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Saturday 11 October 2014

Philip Larkin: The Beats: A Few Simple Words


 "One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple." -- #Jack Kerouac: image by Kam Bain @kam_bain, 15 October 2013

Now one must clear one’s mind of cant and admit, firstly, that everyone is free to live as he likes as far as society will let him; secondly, that other people besides Angel Dan Davies enjoy poetry, jazz and sex; and thirdly that, appalling as it would be to have Itchy Dave Gelden coming in one’s door ‘fidgeting and scratching his crotch’ (‘Hi, what’s cookin’? Are we gonna blow some poetry, maybe?’), he would probably be no worse than a guardee subaltern talking about Buck House, or your father-in-law telling you how his new golf clubs cost more but aren’t as good as his old ones. Other people are Hell (I have never seen why Sartre should have been praised for inverting and falsifying this truism), and the self-important spongers of Venice no more so than the rest. But Mr Lipton’s point is that they are a lot less so.

Philip Larkin (1922-1985): Carnival in Venice (excerpt), a review of Lawrence Lipton: The Holy Barbarians, in The Spectator, 1960, reprinted in Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces, 1955-1982, 1983

Creature comfort: Philip Larkin and friend in 1964

Philip Larkin and friend, 1964: photo courtesy of The Estate of Philip Larkin 

for Aram Saroyan


Nin Andrews said...

But what's with the rabbit?

TC said...

Well, erm, I suppose it would be fair to say that Larkin had a bit of a thing about rabbits. The "upside" would be the remarkable specimen of stricken cross-species empathy which is his great 1954 poem Myxomatosis. On the other hand, there is the spate of prurient gossip that attended publication of his letters to a paramour of some four decades, Monica Jones. In some of these letters there appears to be a sort of subdued dark-side version of Beatrix Potter going on. Which naturally gave great elation to those who hadn't liked Larkin anyway, and who were thus given, one might say, the chance to jump up and down on a dead bunny.

But I don't think either Angel Dan Davies or Itchy Dave Gelden were ever numbered among that petty prosecutors' posse.

And that particular rabbit in the photos seems to be completing the wardrobe for the photo-shoot in a somewhat interesting way, what with the cable-weave jumper and all.

TC said...

I don't half mind bunnies myself for that matter. The cats like them too. With peaceable kingdoms it probably helps if as many of the subjects as possible are stuffed (as it were).

Whatever the dire charges and whispered allegations, the rumours of the hastily vanished naughty magazine collection, & c. & c., at least he always had the good sense to steer clear of Americans, and was capable of kind feelings toward a hedgehog, which counts for something.

The Lipton book by the way, period Beatsploitatation trash, set in Venice, California, where Larkin was about as likely ever to set foot, much less hop past nibbling a carrot, as he was to actually get along with Maggie Thatcher, once she'd been made to read his verse.

Meanwhile the Beats for their part are still going strong, it seems from the trending commodity indices.

Whereas I suppose now Larkin is officially a dead author (the best kind).

So there's that form of justice.

A friend writes interestingly in response to this post, "I happened to come across a copy of 'The Less Deceived' at this bookstore on Melrose that’s been closing for the last year or so with prices doing suicide dives. Always fun. Doesn’t Larkin look a lot like a rabbit -— I mean the big head and eyes. I never read the Lipton book. I wonder if he [Larkin] ever read something great by the Beats. It’s sort of sad that he’s the standard bearer for British poetry. Or now it’s Seamus Heaney, the man of a thousand consonants, I guess."

I suppose that's about how the cookie crumbled. The rugged Heaney takes the snowy crags and peaks of the coffee table, poor sad rabbity Larkin can be found among the soiled hankies in the W.C. Extract delicately, using rubber gloves and mask.

My friend's dead on, I'm sure, about Larkin never having bothered to read anything of much interest by the Beats.

Why he'd have wanted to look, perhaps another story. Predisposition being what it is. (Did Beats customarily write sentences as good as these few in this throwaway review?)

Still, any suicidal price dive that makes possible the discovery of a cut price copy of The Less Deceived can't be all bad.

Mose23 said...

Standard bearers always get in the way of serious reading. You can come to his work fresh now that Larkin the monster's been given several turns about the courtyard. And the poetry still shines to my mind.

I like the comparison to the guardee subaltern and the father-in-law: that's a way to deflate a myth

TC said...

Yes; I think the expressions of distaste in Larkin point forward to an as yet unachieved utopian time of greater candour than could ever be possible now, what with the favoured "authors" (convenient creations of the leisure industry) eagerly reflecting back to itself a "transatlantic" "meta literary" image of satisfying ongoing consumption; honest cultural criticism now to be useful in any way would conversely seem always to have to be accompanied by at least an ambient echo of the sighing sound of air slowly exiting a deflated (if not perhaps also kicked for good measure) bladder.