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This article is taken from PN Review 30, Volume 9 Number 4, March - April 1983.

Art, if you like Neil Powell

IN 1951 a twenty-nine-year-old sub-librarian at Queen's University, Belfast, had privately printed one hundred copies of a pamphlet entitled XX Poems. The brief prefatory note read: 'This selection, written during the last five years, is inscribed to Kingsley Amis.' In what may seem to be an unusually self- assertive gesture, the author, Philip Larkin, attempted to distribute the pamphlets himself, apparently sending copies with insufficient postage to influential literary figures. He had already published one book of poems, The North Ship (1945), with The Fortune Press, who had also brought out his first novel, Jill, in 1946; his other novel, A Girl in Winter, had been published by Faber in 1947, although he would hot figure on their poetry list until 1964. Those three early books must have already appeared to Larkin as distant juvenilia, almost as the work of two separate selves: he had, with deep regret, given up writing fiction; and The North Ship was a collection by a young poetic ventriloquist, intoxicated by early Yeats, who had yet to discover the benign influence of Hardy or himself. XX Poems has the look of a now-or-never enterprise-perhaps the author, often haunted by matters of age, had resolved to get his real self into print before he was thirty-designed to announce the arrival of a mature, accomplished poet and to obliterate memories (if any) of an earlier, discredited poet with a coincidentally similar name. In the event, the arrival was a protracted one (presumably not only because of ...


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