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This review is taken from PN Review 252, Volume 46 Number 4, March - April 2020.

Cover of Somewhere Becoming Rain: Collected Writings on Philip Larkin
Martin CaseleyThe Larkin Project
Clive James, Somewhere Becoming Rain: Collected Writings on Philip Larkin (Picador), £12.99
This modest collection collates all of Clive James’ engagements with Philip Larkin, the man and the poetry. It is also, it becomes clear, a project to rehabilitate the latter from the problematic traits of the former.

The earliest pieces collected here, published during Larkin’s lifetime, are fairly straightforward appreciations, albeit spiced with customary Jamesian humour and witty phrasing. The review-essay ‘Wolves of Memory’, for instance, on the appearance of High Windows in 1974, notes that what that volume was really about was ‘clarifying’ Larkin’s poetry, rather then developing it. More arguable, perhaps, is James’ assertion that this collection was ‘the peer of the previous two mature collections’. Can this view really be maintained, considering those two previous collections were The Less Deceived and The Whitsun Weddings? The notion that Larkin deepens his themes in this volume is, however, worth considering carefully: as James says, ‘there is a connection between the circumscription and the poetic intensity.’

Over the years since Larkin’s death in 1985, his carefully winnowed poetic corpus has been compromised and even overshadowed by revelations of alleged racist attitudes, the publication of collections of existing letters, plays about his romantic entanglements, even the discovery of spicy lesbian narratives – all of which makes writing about just the poetry rather more tricky than it once was. The character of ‘Philip Larkin’ has been moving dangerously close to the centre of the stage, a location totally alien to the man himself, by all accounts. James has plenty to say about the ...

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