Simon Armitage reflects on 10 Philip Larkin poems to mark centenary

entry picture

The poet laureate Simon Armitage will be examining Philip Larkin’s poems in 10 BBC Radio 4 programmes, starting on Monday 8 August, to mark the centenary of Larkin’s birth. The poems he will be looking at in Larkin Revisited are ‘Born Yesterday’; ‘Love Songs in Age’; ‘Talking in Bed’; ‘Toads Revisited’; ‘High Windows’; ‘To the Sea’; ‘Going Going’; ‘Bridge for the Living’; ‘Aubade’; and ‘The Whitsun Weddings’.

Larkin was offered but declined the position of poet laureate in 1984, following the death of Sir John Betjeman. Larkin himself died the following year. His poems are marked by what Andrew Motion calls "a very English, glum accuracy" about emotions, places, and relationships; Larkin himself said that deprivation for him was "what daffodils were for Wordsworth". The posthumous publication by Anthony Thwaite in 1992 of his letters triggered controversy about his personal life and political views. Despite the controversy Larkin was chosen in a 2003 Poetry Book Society survey, almost two decades after his death, as Britain's best-loved poet of the previous 50 years.

BBC4 was broadcasting four programmes on the day of his birthday, Tuesday, 9 August: Return to Larkinland, with AN Wilson; Philip Larkin and the Third Woman, with Sir Andrew Motion; a Monitor programme featuring Larkin and Sir John Betjeman titled Down Cemetery Road; and a look at Larkin, as seen through his photography.  

Larkin’s birthday was being celebrated in Hull, where he spent the last 30 years as the university’s chief librarian, with an afternoon of poetry, dance and music titled ‘Finding Home’ at Hull Truck Theatre, featuring Imtiaz Dharker, Matthew Sweet, Vicky Foster, The Broken Orchestra, Wes Finch and the JoinedUp Dance Company. In the evening there was an evening with Simon Armitage at the University of Hull’s Middleton Hall. August 9 also sees the opening of an exhibition by the artist DJ Roberts called ‘Larkinworld 2’, a reworking of the artist’s installation at the National Poetry Library on London’s South Bank in 2017.The exhibition will be hosted in the University of Hull’s Art Gallery at the Brynmor Jones Library, running from 9 August 9 to 25 September.

On Thursday 11 August there will be a showing of Your Mum and Dad: A Devastating Truth, a film by Klaartje Quirijns, at Parkway Cinema in Beverley, East Yorkshire - a film which echoes the sentiments of Larkin’s most quoted poem and in which he makes a brief appearance.

There will be revival of Ben Brown’s play, Larkin With Women, at the Old Red Lion, Islington, north London, from 31 August to 17 September. The final matinee performance on 17 September will feature a Q&A session between Ben Brown and Philip Larkin Society president Rosie Millard. Two days earlier there will be a Larkin Day in Wellington, Shropshire, where Larkin began his career as a public librarian, including a guided walk, a talk in the library, and the premiere of a short film, ‘Larkin in the West Midlands’, made by Dan Cummings and Lee Harris.



◄ Wigan's Shaun Fallows at the PBH Free Fringe in Edinburgh

Jazz and poetry at Arundel's Jailhouse ►


Profile image

Stephen Gospage

Mon 22nd Aug 2022 21:59

I enjoyed this series very much, particularly the way Simon Armitage focused on some lesser known poems (e.g. A Bridge for the Living, Going Going). I found the input of other poets and pundits to be a bit variable but at its best (Ian McMillan, Stephen Bush) very informative.
We all know he was a far from perfect human being, but the poetry stands on its own.

Profile image

M.C. Newberry

Sun 21st Aug 2022 17:23

I can enjoy Larkin in snatches and particularly his poem "Trees"
- read to such good effect to close a fine old BBC documentary (those were the days!) called "The Queen's Realm" featuring an aerial view of the country through the seasons, embellished
with some well chosen music...

Profile image

John F Keane

Sun 14th Aug 2022 07:48

The blunt fact is that most English people back then hated Blacks, Asians, Scots, Irish and Jews, viewing them as unwanted interlopers. Homosexuality was actively outlawed and women were second class citizens. Most middle class people saw the working classes as moronic, bovine revolutionaries. One cannot blame Larkin for his views, they were just the norm in those days. They never impinged on his art, which is the main thing.

Profile image

Greg Freeman

Sat 13th Aug 2022 10:27

I entirely sympathise with your view of Larkin the man, Trevor, as a result of the repulsive racism revealed in the published letters. And if that stops you liking him as a poet, then, fair enough. For some of us, he is part of the poetry landscape, like him or not. He did have weird parents, and suffered an Oxbridge education on top of that (look at the results around us today). It may be some of his most famous verse, but I think that whenever he slips into the vernacular, he loses his touch. Recently the poet Harry Gallagher published a fine riposte to 'This Be The Verse' on Facebook, which began "They tuck you up, your mum and dad ..."

Profile image

trevor homer

Fri 12th Aug 2022 15:32


Growing up in the time of Larkin, the nineteen sixties
began for me during the Bristol bus boycott of ’63;
plundering birds’ nests,’ scrumping apples, and
street games played in dark streets on dark nights,
as the last refrain of a crowded train headed for the hop yards.
The poet in me unborn but still breathing; dreading
the scorn and anger of a generation still high on war
and colonial power.
Had I walked into the café on a wet Sunday afternoon
as he sat with his lady friend in some non-descript
Northern town, watching his eyes rise above
horn-rimmed spectacles; feeling the ice-cold glare
of a stare devoid of poetic eloquence. Could I,
on overhearing this quintessential Englishman
say, with the same insouciance and measured tone
he uses to order a cup of tea; ‘I hate blacks.’
Yes, they fuck you up, your mom and dad;
as do those who spill their bile and then retreat
back to academia, leaving others to reconcile the dilemma
of whether great art overrides the offence.

Profile image

Greg Freeman

Mon 8th Aug 2022 20:45

I've just listened to the first episode, which includes the thoughts of Ian McMillan and Sinead Morrissey, and would thoroughly recommend it.

If you wish to post a comment you must login.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

Find out more Hide this message