His poetry is loved all over the world – but who is the real Philip Larkin?
Philip Larkin is arguably Hull’s biggest and most controversial export.
Despite being remembered as one of Britain’s best loved poets, Larkin isn’t a man you can easily sum up in words. Depending on what you read or who you speak to, you’re likely to come away with one of two Larkins; some may think of him as a grumpy misogynist, while others see him as a generous, kind, self-conscious man with a great sense of humour.
Running from 5 July – 1 October, New Eyes Each Year is a new exhibition from Hull 2017, The Philip Larkin Society and University of Hull Archive. Named after Larkin’s poem of the same title, the exhibition aims to delve in to the mind of the man, focusing on the many different sides of Larkin – and of the reader too. The poem reflects on students coming in and out of libraries, based on the library where Larkin himself was Librarian – and where this exhibition will take place – The Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull.
Highlighting his love of music and displaying unseen letters, photography and personal possessions, the exhibition explores connections between Larkin’s life and work in Hull, which promises to be like nothing you’ve quite seen before.
So to give you a hint of what to expect from the exhibition, here are a few little known facts about the man himself.
1. As well as writing, Philip Larkin liked to draw. He often depicted himself as a seal and his long-term partner Monika Jones as a rabbit. He referred to these drawings as ‘creatures’.
2. Philip Larkin wrote regular letters to his friend Kingsley Amis. They signed off their letters to each other with the word ‘bum’.
3. Larkin admired the work of writers such as Beatrix Potter and Agatha Christie.
4. He used to mow the lawn wearing a D.H Lawrence t-shirt.
5. Although Larkin’s view on Hull was varied, Hull made him the poet he became. He is quoted as saying: ‘I never thought about Hull until I got here. Having got here, it suits me in many ways’.
6. Larkin preferred to live in locations on top floors with high windows. Possibly his most famous collection of poems, High Windows, was published in 1974.
7. Larkin oversaw the construction of the Brynmor Jones Library at Hull University where he worked as a librarian for 30 years.
8. He was offered the position of Poet Laureate in 1984, but turned it down.
9. As a child, Larkin was very shy and had a stammer.
10. He also had bad eye-sight and lost his hearing towards the end of his life.
11. Despite being widely known for his work as a poet, Philip Larkin preferred jazz to poetry. He is quoted as saying “I can live a week without poetry but not a day without jazz.”
12. When Larkin was younger, his Father bought him an elementary drum kit and wanted to become a drummer. Larkin claimed he used to “batter away contentedly” at the drum kit and became “hooked on jazz” before he had ever heard any.
13. He would listen to jazz for hours and eventually became a jazz critic.
14. He also attended a jazz club at the Ye Olde Black Boy pub in Hull.
15. Despite mixed opinions on his views towards women, many of the women who knew him referred to him as a lovely, kind man.
16. Larkin enjoyed riding his bike. He used to ride to the sea and the countryside and often rode to churches and cemeteries.
17. Larkin didn’t own a washing machine as he preferred to wash his clothes in the sink.
18. Philip Larkin’s secretary Betty Mackereth once bought him weighing scales for his birthday. He weighed himself every day and was self-conscious about his own appearance.
19. Despite this, he regularly took selfies. Taking photos of himself, he found that he could control how he was seen as opposed to when other people photographed him.
20. Even during his early twenties, Philip Larkin feared death. He always thought he would die the same age as his father at 63 and eventually, he did.
21. Larkin wrote to his mother on average twice a week. When she moved into a nursing home in January 1972 he sent her a short two page letter or postcard almost every day of the week, until she died in November 1977.
22. Even though Larkin only wrote four volumes of poetry in his lifetime, he came fifth in the BBC Poll for Nation’s Favourite Poet in 2009, beating Thomas Hardy, William Wordsworth, William Blake and Dylan Thomas.
The free exhibition New Eyes Each Year takes place at the Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull, from 5 July – 1 October 2017.