarding the poet’s lack of a say in what kind of poetry they write. But i don’t really understand your position entirely, as it seems to me that environment affects self. Coming to Korea changed me, the way i think & process, actually, not changed, but influenced my existing set of characteristics. i am sure if i went somewhere else for a long enough period i would alter again & being a poet something would alter there in some way. So i can’t see how i can get out of both influencing me as a poet i can’t escape place or myself. Are you saying it is one or the other? Or that one weighs heavier than the other on us? Also, are you saying Essentialism & hegemonic codes or inessential to poetry as a general rule of thumb?

  4. Very thought provoking, Daniel, and I fear my head may explode. Maybe I can answer one question about my own writing. A psychologist once told me that when you visit a psychologist *you* decide what you reveal/confess. I am very aware of that, even though I believe in writing from the heart. I think even unconscious confession implies a desire to do that. I suppose my life shapes what I write as it pops out, but I haven’t really thought of it as confessional in any way. PS: Assuming it’s winter where you are, please don’t jump in the sea.

    1. My definition of confession pretty much fits your anecdotal definition. Moreover, Larkin’s quote, which this essay builds from, i think also fits. i have not made up my mind yet on whether all poets are unavoidably confessing, it is an idea i am entertaining & it is open to speculation & questioning. Pretty much all of my ideas on anything are. Most Confessional poets were in therapy & poetry became a mode of coping, for some. Larkin wasn’t part of the Confessional canon, nor as far as i know did he seek counselling from a psychologist or priest, so, for him to be a Confessional poet, is pure speculation.
      It is winter & jumping in the sea is probably not a good idea. Glad someone cares. Haha. Thanks for your thoughts, most relevant to the topic.

  5. Oy! I was off by over a century. That line was from a Robert Browning poem, “Porphyria’s Lover” (which is about, lo and behold, a sociopath…). Maybe Larkin references it somewhere?

    1. Ah Browning. The great dramatist. Larkin didn’t really enjoy reading, ironically. So i can’t say with certainty he knew Browning, who is a challenging writer after all. I mean the Sordello, what a mind bender. & the Ring & the Book. I actually read both when i was in my early 20s, which impressed my lecturers immensely owing that Browning wasn’t even on the syllabus.

  6. I think that many poets reveal rather than confess, a subtle distinction, but one that must be made. For a number of years I consciously sought to reveal little about myself, only to discover much later that what I avoided formed a separate picture of me. Hard to get away from oneself.

      1. Doesn’t confession imply sin and guilt? One can reveal without guilt. If I tell you I am right-handed, I’m merely revealing a fact. It’s not a confession. Of course if I were left-handed, it might be a confession. The sinistre, and all that. 🙂

      2. Well yes, in the case of confession, but Confession causes more difficulty. Then i think, perhaps, the lines become blurred between what is revealed & what is Confessed. What do you think?

  7. I agree that confession likely causes more difficulty, but am unsure as to the root of the blurring. Maybe it’s just that blending area. Hmm.

    1. My definition of Confessional poetry differs somewhat from religious confession, so for me, & my reading of Confessional poetry, the line between reveal & Confession are not easily determined, as not all Confessional Poets confess guilt. Roethke certainly doesn’t. Roethke reveals to me, which would be Confession rather than confession. i’d argue Larkin is similar, as his depression doesn’t seem to be an inhibiting factor, which i would put down to his Englishness.
      Is the difference between capitalized & non-capitalized (C)confession clear? i don’t know if its confusing, i tried to make the distinction clear in the essay.

      1. I suppose I equate “guilt” to the revelation of one’s inadequacies, self-loathing, etc. Dunno. I’ve not liked the term “confessional poet” in that it seems to be used pejoratively, and I admire the work of a good many of them. And yes, I think your distinction is clear, and I’m just an ornery cuss. 🙂

      2. i think i want to alter that depiction of the “confessional poet”. i wonder if self portraits get as much negative criticism? i have no knowledge of art criticism so i can’t say. Hopefully someone will chime in to answer this.

  8. I write autobiographical poetry. This makes my work “Confessional”, I must confess. Having said that, I think obscurity is the secret to successful confession. By “successful” I mean readable, entertaining, of interest to someone other than oneself. Using symbolism—or perhaps sublimation is a more fitting word—to shade the obvious helps conjure provocative images in the reader that may have nothing to do with what the writer meant. But deep in the recesses of the prose, beneath the ink, the embarrassing truth lurks hidden, like a secret lending weight to the text.

    I don’t enjoy reading poetry. So in that sense I may be a bit like Larkin–but that distaste, in my case, is restricted solely to poetry. I read everything else I can get my hands on at every chance. So my breadth of understanding of the craft is limited. I’d never heard of Larkin before you introduced him in an earlier post. But I have found using the “Confessional” form makes poetry personal, something of an expression that speaks for itself, rather than to a style or convention that requires a certain literacy. Of course, one must know what they’re doing, or it all falls by the wayside.

    1. i’m glad “autobiographical” & “Confessional” aren’t no goes for you.
      Literature being about expression, numerous methods must be taken into consideration. To be straightforward is one thing, but you still have to say something of interest & unless your life is exceptionally colourful (even then you should write well) you need to consider at various levels of awareness what & how you want to say something. Using yourself as the character makes the work both more natural & authentic. Embodying others, it is very difficult to get the same results.
      I feel using “I” in a poem sometimes needs defending. I have listened in on criticisms of this & can’t get my head round it.

      1. It’s something I’ve never gotten, poetry. I enjoy complex lyrics in songs—Bob Dylan, Jagger/Richards, Henley/Frey, Al Stewart, Nick Drake, the list goes on—but that is poetry you hear, rhythmic, rhyming, formulaic even, but ear catching, thought provoking. Poetry, on the other hand, is too often self-indulgent, personal and whimsical—what I did today and how I felt about it. Even those poets that I admire, I appreciate for what I’ve learned from them, not so much their stories—Dylan Thomas, Ginsberg, TS Eliot, Nabokov along with every other well published poet I’ve read—but I’m a quick study. I only read a few passages of a poet’s work and I get where they excel, whether because of the simplicity of phrase, their cosmic exuberance, the use of symbolic metaphors or atmospheric descriptions, and absorb it into my own universe. My backbone is lyricism. That is where I’m the strongest. But rhyming poetry, in my opinion, is the worst of the genre, so I’ve learned to stretch those lyrics, as well as condense my prose, into poems.

      2. & if lyricism is your strong point, nurture it. i am quite vociferous that poetry & lyricism are their own disciplines & deserve to be respected for their own individual qualities. i can play guitar, ok, i have some style, been playing since i was 13, i can write a melody & i can write poems till they spill out my ears, but can i write lyrics? Can i balls. i have just stopped trying, i actually always venture into out worn cliches, i make Ed Sheeran look like a lyrical genius haha. So to me, they deserve to be respected each their own. i like it that artists specialize. Novelists who concentrate on prose, songwriters on lyrics, poets on poetry, sculptures on sculpture etc. It means complete exploration of discipline. i branch to essays, but i think they marry with the poet’s task of transparency. So in short, i get you.

  9. Daniel, I always liked it that Eliot, who supposedly championed “impersonality” in poetry, late in life called his Waste Land personal grouse against life. What Confessional poetry seems to be, when said all derogatory, jives with both of Eliot’s views I think: The Waste Land is deeply personal & autobiographical (everything is autobiographical, as you quote Larkin), it’s about his breakdown & post-WW1 Europe, but it’s done in such a way it suggests all of history, myth, religion, as well as typists & urban nobodies. Confessional poetry seems to suggest an undisciplined spilling of mere emotion, which maybe is therapeutic, but doesn’t necessarily make good poetry. Neither does filtering personal trauma through myth & history either, but that kind of distance might help.

    You might like this BBC radio doc on Thom Gunn,

    which talks an awful lot about this, how he didn’t like Confessional poetry & refused to make his poetry into the therapist’s couch, & how one of his last long poems about a lover dying of AIDS, but written (I think) in heroic couplets, gave him the structure to make something great that otherwise might be a good diary entry, or bit of reportage, or even a protest poems about how early AIDS victims were treated, but not memorable art. Somewhere Toni Morrison says as much, she was asked if she was angry etc. while writing her slavery novel Beloved, & she said she couldn’t be, it couldn’t just be polemic or political.

    I haven’t read much Larkin, but did like his appearance on Desert Island Discs. Although I felt horrible for him that his newest Collected Poems is something like 800pp, even though the volume he left at his death was what, maybe 200pp? I wonder what you make of things like this too (the same thing happened to the American Elizabeth Bishop), how authors are violated posthumously for the sake of scholarship.

    I wonder if you’d ever do a Larkin forerunner for Underfoot, as you seem to know the guy & know the poetry.

    BTW yr title has me thinking now that maybe Larkin had something to do with the Kennedy assassination.

    1. i think your choosing Eliot breaks to the heart of this matter: the poet can’t really avoid themselves being present in some introvert or extrovert way in their poems. Even your Early Man poems, tell us alot about where your interests lie & what that might mean for man now in comparison. It may be conjectural, but you give us that to conjecture. The poet is seldom straight with us & thankfully not. i don’t mind what the poet uses to express what they want to, i just want the writing to be very good. i don’t mind directness, but it must intrigue, humour me, teach, show me something. That i think is where taste becomes a factor.
      i think i told you that i couldn’t get into Thom Gunn’s ‘The Man with Night Sweats’, but then i read it from back to front & for some reason it started to work on me, i even got quite upset with some of the poems. i think the poem you may be talking about is the title poem of that collection, i’ll have to check later. There is an aloofness in Gunn, he’s more observing, like an omnipotent narrator of tragic events. i can even stomach his formalities. He’s quite brilliant & i think i was just in the wrong frame of mind when i first read him. Thanks for the radio doc, i’ll give it a listen later.
      Something similar to Larkin & Bishop’s treatment, is what they did with Nabokov’s ‘Laura’, which i boycotted, because Nabokov never finished it, wasn’t really close & would have hated people reading his unfinished work. i have a nice Faber issue of Larkin, i don’t know how it could be 800 unless it has some critical essays & footnotes, which i think are great additions, but otherwise… what fills them up, do you know? i never really read Bishop other than a handful online. i know more about her than i read her, i listened to some good podcasts about her. i know about her through Lowell, (who used history, like Eliot, to good effect to reveal himself, i think).
      The only thing stopping me doing a forerunner is sitting & typing the poems up. i want to do a Roy Fisher forerunner, introduce him. Maybe Larkin is a good one. Maybe if i type up one a day then in a week i’ll have one.
      Ah, glad you mention the title. Y’know, i recognize people click on stuff that has a snappy title, i thought, this is a bit silly, but it all matches in a hyperbolic way, the contents of the essay. i doubt he would be arsed to assassinate anyone, other than his own character.
      (will take me a while to answer your email, i’ll work on it bit by bit, a lot to cover.)

      1. Funny you say that, I’m going to say in a note at the end of the Old Europe poems that it’s all random what got in there, it’s all what I’m drawn to; you wouldn’t know from my poems how war-obsessed they were, but you’d guess they were highly ritualistic, had exhaustive burials, & were creative in all mediums, & yr right, that’s all just me choosing.

        Here’s all I know about the Larkin; I guess some of the filler are notes, understandable, but the rest certainly not; reviewer makes the point that this kind of treatment is good for somebody like Eliot but not Larkin, since they shed light on Eliot’s biography, but none of the previously unpublished Larkin do that for him, seems a pity:

        I’ve mentioned that a mere 90 of 730 pages of this book make up the poems Larkin chose to publish in his four collections, including “The North Ship.” The rest are taken up largely with the commentary, and with “other poems published in the poet’s lifetime” — of which two, “Aubade” and “Love,” are just about worth a second look. Hardly worth even a first look are any of the page after page of “poems not published in the poet’s lifetime.” These include such drolleries as the couplet “Walt Whitman / Was certainly no titman.” Isn’t it worth asking why these poems were unpublished in the poet’s lifetime?

      2. i think that is admirable of you to fess up to your taste for the less brutal side of history, i think transparency is important, especially for poets.
        i think there is good reason why poets didn’t publish something, it is akin to spotting an actor with sweat patches, we need some affirmation that they are mortal, we feel some comfort in knowing a masterful poet didn’t spin out endless reams of genius. In Larkin’s case though, he sort of admitted his inspiration waned & just sort of stopped writing poetry in his later years, he’d rather drown in gin & tonic. So whether they get published or not, he’s already been quite vocal about his failure to keep the engine humming. It terrifies me. i still have many poems to come & i hope as i draw my last breath i have a pen in my hand writing my final moment till the pen trails off with the bbbbeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeepppppppppppppppppppppppp…
        That’d be amazing if you type them up, i’m just up to my neck at the moment, i have a few essay ideas & no time to write them, as well as poems poems poems, some conversation fragments & what not. My wife bought a bar, so i am running the guesthouse alone serving breakfast, cleaning, shopping, check-in, then sometimes having to open the cafe at night, so, as you can imagine… i’ll write a little something, or you can take a chunk out of this essay, or just link to it, i am happy to get as many readers as possible, up to you pal.

      3. With the history poems especially, it’s important to say that none of it’s complete; that even reading the hefty archaeology books isn’t complete; so that a few dozen poems are just lucky finds wrested from the darkness, I’m amazed I got them out. ………..Didn’t know about the bar, friend; well, someday an asshole American will be there drunk, spouting Eliot. Go easy on him….. & just email me the titles of your favorite Larkin’s, I’ll get on typing.

      4. & hell, if you write a few hundred words on Larkin, whatever you want, just tell me the poems & I’ll type em out. I’ve got the Faber one here too, it’ll give me an excuse to read the guy.

    1. i think you absolutely should write about Walsall, after all Roy Fisher wrote extensively about Birmingham, there is plenty of subject in any of the forgotten towns of the Midlands, never thought i’d hear myself say that, but i now, after living where i currently do, think every place has something, even an abundance of material, if you can tap into the right mood. i think your poems get at that, for sure.

  10. Larkin’s ‘unfenced existence’, echoed
    in Bob Dylan’s ‘Tambourine Man’.
    … “but for the sky there are no
    fences facing”.

    1. i never made that association, but i think that’s accurate. i wonder now if Dylan ever read Larkin? Not that it detracts from the concept of ‘unfenced existence’. i have no quarrel with the same concept being developed without knowledge of another having done so.

      1. I can guarantee he did.
        If you listen to Dylan’s Nobel Lecture,
        the breadth of his literary knowledge is
        truly impressive.
        Worth googling when you’ve got the time.

      2. O i am aware of how broadly Dylan read. & Larkin is a pretty well known poet, so i don’t see why not. It makes sense. Dylan after all, wrote a number of songs about England.

      1. Wouldn’t have pegged him as much of a fan of folk music, thought he would be strictly classical & jazz. Although I am sure if I did some surface research I’d know better.

  11. “One’s poetry is based on the kind of person one is & the environment they find themselves in— one doesn’t choose the poetry one writes…” – This quote has baffled me for a long time now. I did my undergrad diss on Larkin’s poetry and found that in many ways, when he frees himself from his conscience, he becomes an almost visionary poet, yet this quote is what you’d expect from a materialist, is it not? The man is a bundle of contradictions.

    If you ever get the chance (and if you haven’t read it before), read The Main of Light by Seamus Heaney, it clarified for me a side of Larkin which tends to be ignored.

    1. It seems to me (& you seem to be more in the know than me) but Larkin is very much a poet of place, England is his boundary & he can be squeezed into just Hull. Do I don’t know if that would be called materialist, I’ve always pegged him as Existential, not afraid to stare his humanity in the face & question it & place is so integral to that. Without it can identity form? Place = culture & I don’t think Larkin is much nor his vision of humanity, without culture, whatever that may be, even if it qas working class Hull.

Discuss Below

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.