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Larkin With Women

I travelled to and from Manchester today - two and a half hours each way - for a 20 minute poetry reading - on Virgin's semi-fast tilting trains. Nauseating at any speed, so no reading. At one station, the conductor came on to announce: DO NOT PANIC, THE DOORS ARE BROKEN, DO NOT PANIC. Everyone looked glum.

Before the reading - which was at the monumental Central Library (built in 1935 and very much like some lovely retro edifice from Brazil the movie) - I went to the Library Theatre for tea and a cheese and pickle sandwich, a very English thing to do, I suspect. Hundreds of sexy posters of a nubile bespectacled 19-year-old "librarian" gazed down at me, with the words: LARKIN WITH WOMEN underneath - the new play celebrating bachelor PL's wandering eye and weakness for women in the stacks. I love all things Larkin, so that was a treat.

The reading room itself was small, but wood-panelled. The organiser (who was very kind and hospitable) made the fatal error - as they all do these days - of telling me how the series usually get big audiences of 50 or so (Les Murray will read this fall, it is a good series) - cue straggling band of the usual suspects: the nine and half people who tend to come to these things. Actually, discounting the organiser and her colleagues, there were seven people. Still, it was a good reading, especially as I got to hear John for the first time, for any extended period - he is quite good, read poems about his family, and one very erotic poem about sucking necks and "lips" which had the women in the audience mock-swooning. He also filmed the event.

Still, it was vaguely depressing. After the reading, we went for seafood and he bought me a beer. We both agree that the taboo must be broken - we need to say it from the rooftops: most people don't like poetry. That really is the reason why, despite all the endless grinning advertisments, campaigns, slogans, national days, and so on, the average Dan Browner - a decent enough chap who will read a rollicking yarn - will walk a mile to miss a poetry event.
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