Thursday, June 7, 2012
Larkin and Hitchens: Two unpopular Englishmen
Over at the National Review Peter Hitchens writes about the Collected Poems of Philip Larkin.
It's an inspired commission on somebody's part because the reputations of both men lie under the shadow of the disapproval of received opinion.
Peter is the older brother of the late Christopher Hitchens and the better journalist, and hard as it may be to believe, the more prolific. While Christopher courted golden opinions all his life, Peter is not afraid to be unpopular.
Philip Larkin has been the subject of brutal and unfounded character assassination since he died a quarter of a century ago. Sadly, much of the worst of it came from people he had considered his friends. None of this has undermined the reputation of his poetry.
He was very open to other people's poetry too (this is not a universal quality among poets). He tried to persuade his friend Kingsley Amis to read Sylvia Plath, he encouraged the young Roger McGough, and was among the very first to recognise Bob Dylan as a poet. A univerity librarian, he avoided academic as well as literary limelight. One of the rare, if not only the only, occasion he lectured was on the subject of Mr Tambourine Man at Hull University in 1966.
(Above is a letter from Larkin to my father, who while having his office redecorated had discovered that one of the paint colours available was named toad, so he sent the paint chart to the author of the poem of the same name.)