Philip Larkin: “Moving and Memorable”

Francis-Noël Thomas in Humanities:

Moving_memorable_18_1000pxhPhilip Larkin started writing poems in 1938 when he was fifteen or sixteen and very nearly stopped about ten years before he died at sixty-three. His reputation, during his lifetime, was based almost entirely on three collections published at intervals of approximately ten years: The Less Deceived (1955), The Whitsun Weddings (1964), and High Windows (1974). Together they contain eighty-five poems, all but a few of them under forty lines. He said in an interview that he never wanted to “be a poet,” and he did not follow the established routine of people who did want to “be poets.” He didn’t give readings or lectures, was never a poet-in-residence at a university, never taught, rarely gave interviews, generally stayed away from literary circles, stayed away from London, did not work at maintaining a network of editors and publishers, did not have an agent or a publicist, and finally stopped writing poems. For him, to “be a poet” meant spending a lot of time doing things he considered inimical to writing poems. “I don’t want to go around pretending to be me.”

Beginning in 1955, he lived in Hull, where he was appointed university librarian, and he stayed there for the rest of his life. The University of Hull underwent a major expansion during his nearly thirty-year tenure; he was closely involved in the planning, design, and construction of two new library buildings. At the end of his career, he was directing a staff of over a hundred. When he first appeared in Who’s Who in 1959, he did not mention he was a poet or even a writer.

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