Philip Larkin is one of my favorite poets. I, apparently, have plenty of company. Martin Amis writes that Larkin is "Britain's best-loved poet since World War II." Having recently re-read a fair amount of Larkin's poetry, including the three major volumes published during his lifetime ("The Less Deceived", "The Whitsun Weddings", and "High Windows"), I was curious to see which poems made it into Amis's "Selection". He chose fifty-eight poems in all, and I must say that if I were to choose my favorite fifty-eight Larkin poems, there would be about ninety percent overlap. I therefore can strongly endorse Amis's SELECTED POEMS OF PHILIP LARKIN as an ideal introduction to Larkin's poetry. Indeed, if you never went beyond Amis's SELECTED POEMS you would not be missing much of consequence.
Enhancing the value of the book is Martin Amis's relatively short (fifteen pages) introduction to Larkin's life and work. It, of course, bears a patina of intimacy by virtue of the fact that Martin's father Kingsley was perhaps Larkin's closest male friend. It contains some inside information, but it also is an intelligent and I think objective assessment of Larkin as a man and as a poet. Here is one snippet:
"The poems are transparent (they need no mediation), yet they tantalise the reader with glimpses of an impenetrable self: so much yearning, so much debility; an eros that self-thwarts and self-finesses. This is what rivets us: the mystery story of Larkin's soul."
Finally, I should add that the hardcover volume published by Faber and Faber is a very handsome book, with high-quality paper and attractive layout and typesetting. I am not a user of e-readers, but I recognize that for many people they are now the preferred, even the exclusive, vehicle for print media. Yet there are some books that are so worthwhile as artifacts of our culture, so deserving of "permanence", that an e-reader does them a pronounced disservice. SELECTED POEMS OF PHILIP LARKIN is one such book.