This year’s Annual General Meeting of the Hull Alumni Association coincided with the exhibition ‘Larkin: New Eyes Each Year’ and to mark the occasion, the focus for the evening was on the life of the former University Librarian, Philip Larkin, one of the greatest poets of the post-war era.
Following a wine and canape reception on the 7th Floor of the Brynmor Jones Library, Dr Ben Butler and Sir Paul Grant took members through the formal business of the AGM, presenting a report on the activities of the Alumni Association in 2016 for approval. Some of the more eye-catching statistics from the report included the announcement that we now have alumni in 172 out of 195 nations in the world recognised by the UN. Sir Paul Grant also revealed that during the financial year August 2015 to July 2016, alumni contributed a staggering £7.4m in philanthropic donations to the University of Hull.
Following the closure of the AGM, Graham Chesters of the Philip Larkin Society presented to members on the theme of ‘Larkin and Hull’ exploring the complex and evolving relationship between Larkin and his adopted city. Drawing on Larkin’s correspondence and references in his poems, Graham sketched-out Larkin’s journey in Hull from initial rejection, (“dump”) to accepting the city as a place in which he could live, love, work and write poetry (“proper ground”).
Linking with the theme of the exhibition, Philip Pullen, also of the Philip Larkin Society, presented to members on the theme of ‘What Larkin left Behind’ – in every sense. Beginning with an outline of the Philip Larkin archive in Hull History Centre, Philip went on to demonstrate his extensive knowledge of the materials, using correspondence to highlight key episodes in his life and discuss his many achievements not just within poetry but also within the field of librarianship. Philip concluded by examining Larkin’s legacy, highlighting the literature, installations and institutions that ‘survive[d]’ of him.
Following the presentations, members were treated to a tour of the Librarian’s Office which still contains Larkin’s original desk and several of his most familiar artefacts, before ending the evening with an exclusive viewing of the exhibition. As curator Anna Farthing has pointed out, the exhibition seeks to explore ‘a side of Larkin that goes against expectation’, a feat that she achieves by refusing to sanitize the collection or present it as a mono-thematic narrative. As our guests discovered, the real Larkin is to be found in the contradictions in his reading matter, his clashing ties, the conflicting symbolism of his personal objects and in the contrast between his ‘clean and clear’ prose and his habitual ‘scribblings’ which feature prominently throughout the exhibition.
A selection of photographs from the evening can be viewed on our Facebook page