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Now tell me, what is a person to do with something like that?

Passing It On: Teaching and Learning Larkin — University of Leicester

Even this Penguin edition of his Selected Poems my god, they actually left something out? Modern poetry is presented in a more manageable form: the page book. All of your previous experience with poetry has told you that poetry is best consumed in singletons. That first you find a poem and then you pick it apart for every dash and jot of meaning. And then, presumably, you go onto the next one?

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For one thing, the book is too long. Surely one is not supposed to analyze every single poem therein? And secondly, all of this work of analysis seems a bit abstruse. Is this really how poetry is meant to be consumed? When Omar Khayyam writes about curling up under a tree with a book of poetry and a bottle of wine is he really planning on getting some fine, rousing intellectual enjoyment from it?

No, of course not. In previous times, poetry was held to be something that was accessible to everyone. But something of that confidence in poetry is lost to us.


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When I open a book of poems, I usually feel nothing. Sometimes if I strain and strain and read and reread, I finally manage to eke out a little joy.

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But I rarely feel anything like the ecstatic transport that Jane Austen would have me believe is a common feeling. And it has provided me with alot of joy.

But it also feels wrong, somehow. I mean, this is a way to enjoy a book of poetry. It lacks depth or understanding. And it was great! I definitely had some kind of emotional reaction to the book as a whole.


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I did no analysis! Mostly, I read each poem twice, and by the second time I had a pretty good sense of it. In fact, I read a good portion of it while I was standing on a sunny Oakland sidewalk and waiting for AAA to come and jumpstart my car. And it was marvelous. We just read in order for momentary pleasure, and to gain a certain lasting sense of things. I am also fascinated because of the distance between their experience of Larkin and mine. In many ways it was a town ripe for Larkinesque experience.

'Coming' by Philip Larkin

It was small and self-contained when I was a child, but by the time I was in the Sixth Form it had begun to expand, its mortgaged half-built edges encroaching on the surrounding fields. I had spent all my life there, but I was starting to outgrow the place and become impatient with its familiarities.

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Wires by Philip Larkin Essay

We used to conspire to wear black to our Larkin lessons, and delighted in finding yet more evidence of his misanthropy and gloom. Crucially, however, Larkin not only articulated the mood that I was so often in at the time I was studying The Whitsun Weddings , but also offered glimpses of a way out. There was also the sense of being made to look at things anew. There was another way out that Larkin offered me, too.

Often, we notice different aspects of texts when we teach them: we read them more closely and experience them through different eyes. And, indeed, to appreciate that the narrator is not necessarily Larkin, that the narrative persona in one poem might differ from that in another, and that the stance that this persona espouses at the beginning of a poem is often very different to that reached at the end. Clearly, though, students enjoy the challenge. Life occasionally throws up odd connections.

Where was he from? Hull, of course. And so it was that I made my first journey to Hull, for the endless meetings and interrogations that accompany the adoption process. I went by train, naturally, although I changed at Doncaster, not Sheffield. I took my copy of The Whitsun Weddings with me, and as the train pulled out of Doncaster and headed east, the landscape seemed remarkably familiar. There were wheatfields and poplars, occasional haystacks, and a low, louring sky with grey, striated cloud.

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There were harsh-named halts — Gilberdyke, Crabley Creek, Brough — and then the wide expanse of river with its graceful arch of bridge. The toads were bright splashes of colour, some fittingly placed — like the punk toad outside Hull Truck Theatre — and others more incongruous, such as the orange Tequila Toad sitting outside the Jobcentre on a slightly threatening road junction. There were lots of people looking for toads: mainly families with small children and lists to tick off, but some solo travellers, trying not to look too conspicuous with their cameras and maps.

I finished my day at the Hull History Centre, a lovely light airy building with an atmosphere of quiet purposefulness. As I made notes, one of the centre staff was leading a workshop on researching family history. A woman was showing her son faded photographs of long-dead relatives from copies of old local newspapers; people were sharing discoveries and giving advice, passing things on.