Philip Larkin

Philip Larkin Required Writing

I read Required Writing by Philip Larkin when it came out in 1983. It’s been sitting on my shelves ever since and a couple of days ago I decided to read it again. It was a good decision, because there was so much I had forgotten. Like this, from an interview he gave to Paris Review. He had been asked whether he shared his manuscripts with anyone before publishing them and whether he had any friends whose advice he would follow in revising a poem:

I shouldn’t normally show what I’d written to anyone; what would be the point? You remember Tennyson reading an unpublished poem to Jowett; when he had finished, Jowett said, ‘I shouldn’t publish that if I were you, Tennyson.’ Tennyson replied, ‘If it comes to that, Master, the sherry you gave us at lunch was downright filthy.’ That’s about all that can happen.

I read that last night, sitting outside after dinner (the summer here has been wonderful so far and I’d much rather sit outside reading until the sun goes down than spend the time indoors) and I couldn’t stop laughing. When I read it again this morning to write this, I was laughing again. I think it’s wonderful. Don’t you?

(I was also very taken with his answer to the question, “Is Jorge Luis Borges the only other contemporary poet of note who was also a librarian, by the way? Are you aware of any others?” Larkin’s answer? ‘Who is Jorge Luis Borges?’ Honestly, people regard Larkin as the poet of melancholy but he had a wonderful sense of humour.

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