This event was arranged and hosted by Toni Olander. Six people attended this event which focused on the English poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985). Each of us chose one Larkin poem to read and present to the group and what a fascinating assortment of themes came up, ranging from the experience of going into an empty church (‘Church Going’) to being a group of pigeons huddling together for warmth on a rooftop in the rain (‘Pigeons’).
The other poems covered well- known Larkin themes including life expectancy and the inevitability of death; the risk entailed in using independence of mind; the advantages and disadvantages of human love and the sheer pleasure of sometimes being alone for days on end, thus allowing the creative impulse to produce poetry:
Long Lion Days
Long lion days
Start with a white haze.
By midday you meet
A hammer of heat –
Whatever was sown
Now fully grown,
Now fully leaved,
Abounding, ablaze –
O long lion days!
In his biography of Larkin Andrew Motion highlights in Larkin’s poetry a “very English, glum accuracy” about emotions, places and relationships, what the poet Donald Davie describes as “lowered sights and diminished expectations”. The author Eric Homberger has called him “the saddest heart in the post-war supermarket”. Larkin said that deprivation for him was “what daffodils were for Wordsworth”.
For me this strikes a too negative chord and I would like to mention another more positive quality that I would call existential honesty. Larkin has himself explained how influential Thomas Hardy was in showing him how to describe life as it truly is rather than as it ought to be. He put it like this:
“Hardy is not a transcendental writer, he’s not a Yeats, he’s not an Eliot…I didn’t have to try and jack myself up to a concept of poetry that lay outside my own life….One could simply relapse back into one’s own life and write from it”.
This I feel is the essence of Philip Larkin’s poetry and the quality that has endeared him to the British public, so much so that in 2008 he was named by the Times newspaper as Britain’s greatest post -war writer.
Another important feature of Larkin’s poetry is his technical brilliance. Writing what I consider to be traditional poetry using rhythm, rhyme and common poetic devices, his poetry is never dull and the meaning is usually sufficiently clear for it to be understood after just one reading. In other words it is comprehensible and compelling.
Report written by Peter Dulley
If you want to read more of Philip Larkin’s opetry a good way to start is to go to the All Poetry website (www.allpoetry.com) and search for Philip Larkin, and if you would like to come to one of our Poetry Evenings (or other events) you can find out more about them on the ESCC website at (www.escc.se)