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This report is taken from PN Review 157, Volume 30 Number 5, May - June 2004.

A Postcard from Pearson Park Neil Powell

Poor old Larkin. One week it's a gratuitous aside, in an article about someone else altogether, about his dreariness and pessimism; the next, it's a row about whether or not the author of a new reference book harbours a passionate dislike of him. Yet, apart from writing some pretty silly letters (and if that's to be taken into account, `who,' as Hamlet says, `shall scape whipping?'), Larkin merely lived a life which was not notably more or less blameless than yours or mine and wrote a few dozen of the finest poems in the language. What is there in that to upset anyone?

Of course, the poems aren't perfect, which is one of the engaging things about them: there are plenty of painfully reversedinto rhymes and a handful of dreadful syntactical crunches, hazards of formal versification that readers put up with in other poets but unfairly find unforgivable in the Librarian of Hull. Another pleasing characteristic - leaving aside, for once, all those incomparably memorable lines, all those magical lift-off endings - is his ability to know when a 40-watt word will be more telling than a 100-watt one. For instance, that moment in `Reasons for Attendance' when the excluded observer at the student dance can do no more than imagine `The wonderful feel of girls': everything about the music is vividly realised - `What calls me is that lifted, rough-tongued bell / (Art, if you like)' - because deeply felt, but the unreachable girls just stay ...


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