Wednesday, 31 May 2017

“Art indeed is long, but life is short.” 300 years of Hull’s cultural history.

This year Hull is the 2017 UK City of Culture.  This is an award given every four years “to a city that demonstrates the belief in the transformational power of culture”.  In a blog post to accompany an exhibition on Hull's cultural history, Ilka Heale, Metadata Specialist, highlights some books on the subject in the University Library.

Hull City of Culture opening 2016. Photographer Andrew
Reid Wildman. (CC BY-NC 2.0).

One of the enjoyable aspects of my job is working with colleagues to promote the wide and varied collections held at the University Library.  Choosing a theme for an exhibition is always fun and for our latest display, we have decided to focus on Hull, this year’s UK City of Culture.

At York, we have a vast local history collection donated to the Library by Raymond Burton (indeed one of the buildings that makes up the University Library is named after him).  The Raymond Burton Yorkshire collection contains a wonderful selection of books and ephemera on York and the wider county of Yorkshire.  Using this as a starting point, the display focuses on four areas: the history of the city, theatre, poetry and entertainment.

Hull has a long history of celebrated poets from Andrew Marvell to Andrew Motion via Stevie Smith and Roger McGough and the Poetry Society collection, part of the Library collection, was a good place to find works by all the poets we needed.  The collection consists of around 11,000 volumes of both literary and critical works, especially poetry, published between 1709-2006.  In particular there is an emphasis on English writing of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The poet Philip Larkin is probably the greatest connection to Hull.   As well as his volumes of poetry,
Philip Larkin photographed in the
newly-completed Brynmor Jones
Library, 1969.  Photograph
by Fay Godwin. 
he wrote two novels, Jill and A Girl in Winter and two books of collected journalism.  In 1955, Larkin moved to Hull to take up a post as Librarian at the University of Hull until his death in 1985.

Larkin was a contemporary of Harry Fairhurst, the first Librarian at the newly created University of York. No doubt the two would probably have met, as Librarians they both  oversaw the building of their respective libraries.  In the exhibition, you can see a letter from Larkin that contains a short verse. It seems that this letter was in reply to one from Fairhurst but unfortunately, we do not know what the cryptic verse refers to.

The poets Roger McGough, Douglas Dunn and Andrew Motion also crossed paths with Larkin at Hull.

Liverpool poet, Roger McGough studied French and Geography at the University of Hull. He lived in one of University hall’s during his three years where he served as hall librarian, the same halls that Larkin, newly arrived at Hull, moved into whilst looking for accommodation. 

Douglas Dunn is a major Scottish poet, editor and critic who studied English at the University of Hull from 1967-1969 where he also worked in the University library with Larkin.  In 1969 he published his first book of poetry Terry Street with the publisher Faber on Larkin’s recommendation. This
collection of poetry describes the community where he was living in Hull.  
Magnetic fridge poetry. Photographer Steve Johnson.  (CC BY 2.0).

Another Philip Larkin connection is the former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion.  Motion taught English at the University of Hull from 1976-1980 where he met Larkin.  He was later appointed as one of his literary executors where he rescued many of Larkin’s papers following his death.  His 1993 biography of his friend Philip Larkin: a writer’s life won the Whitbread Prize for Biography.

The exhibition is located within four cases on the ground floor of the Fairhurst Building and will be on display until the end June 2017.  The Library is accessible to anyone, although you will need to get a day pass from Library reception if you are not a University of York Library card holder.

To find more information on the material used in the exhibition along with other titles on Hull, search YorSearch, our Library catalogue.  Find further details of the Library’s collections

As for Hull, a packed arts and cultural programme is planned throughout the year featuring dance, theatre, film, art and music.  Further details can be found on the festival website.

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