Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Philip Larkin’s connections to the City of Culture

Kyra Piperides, a PhD student in the Department of English and Related Literature, looks at Larkin’s connections to Hull including the recent preservation of his flat in the city by Historic England.

Some of Larkin's poetry set up in a printing press.
(Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
As a researcher studying Philip Larkin’s poetry, I am frequently confronted with the comment: “I remember his poem about… you know… what your parents do to you!” In 2015 Professor Edwin Dawes, chair of the Philip Larkin Society, remarked that “[Larkin’s] words are quoted more frequently than those of any of his poetic contemporaries”. While the often allusively rephrased first lines of This Be The Verse roll so easily off the tongues of so many, it is the closing line of An Arundel Tomb that demonstrates the poet’s continuing relevance. A quick Twitter and Instagram search shows that #WhatWillSurviveOfUsIsLove has become associated with such diverse topics as LGBT+ rights, war and random acts of kindness. It is easy to see why Larkin became known as the country’s unofficial laureate.
Philip Larkin photographed in the
newly-completed Brynmor Jones
Library, 1969.  Photograph
by Fay Godwin. 

In 2003 Larkin was named favourite poet by the Poetry Book Society and the Poetry Library and in 2008, he topped The Times’ list of greatest British postwar writers. Despite declining the position of Poet Laureate shortly before his death, Larkin was finally memorialised in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner in December 2016. Further official recognition has come very recently, with the announcement in July 2017 that Historic England are to preserve the Hull flat in which he lived for eighteen years and wrote much of his poetry, with a Grade II listing.

While it may have taken a little longer for Westminster to officially recognise the poet, Larkin has long been celebrated in Yorkshire. From the windows of the University of Hull’s Larkin Building, you have a perfect view of the Brynmor
Jones Library, the iconic building that the poet-librarian oversaw the development and running of from 1955-1985. In the city immortalised in Here – “Here domes and statues, spires and cranes cluster/ Beside grain-scattered streets, barge-crowded water” – Larkin’s statue greets those arriving by train, his poems engraved below their feet. The Larkin trail guides visitors through significant points in Hull and beyond, and 40 technicolour toads graced the streets to mark 25 years since the poet’s death in 2010.

One of the technicolour toads.
CC-BY 2.0
It was the poet’s poignant words that introduced the promotional video for Hull’s successful campaign for the title of UK City of Culture 2017. The year’s celebrations have provoked all-the-more interest in Larkin, with a biographic exhibition opening in July 2017. Larkin: New Eyes Each Year features an enormous collection of the poet’s possessions, fittingly presented in the Brynmor Jones Library. Shelf after shelf of books are displayed, still in the order that the poet-librarian had them arranged, their breadth of topics highlighting his diverse interests. The words “books are a load of crap” are wittily placed, half-concealed on the shelves, behind his collection. As the complexities of the poet’s character are explored in the exhibition, visitors are given the opportunity to take a seat on a park bench, to immerse themselves in the former librarian’s poetry. Biographical interest and controversy aside, it is ultimately Larkin’s poetry that secured his place in Poet’s Corner and the title of the nation’s favourite poet.

A statue of Philip Larkin
(Flickr CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The University of York library houses a range of Larkin’s work alongside related critical and The Complete Poems of Philip Larkin (2015), edited by Archie Burnett, contains all of Larkin’s published Larkin, Ideology and Critical Violence: A Case of Wrongful Conviction (2008). Andrew Motion’s Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Life (1993) and James Booth’s Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love (2015) are engaging biographies. Audio cassettes of Larkin reading his poems are also available.
poems and a selection of unpublished pieces, complete with a comprehensive commentary. The library’s collection includes several introductions to Larkin and his poetry, as well as a selection of excellent critical works including John Osborne’s
biographical texts.

A number of Larkin’s works are held in the Poetry Society Library collection, shelved at the end of the literature section in the JB Morrell Library. This collection has over 10,000 books available to borrow, concentrating mainly on 20th century poetry in English. The Library’s rare book collection also has the Eliot collection, focusing on 20th century literature with a wide range of different authors. All the material held by the Library can be searched using the catalogue YorSearch.

Larkin: New Eyes Each Year is open until Sunday 1 October 2017, and Hull is only an hour away by train!

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