Thanks to the excellent Baroque in Hackney blog, I’ve been watching this wonderful little 1964 interview between John Betjeman and Philip Larkin in Hull.
Larkin’s voice has a wonderful dolorous tone to it, diffident but weighty, that is especially pleasing in the not infrequent moments of wry humour.
I’m reminded of the anecdote Kingsley Amis tells somewhere or other, on seeing son Martin talking to Philip Larkin across a crowded room. Philip was talking earnestly and moving his hands and arms in emphatic support of his argument.
Later Kingsley asked Martin what they had been talking about – poetry perhaps? Literature? Art?
No, said, Martin, not quite, he was complaining (and here you must imagine Larkin’s ponderous tones) about BILLS. You get one BILL and then you pay it, and the next day you get ANOTHER BILL. All these BILLS.
Speaking of Kingsley Amis, note the gravestone in the cemetery where Betjeman and Larkin go, which has the name J Dixon on it. It was Larkin who Amis was visiting at Leicester, when he walked in to the common room and thought ‘Someone should do something about this,’ and so Lucky Jim was born, dedicated to Larkin, who made many recommendations for the revision of the original draft.
Anyway, do watch it, it’s only about 15 minutes, in three parts on YouTube. There’s an excellent reading of Church Going with its memorable speculation about the future, feeling almost like science fiction – rather like the ruined society of the final Quatermass for instance – but mainly notable for the remarkable articulation of a sympathetic secular understanding of, well, not religion exactly – whatever it is to do with churches that he evokes in the poem in fact. Which previous inexpert statement shows both the worth of poetry and the skill of Larkin.
Oh, and one final note, I’m going to try putting this blog up on Google Wave, simultaneous with the site here: for what it’s worth, it’d be quite nice to have comments and notes that can be expanded in the actual text I think. We’ll see anyway.
And here’s the link to this one – https://wave.google.com/wave/#restored:wave:googlewave.com!w%252BWNL9i5VNF