Philip Larkin

Six Poets:Hardy to Larkin

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Did you know? Thomas Hardy dedicated the last 30 years of his life to poetry only after his final novel, Jude the Obscure, was slated by critics and the book publicly burned by a bishop; or that Philip Larkin’s final long poem, Aubade, was written at a time when “poetry had abandoned him.”

These are just some of the poetry insights to be found in Alan Bennett’s Anthology, Six Poets –  Hardy to Larkin. The book is a gem, but would you expect anything different from one of England’s greatest writers choosing poems from six of his favourite poets?

Six Poets is more than just a collection of poetry. Bennett’s commentary and quirky insights, on the poets and the poems, bring the collection to life. They take you to the writing desks of Hardy, Housman, Betjeman, Auden, MacNeice and Larkin and give some background on the lives and experiences inspiring the poems. As Bennett says, “some knowledge of the poet’s life must add to the pleasure and understanding of his or her poetry.”

The book is suitable for experienced poetry lovers and beginners alike and is one to be savoured in a single sitting or, dipped in an out of as and when the mood takes. It is a book I would highly recommend to any poetry enthusiast.

Here is a taste from Thomas Hardy, written at the age of 89 when religion, according to Bennett, offered no consolation.

Christmas:1924

“Peace upon earth!” was said. We sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass
We’ve got as far as poison-gas.

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Is Shakespeare Overrated?

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The British actress, Dame Judy Dench, once said “a bad experience of Shakespeare is like a bad oyster – it puts you off for life.”

This, it appears, is the case for me.

Before you all start screaming “PHILISTINE” I would like to put on record Shakespeare is probably the greatest and most influential writer to have graced this planet. The fact his work, 400 years on, is still widely read and performed is testament to his greatness but, despite many hours of reading and studying his work, I can’t warm to it.

At school, lessons involving Shakespeare were torturous – the seagulls on the sports hall roof providing better entertainment. The long-suffering Mrs Davy D, a huge fan of the Bard, has dragged me twice to see performances of Twelfth Night; to no avail the Shakespearian block just won’t lift.

As a child, my early poetic influences centred around the work of Edward Lear, Roald Dahl and Spike Milligan. In teenage years, I had progressed to the more serious work of Dr John Cooper Clarke and Pam Ayres. The onset of a more mature age has taken me to Charles Bukowski, Philip Larkin and a myriad of other poets with a dark slant on life, but still no room for Old Will.

What is it then that determines the kind of poetry and prose we read, enjoy and write?

Is it our upbringing, our early influences, our cultures?

Is it our education, the people we work with, our social groups?

I would be interested in hearing people’s views as I am in a dilemma. A teacher once told me “if you can’t love Shakespeare, then you can’t love poetry.”

The stage is yours, let the throwing of rotting fruit and vegetables commence.

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