Philip Larkin comes under the scalpel again, but this time the hand is friendly. The book, Philip Larkin – Life, Art and Love, takes a look what’s become a focal point of the great poet’s life and work: his seemingly banal Life as a librarian (I never shared that view – library work is richly rewarding for the literary inclined), his Art, which suffered tragic abuse when several critics and higher journalists blurred the picture by noting some seemingly racist and sexist language in his collected letters followed by a respected biography noting the same thing. And along with all that, his secretive Love life was exposed, which came as a shock and added spice to the staid picture he had painted of himself as a bored, suburban bachelor in a staid, middle class town.
Life, Art and Love are given a therapeutic scrubbing in this book, returning him to the shelf of normal, healthy souls who chose to live their life in semi-seclusion and not in the public eye. After all, Larkin’s true charm came from presenting himself as being un-Byron and un-Shelley, and, yet, he is, for our time, as great as the greatest British poets.
Larkin’s steadfast champion over the years, Clive James, gives the book high marks for setting the record straight and throwing water on whatever fainting spells caused the sniping in the first place.
Midnight at the 2300 Club
The pole dancers inside don’t care about the lonely highway in the night.
They feel the eyes on their soft, fleshy gladiatorial bodies.
Is this West Texas or Rome? I see centurions, slaves, senators, coroners, cowboys,
and all the fallen angels too numerous to name. That look walking by said you didn’t
understand what I said. No matter. At 3 a.m., my eyes aglow, standing in the parking lot
I see an image in the clouds embracing a blood-red Moon
– creamy, soft, beckoning – veiling inestimable molecules up there and inside my head.
I call this moment passion.
The Spectator has an article here about James, his serious health problems, and the books he hopes to finish: “This month there is a new book of writing on poetry, Poetry Notebook. He still hopes to live to see a new Collected Poems out next year, perhaps finish a final volume of memoirs and write a sequel to his immense 2007 work Cultural Amnesia.”
I’m slowing down the tune
I never liked it fast
You want to get there soon
I want to get there last
It’s not because I’m old
It’s not the life I led
I always liked it slow
That’s what my mama said
– Poem/lyrics from his new album, Popular Problems
BY FRANCIS SCOTT KEY O! say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming, Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight, O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming? And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there — O! say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave? This is the famous first stanza of the four-stanza song/poem by Francis Scott Key.
Spoon strikes cup,
Sound made flesh
Each time the door opens
Something is given and given up
Upon waking: The corpse dances
In the empty casket
Rock on the ground
Moon in the cosmos –
I saw some people starving. There was murder, there was rape. Their villages were burning. They were trying to escape. I couldn’t meet their glances. I was staring at my shoes. It was acid, it was tragic. It was almost like the blues.
I have to die a little between each murderous thought. And when I’m finished thinking I have to die a lot. There’s torture and there’s killing. There’s all my bad reviews. The war, the children missing. Lord, it’s almost like the blues.
I let my heart get frozen to keep away the rot. My father said I’m chosen. My mother said I’m not. I listened to their story of the Gypsies and the Jews. It was good, it wasn’t boring. It was almost like the blues
There is no G-d in heaven. And there is no Hell below. So says the great professor of all there is to know. But I’ve had the invitation that a sinner can’t refuse. And it’s almost like salvation. It’s almost like the blues.
See below to hear Cohen perform the poem/song in concert.