Tag: Larkin

an independent ambassador for conscience

Here’s Ellen Hinsey on poetry: ‘Poetry is the conscience of a society… No individual poem can stop a war—that’s what diplomacy is supposed to do. But poetry is an independent ambassador for conscience: it answers to no one, it crosses borders without a passport, and it speaks the truth. That’s why… it is one of the most powerful of the arts”. Given what’s been going on in the world these last couple of weeks it feels like one of those too-apt-to-be-a-coincidence coincidences that I should meet Hinsey’s words in the same week as someone should bring to the 42 group Larkin’s ‘Homage to a Government’.

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starting over

I’m half Scottish but I’m also half Sassenach, and I’ve never really “got” the whole Hogmanay frenzy. New Year’s Eve has often felt tainted with melancholy for me, in a sub-Larkin ‘Death [is] a whole year nearer now‘ sort of a way. This year, though, when surely most of us are hoping for better things to come, I feel really drawn to this poem, the beautiful ‘New Year’s‘ by Dana Gioia. See what you make of it.

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now, what was that thing…?

Do you remember those Magic Eye pictures? I thought they were a craze in the 80s but according to their website it was the 90s (I seem to have mislaid a decade somewhere or other). The pictures came to mind this morning when I was trying to remember a name I’d forgotten: something about the way I had to stop striving to see the 3D image in order to be able to do so made me think of what it can be like these days trying to retrieve something from long-term mental storage. And that made me think of ‘Forgetfulness‘ by Billy Collins. If you can bear not to read it straight away, do click the red arrow by the title to hear the author reading it. It’s a great way to meet the poem.

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strangeness making sense

The other poem in my head while I was on holiday was one I almost always hear in there when I’m away from home: Larkin’s ‘The Importance of Elsewhere‘. The experience of being where no-one knows your name (apologies for the echo of the Cheers theme tune which may have just drifted across your mind) can feel safe or frightening, liberating or paralysing, and I’ve always loved Larkin’s exploration of these facts in this poem.

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postmen, like doctors

Larkin’s magnificent, monumental poem ‘Aubade‘ speaks with a terrible, alchemical beauty about death and the fear of death. It closes with the line ‘Postmen like doctors go from house to house’ which, in context, says something very Larkin-y and shiversome about death’s inevitability; we’ll all get those visits from doctors, sooner or later. Would Larkin be horrified, though, if he knew how that line popped into my head with a totally different feel to it, about half an hour ago, when the postman delivered two unexpected letters and, with them, great joy?

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something almost being said

A few weeks back I mentioned that we’d get to Larkin’s trees in May. Well, it’s May, and here are ‘The Trees‘. You can hear Larkin reading the poem, and watch an accompanying animation (commissioned by the BBC on the 30th anniversary of Larkin’s death), here.

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yes, please

Something to move and comfort us today, a poem nourishing and everyday-special as homemade soup. Naomi Shihab Nye’s ‘Kindness’ actually mentions soup, but her poem is not the ‘weakened broth’ to which it refers. No, this is a complete meal. It’s tender and wise and lives up to its name. You can read it here or hear the poet read it here.

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