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Working out Philip Larkin
On Radio 4, actor David Walliams enlists former poet laureate and Philip Larkin biograher Andrew Motion to get to the bottom of his love for Larkin’s poetry. “I know how it make me feel,” he says, “but I don’t know how it works.”
As a schoolboy, I was thrilled with the idea that a poet would use swear words in his work and I loved the directness of his poems, how he used everyday experiences to reveal something profound. In English literature classes, we would painstakingly decode Chaucer, Milton, and Shakespeare, making little notes in the margins like “classical allusion” and “literary reference.” You rarely have to do that with Larkin.
At the 25th anniversary of Larkin’s death, Motion finds that the links between his poetry and his life are still very apparent, continuing to add to the appreciation of the work itself.
Though you immediately want to say that the connection between a writer’s work and their life is both intimate and separate, Philip himself says a very interesting thing about the way in which we value poetry because it doesn’t merely react to life, it acts on it and I think we can see that in his own case very clearly. A lot of the poems that we find in the collected poems, …it is possible to trace back to some event or other and yet you can’t rely on the event itself to be the whole occasion of the poem. Transfigurations of art have to happen.
The full 30 minute radio piece is only available until December 5th and features readings of Larkin’s poems by Tom Courtenay, Patrick Romer, and Larkin himself.