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Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The Slightly Deceived?

I've just received my copy of Faber's Philip Larkin "lost recordings", The Sunday Sessions. It was a necessary purchase - after all, Larkin, for better and worse - is the face of non-modernist British poetry post-1945 - and is also one of the English language's greatest coiner of phrases. He's not a poet you just ignore, even if (as I do) you disagree with some or all of what he thinks about poetry. Still, I disagree with Pound often - but enjoy some of his poetry.

Larkin's also something of a closet modernist himself (if one notes how much he drew on Yeats, Auden, Eliot and others). Anyway, imagine my surprise when I played the CD, and found that it was less than 46 minutes long (45 minutes, 20 seconds to be exact).

The back of the attractive CD promises "Running time approx. 1 hour". Maybe in a Bangkok massage parlour, - but for this listener, "approx. 1 hour" should be approximately 60 minutes, give or take one or three. The back cover gets other things wrong, not even mentioning the fact some poems are from The Less Deceived - though many are. So many of Larkin's great poems are here, I am glad to have 45 minutes of him: "An Arundel Tomb", "Days", "Mr. Bleaney", "The Whitsun Weddings", "Church Going" and "Toads".

Few other poets have so many fun poems. Of course, for those who want poems to always resist commodification, he's crap - but more and more I cannot really imagine a world beyond reification that is based on this planet (as much as I would like) - and I am not sure poems, and poets, need to always strap-on their spaceage helmets to blast off above the planetary; sometimes, the empirical world is enough. The danger is in claiming that one's chosen limits are the limits of the world - a mistake Larkin may have made.

As for the recording itself, Larkin sounds a little distracted, or tired - hardly upbeat, anyway. It sounds precisely like someone reading on Sundays, after lunch, in Hull - liquid lunches? Still, he does try to enact the poems, a tad. He does inflect, and offer nuances of tone - he offers ways in to interpretation, or appreciation. Better these, than none at all.
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