Larkin, Larkin. The most poetic name for a poet? It beats Betjeman, although I sympathise with John’s annoyance at the confusion of his readers. Was he German? Jewish? Nein, Dutsch. I mean, Dutch. But Larkin. Surely nobody more English?
English, yes. But my interest in Larkin is the Hull angle. Our English teacher, the late Miss Wilson, perpetually pushed “our friend John Betjeman” as though she had a virulent spinsterish crush on him. I’m certain that she did, but nobody else shared it. She didn’t, to my memory, ever push Larkin. But he pushed himself. Here was a man, a librarian no less, pushing Hull. In the 1980s, nobody ever did that. I only became aware of the Wilsons of Tranby Croft (no relation) and the Baccarat scandal decades later. No, in Hull, the form was to slag it off relentlessly so that you could beat the other person to it.
Imagine, if you can, a northern Slough and take a shit on it. That’s Hull.
But it’s not my Hull, and it’s not Larkin’s.
My Hull is superior to Manchester and Leeds. Not as big, not as noisy. It has just as much character as York, if you know where to look. Just because a place hides its modesty under a merkin is no reason to presume it conceals no delights. Dean Wilson is perhaps the new Larkin. He has the right name. He makes Withernsea seem exotic. And that, let me be honest, is a trick.
I digress. The reason for this piece is Clive James and David Lynch. Clive points out that Larkin is no pessimist. Nobody reading his Jazz criticism, argues Clive, could believe that Larkin was a cynic either. And that is the leap that took me back to something that David Lynch told me earlier this year. Not in person, but his recorded voice.
David Lynch argues successfully that it is possible, or even preferable, to throw your personal darkness into your art to keep your real self happy. He seems to be arguing that a happy, light soul can create appalling dark imagery on the page. In his photographs even more than in his television work, Lynch unveils the horror that lurks in all of us. Yet he is mild-mannered, kind and patient. Partly the nicotine, yes, but not only that.
I have the same feeling about Larkin. Did he honestly believe that his parents effed him up? Maybe. Perhaps one day, the day he wrote the poem. He even revisited his view of work as the Toad. Better a job you hate than to become the flasher in the park in the plastic coat fiddling for tab ends in a piss-soaked bin.
Yes, which is to say, no. Larkin was no pessimist. He shunned television and the fame of Betjeman, but Larkin was the greater poet. Larkin will live longer in the memory. And therefore, so will Hull.