Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Collected Poems of Philip Larkin

I fully admit that I know very little about poetry. Very little. But what I've now read of Philip Larkin's work really didn't grab me at all. At times, it irritated the heck out of me. (This started with a nasty little poem called "To My Wife" and never really went away. Also, as far as I could tell, he never married.)

I could see three distinct periods in his poetry - his very early stuff was, to me, almost unreadable. Full of overly complicated sentences and clauses that took a pencil and a firm grasp of grammar to even work out what the hell he was talking about. I found it very hard to make head or tails of most of them - he's certainly experimenting with interesting rhyme structures, but much of the time, at the cost of sense.

Then, in his middle period, he suddenly becomes much pithier and more readable. There were sections of this I liked, but just as many poems that annoyed the heck out of me. Lots of self-pitying "why should I have to work instead of doing more important things," and "why should I have to engage in the mundanities of every day life when I should be doing more important things" and they just never read as profound to me. More like whiny.

And all these poems on growing older that didn't ring true, and I'd check the dates and exclaim "you're only 32! Give me a break!"

It wasn't until the last section, where he actually was growing older, and the content seemed to shift again, and this time it started to ring true - there were some truly good poems at that point.

But by then, it was hard to get back into the swing of things. But my entirely subjective and uninformed opinion is that his later stuff is really quite good, but man, his early stuff is irritating as hell.

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