I enjoyed reading Hull emeritus Professor James Booth’s excellent piece on sharing a campus with Philip Larkin in last week’s Times Higher. As City of Culture 2017 approaches, the prominence of Philip Larkin is likely to increase in the public eye. In the streets of Hull itself, the brilliant Toads Revisited project was recently celebrated once again with film showings, a charming new book, and toads in the Library, in the streets, in the sky and on the water. Just last month the Brynmor Jones Library itself was in the headlines with Poet Laureate Carole-Ann Duffy opening the Brynmor Jones Library after its £28m redevelopment.
Larkin was of course a very senior and influential member of the University and well-remembered by many alumni. Many have a Larkin tale. At a recent reunion, alumnus Bill Bailey told me the story of studying in the early 1970s in a bright orange shirt. Larkin approached: ‘Would you mind turning your shirt down? It is far too loud for a library.’
That he attracted the sobriquet ‘Hermit of Hull’ signifies that his connection to the city is profound one. But can Larkin’s habitation of Hull be reasonably described as a hermitage? Like much in Larkin’s life, the reality was mixed. Shunning the London literary carousel does not imply isolation, nor does refusing the mass media attention implicit in the role of Poet Laureate. Clearly though, he loved the quiet reaches of the East Riding and its coastline, the evidence of his feeling for the tranquility of this landscape appearing in so many of his poems.
For those interested in separating Larkin’s myth from reality, there are a growing number of reliable sources. Andrew Motion’s seminal biography was recently joined by Professor Booth’s telling of Larkin’s life. However, very much worth your consideration as a guide to ongoing developments is the well-respected Philip Larkin Society. Founded in 1995, it aims to promote awareness of the poet’s life and work and his literary contemporaries, to bring together all those who admire Larkin’s work as poet, novelist, jazz critic and librarian, and to bring about publications on all things Larkinesque. The Larkin Society’s website is comprehensive in its coverage of Larkin talks, readings, and it produces a journal, About Larkin, for members. It meets regularly on campus, and indeed its Committee includes those who knew and worked with Larkin. The next major event will be a talk given by Rosie Millard, Chair of City of Culture 2017 marking of 30 anniversary of Larkin’s death on the 2 December 2015, between 6-9pm.
For alumni interested in increasing their connection to the cultural heritage of the University toward the City of Culture 2017, membership of the Larkin Society is a very good place to start.
Christopher Cagney, (MSc Applied Social Research: Anthropology and Sociology, 2006)