Archive for June, 2011


For Harry Chambers


After the posthumous exhibition

at the library, I walked with my daughter

(a student at Hull and sure she’d seen him once

in the lift) down Newland Avenue

to Pearson Park. I pointed out the house

where Larkin’s flat had been and told her how,

more than twenty years before, a  friend

and I had been persons from Porlock.

He’d answered the door in a dressing gown,

vest, grey flannels and, ruefully, let us in.

He was frying sausages for his tea,

he explained, before a bridge evening

with his secretary and her parents.


Nevertheless, with traditional jazz

in the background on his Pye Black Box,

he was very generous with the G & Ts,

shying the empty bottles, across the room,

to land unbroken in a basket full of

screwed-up typing paper. Nothing was said.

Our host seemed pleased rather than surprised.


In the loo was a print of Blake’s ‘Union

Of Body And Soul’ and a cartoon of

a pantomime horse, ‘Ah! At last, I’ve found you!’


Before our visit, my friend had sent him

one of my poems – as a calling card

or warning. It was more or less about

dancing. Larkin commented kindly

on the piece, mentioned he was writing one

around a similar theme. “Your fault then,”

my daughter asked, “The Dance unfinished?”

“Perhaps. But think of As Bad As A Mile,

‘Of failure spreading back up the arm…

The apple unbitten in the palm.’

Yet all those empty bottles landing

exactly where they were aimed in an

already cushioned environment.

So, a writer’s life exposed, irony,

‘the only end of age’ – or all three?”


Note: Two more accounts of the visit may be found in ‘AN ENORMOUS YES In Memoriam Philip Larkin (1922-1985)’, edited by Harry Chambers, Peterloo Poets, 1986 and ‘LARKIN AT SIXTY’, edited by Anthony Thwaite, Faber and Faber 1982 respectively

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Flying to Athens and intensive care,

the injured Cretan motor cyclist died

some time in the night over Melos.

Shrieking her grief, his mother ran in the aisle.

A stewardess tried to calm, restrain her.

The boy’s bare, pale feet were protruding

from an orange blanket. The makeshift cortège

bore us faster than he had ever dreamed.


In couch grass, on Chester’s Meadows, a hedgehog

was embarrassed by death the surpriser.

A trickle of blood betrayed it – and

indifference to strollers and to crows.

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When I drive over the moors

in the hugger-mugger traffic,

I think of the children

murdered, hidden.


When I see the southern sweep

of the Saddleworth Road

over the fern and the peat,

I think of them.


It is almost a prayer.

And I wonder if my chance,

fellow travellers think the same.

Remembrance is solitary, transitory.


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Under a steel net – sponsored by a multi-

national – in a disused limestone quarry

were all of South Africa’s birds, except

the predators.


The black warden softly extolled the aviary’s

human values: calm, peace, gentleness.

How well he knew each of the inhabitants:

who delved, wove, fluttered, chattered, nested,

hatched, fed – and defended abundantly.


At home, damp autumn turned to cold winter,

birds pecked at the ice on the stilled fountain

and the coalition of the willing

prepared for war.

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For Ian Craine


‘Marjorie Beebe is the greatest comic possibility that ever worked in my studio. I think she is destined to become the finest comedienne the screen has ever seen.’  Mack Sennett


Marjorie Beebe in 'The Farmer's Daughter' 1928


Her bottom was a serious matter:

the butt, as it were, of numerous pratfalls

in many Mack Sennett two reelers – like

The Chumps, Campus Crushes and The Cowcatcher’s

Daughter – in which she was a capricious,

lubricious Columbine with witty eyes

and good teeth and various Harlequins,

who ended invariably as losers.

From Kansas City, her mother took her,

on the Yellow Brick Road, to Tinsel Town.

Beebe and Sennett became lovers, despite

or because of the thirty year difference,

so he knew her asset first hand so to speak.

From silents to talkies, slapsticks to wise cracks,

her Mid West accent playing well, then Mack goes bust

and Marjorie gradually disappears.

Was it the booze? She was certainly

a toper. Or, more likely, The Hays Code:

irony suppressed, vulgarity outlawed,

Puritan America triumphant!

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