fusing the bravura of Byzantium with the banality of Bisto


Philip Larkin’s body of work is so slender and, often, so seemingly slight, so devoid of belly fat and blather, as to make Elizabeth Bishop (whom I now think of as his nearest American counterpart) look like a blimp and a bigmouth. Of the 730 pages of “The Complete Poems,” a mere 90 are taken up by those poems Larkin saw fit to collect in his lifetime. One of the main challenges posed by this edition is that it asks us to reconcile the discrepancy between those slim 90 pages and the sprawling rest. What’s evident immediately is that the qualities that have, so far, allowed Bishop to triumph over her American contemporaries (notably Lowell) have their counterparts in Larkin, who has, so far, triumphed over his English contemporaries (notably Hughes). Bishop’s characteristic modesty, meticulousness and, even, anti-Modernism are everywhere to be found in Larkin; what gives the archetypical speaker of a Larkin poem his very particular tone of voice, though, is the peculiarly English sense of his being at once slightly muffled and slightly miffed…

more from Paul Muldoon at the NY Times here.