LARKIN REVISITED


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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  1. #1 by Gav Cross - June 25th, 2011 at 16:24

    I love it when my rss follow pops another Selzer nugget in the inbox!
    This one I particularly enjoyed – both because of the writing and because it prompted me to pick and read a couple of the good librarian’s works!

  2. #2 by David Selzer - June 26th, 2011 at 10:56

    Thank you, Gav. I’m sure he would have approved!

  3. #3 by Clive Watkins - June 29th, 2011 at 13:41

    I seem to remember, David, though from a very long time ago indeed, this story of your dropping in on Larkin, but perhaps I am mistaken. Who was your companion, I wonder, and what poem was it served as “a calling card / or warning”? – Clive

  4. #4 by David Selzer - July 5th, 2011 at 11:21

    You remember correctly, Clive. My companion was Harry Chambers and the poem was ‘Excuses To The Empress,’ which I’ve copied below for curiosity’s sake. It was written in 1963 and published in NATIONAL ANTHOLOGY OF STUDENT POETRY (U.L.I.E.S.A 1964).

    EXCUSES TO THE EMPRESS
    (For Harry Chambers)

    ‘A Wallflower Regrets’ – my memoirs, madam.
    A prop to any wall at party, dance,
    Sports field, and battlefield no doubt. A dreamer
    Due I’m told for no good end; a sceptic
    Begging shrilly for someone’s shoe toe.
    Regrets, not that I fail to beat the hearties
    By their own rules – nothing so pure, just chagrin
    That I get by art what some it seems
    Achieve through instinct. A few blank verse lines
    Will so neatly pose, conclude the verbal
    Problems of ‘Death’, ‘Ideals’ and ‘Love’ – always
    Veridical, always removed from action.
    But even shufflers at a dance create
    Order by doing. Till the music ends
    Their movement copes quite well. One would be glad
    To Astaire it down the boulevard,
    Not know the Emperor had it built that wide
    To shoot with ease a rioting populace.

    Some Freudian maxim was ignored to make
    Collecting books more valuable than gleaning
    R.S.V.P. cards or plucking girls.
    At school I learned your hurdles must remain
    Upright. To dancing-class I went for sex
    And company, achieved a few close holds,
    Exchanged some clichés. In childhood my father
    Died at war. Perhaps a death that might
    Befit a dancing man would have appeased
    The lack of father’s hands, the aching gaucheness,
    More than demise from chronic sinusitis,
    Or the burial with a wooden cross
    That still has the wrong initial on it.
    But I am mawkish madam. No doubt
    You would concede there is no proper way
    To lose a father. At a party’s close,
    I think sometimes, I ought to fling my host’s
    Prize pewter tankard in his hearth and talking
    Wildly shuffle to the street. Instead
    Am thankful my father died with irony.
    No thanks, I shall not function at your party.

    David Selzer

(will not be published)

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