picking up bits of the past


When Anthony Thwaite first read Philip Larkin’s work, in 1955, he was “as transfixed as I was when I first read The Waste Land”. The two poets became friends and collaborators. Thwaite helped Larkin to compile his Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse and edited a festschrift, Larkin at Sixty. “One day in March 1971,” Thwaite recalls, “I got a letter from him. ‘Oh, by the way,’ he wrote, ‘I’ve just written a little poem that might suit Ann’s next Garden of Verses for the Kiddies’,” [Ann, Thwaite’s wife, was compiling a children’s annual called Allsorts] “and there was This Be The Verse.” So Thwaite was first to read that now-iconic poem that begins “They f*** you up, your mum and dad . . .”. Thwaite’s reaction was odd. He says he “felt got at”, as a father of four, by the childless Larkin. Only much later did he realise that Larkin meant him to publish it, if he dared, in the New Statesman, where he was literary editor. He is still dismayed that this poem predominates whenever Larkin is mentioned. I protest that Larkin’s reputation thrives anyway — and it’s a useful poem, hence its ubiquity.

more from Valerie Grove at The Times here.