Larkin in 1977
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Richard Moore writes from California:

I visited Philip Larkin in 1977 at his office in the University of Hull Library. He had accepted my visit on the basis of my being a fellow librarian, but saw through the ruse quickly.  My wife, a fellow English major, but Virginia Woolf fan, asked him the questions about his poetry that I wanted to ask. 

He was gracious, funny, generous, and took us on a tour of the building, the rebuilding of which he had directed.  Videocassette recorders were brand new then and he showed us the room where students could use them.  He was especially proud of a built-in bookend he designed for library bookshelves that folded up.  Later I took him to pick up his car from the mechanic. 

One of the concerns he expressed to me was that Americans were buying up England's literary papers because they had more money.  His defence, as he described it, was to identify what young Americans were writing that should last and get first dibs on their estates.  I asked him who he was looking at and he said ... Charles Bukowski.  Picture him reading Post Office aloud at a public reading.

He also was the originator of the idea of placing short poems up on posters in the subways and buses -- Poems on the Underground -- where one could remind the passengers of their literary roots. 

Finally, one of my favourite exchanges:

Paris Review - "You haven't been to America, have you?"

Larkin - "Oh no, I've never been to America, nor to anywhere else, for that matter. Does that sound very snubbing? It isn't meant to. I suppose I'm pretty unadventurous by nature, partly because that isn't the way I earn my living reading and lecturing and taking classes and so on. I should hate it. And of course I'm so deaf now that I shouldn't dare. Someone would say, 'What about Ashbery?', and Id say, 'Id prefer strawberry', that kind of thing. I suppose everyone has his own dream of America. A writer once said to me, 'If you ever go to America, go either to the East Coast or the West Coast: the rest is a desert full of bigots'. That's what I think I'd like: where if you help a girl trim the Christmas tree you're regarded as engaged, and her brothers start oiling their shotguns if you don't call on the minister. A version of pastoral."

Richard K. Moore
Huntington Beach, CA.    7th Feb 2006
Contact him at richardguy (at) aol (dot) com.  Work it out!  

Update 12 Feb 2006

Poems on the Underground and Larkin

It turns out the the above is not quite correct.  Larkin did not originate the idea, and died before the first poem was displayed.  

However, "[He] was on the Compton Poetry Fund committee when it approved a grant which enabled us to pay for the first year of advertising spaces on the Underground.  He took a special interest in the project and wrote to us with useful suggestions."  Poems on the Underground, Cassell, 1992. 

Poems on the Underground was launched in 1986.  Sets of poems are chosen about three times a year and displayed in advertising spaces within the trains.  They include poems from living and dead writers in a wide range of styles and from all over the world.  

It was the brainchild of American writer Judith Chernaik, who together with poets Cicely Herbert and Gerard Benson, continues to select the poems.   The book, "Poems on the Underground", which contains more than 300 featured poems, has sold more than a quarter of a million copies since it was published in 1999.  

A number of Larkin's poems have been included over the years, although none are listed in the Poems on the Underground Archive.  


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Last modified: September 20, 2006