Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

Brendan Berls

Dear Editor,

Cheers to William Logan for his comprehensive and enjoyable take on the Philip Larkin’s Complete Poems. Mr. Logan clearly knows his stuff, but I do want to point out one detail that tickled the nerd in me: If it’s really new information to him that “Wild Oats” is autobiographical—that Larkin actually kept two photos of “Bosomy Rose” in his wallet—then Mr. Logan has either missed or forgotten one of my favorite descriptions of the poet, to be found in a book Logan himself reviewed in 2008 for the New York Times: Words in the Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. On April 30, 1973, Lowell wrote to Bishop about having Larkin as a weekend guest at Milgate Park in Kent:

He looked older than T.S. Eliot—six foot one, low-spoken, bald, deaf, deathbrooding, a sculpted statue of his poems. He made me feel almost as an undergraduate in health, and somehow old as the hills—he is four years younger. I asked him about a poem, “Wild Oats,” where he speaks of a girl he met a few times in his twenties—a “bosomy English rose,” and had kept two photos of her in his billfold—and there the two photos were, her breasts invisible under a heavy coat, small, the same and no more than passport pictures.

I mean this in the best humor: If Mr. Logan is guilty of skimming a little in an eight-hundred-page volume he was reviewing under a deadline, who could blame him? Certainly not me—or indeed Larkin himself, who once said he liked to skip to the middle of biographies, to about the point in a person’s life when he or she starts to become interesting.

Originally Published: November 1, 2012

Poetry is looking for thought-provoking responses to work published in the magazine, as well as letters that raise new questions about the state of contemporary poetry. To send us your letter, please fill out all the fields below.

If we choose to use your letter, we will notify you by phone. If you have not heard from us within two weeks of sending your letter, you may assume we will not be using it. All letters may be edited for length and clarity, and may appear online, in print, or both.

Please do NOT send poetry submissions to this account. See Submission Guidelines for further information and policies regarding poetry submissions.


* All fields are required


This prose originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

November 2012

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.