Philip Larkin pp 112-143 | Cite as

Poetic Histories

  • James Booth


In 1957 Larkin was among writers asked by the London Magazine to reflect on the contemporary relevance of their work. ‘During the Thirties’, the questionnaire began, ‘it was a widely-held view that poets, novelists and playwrights should be closely concerned in their writing with the fundamental political and social issues of their time.’ It went on to ask whether, ‘today, in 1957’ it was a valid criticism that a writer was indifferent to ‘the immediate problems of human freedom involved in, say, the Rosenberg case and the Hungarian revolution’, or that his work showed no awareness of the threats posed by ‘the development of atomic weapons and the levelling down of classes through discriminatory taxation’ (sic), or ‘recent discoveries in such sciences as biology, astronomy and psychology’ (FR 4–5). Larkin was nettled by the implication that what matters about poetry is its topical relevance. In his view the duty of writers ‘today, in 1957’, was no different from what it had always been: ‘My only criticism of a writer today, or any other day, is that he writes (as I think) badly, and that means a great many things much more certainly than it means “non-engagement”: being boring, for instance’ (FR 3).


Lyric Poet Contemporary Relevance Topical Relevance Tennis Racquet Funeral Procession 
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© James Booth 2005

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  • James Booth

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