Philip Larkin

Powell Amis Larkin HillaryAIt’s the birthday of Philip Larkin (1922), the great poet of unhappiness. He once said that “Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth.” I was in the bullpen grad assistant office in my second year in the program when my dissertation advisor burst into the room, read “High Windows,” and sailed out again, cackling. The poem, and the book sharing its title, had just appeared a year or so earlier. It has frank mentions of sex and the chief Anglo-Saxonism for the act, and when Roger had vanished, my Victorianist colleague opined, “I don’t think that language is appropriate for poetry.” Neither did Larkin, which is why he used it.

The picture above is of novelist Anthony Powell, Kingsley Amis, Larkin, and Hillary Amis. Kingsley started as a poet, wound up as a novelist, Larkin as a novelist (first two books were novels), wound up a poet with four slim volumes over four decades or so. It’s enough, and some of it is way beyond good.