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