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As Bad as a Mile

Matt Merritt linked to an interesting article in the Telegraph recently, addressing Larkin's poetry and its tendency to 'tell the reader what to think'. Of course, all this is a matter of opinion, as Larkin isn't necessarily telling the reader what to think in even his most forthright poems. After all, despite what A.N. Wilson says, 'Life is first boredom, then fear' (from 'Dockery and Son') ultimately amounts to no more than a certain viewpoint, whether or not this particular opinion matches up with the views Larkin held, or indeed, the way he lived his life. Larkin's intention wasn't to tell us what to think, but to offer us a way of thinking. In fact, I still return to his work now, and while I may be more inclined than some to agree or sympathise with a handful of the near-statements Larkin's poems make, I don't see that what he offers us are mere emotional, social or spiritual dead ends. Just think of the possibility of transcendence that concludes 'High Windows', or the varying interpretations one might bring to the aphoristic close of 'Mr Bleaney'. Larkin's poems ultimately serve to offer us a view of the world, and as such, serve to get us questioning and thinking. Whether this infuriates some is besides the point. After all, every poem is in conversation with every other, and just as importantly, in conversation with the reader. Why shouldn't poems serve to anger as well as excite us? That's what provoked Carol Rumens to write her response to 'This Be The Verse'.

Back in October 07, I chose 'As Bad as a Mile' as the Poem of the Month for the Philip Larkin Society, having previously opted for 'Sunny Prestatyn' as my favourite in April 05. Unfortunately, the poem and my comments were only live on the site for a short while, and the website, having undergone many changes, is currently still under construction in parts. Until the archive of previous choices is live, then, I thought I'd post my comments on 'As Bad as a Mile' here: a short little poem that appeared in Larkin's most successful and well-remembered collection, The Whitsun Weddings. The poem is one of many that is testament to both Larkin abilities as a poet and to his work's lasting value, and one that I feel dispels notions of his 'telling us what to think'. Since I do not have permission to reprint the poem here, you can find it in full by clicking here.

As Bad as a Mile

[this analysis can now be found on The Philip Larkin Society's website]


Rachel Fox said…
Re Larkin and telling people what to think...he was a miserable old bugger but an amazing poet and popular too. What's so bad about suggesting some ideas now and again?
'I love Larkin' t shirts...I'd wear one, for sure.
Ben Wilkinson said…
I completely agree, Rachel, but I think Larkin's critics take issue with his often blunt and less than oblique delivery of said ideas more than anything else.

I must confess I do have my own Larkin T-Shirt, actually, having had it made up by a professional company for a highly affordable price, with the final lines from one of my favourite Larkin poems, 'Nothing to Be Said', printed across it.
Ben Wilkinson said…
Oh, and I almost forget: a warm welcome to the Wasteland! Glad you found your way across to my tiny bit of the internet.

NB re: the T-shirt... it's a wandering round the flat sort of thing. I don't quite have the nerve to wear it in public.
Rachel Fox said…
I think the sometimes blunt approach is one of the things I love about PL. There are a lot of poets who are so anything-but-blunt that he warms the cockles of my bits that need bluntness! Sometimes (at particularly heavy-going poetry readings/lectures etc) I like to imagine Larkin at the back of the room muttering 'bollocks' and other less polite comments.I have an as yet unwritten poem called 'What would Larkin say...'
Plus he wrote so many different kinds of poem - he wasn't a one-trick misery by any stretch.
As for the the lion in the Wizard of Oz, the nerve is something worth hunting down...I see it now and again...from a distance...
Anonymous said…
Dear Ben,
i found your analysis of 'As Bad as a Mile' very useful. I was just wondering if you had any opinions on the reoccuring theme of commercialism/advertising in The Whitsun Weddings collection? Dom
Ben Wilkinson said…
This comment has been removed by the author.

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