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Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces 1955-1982: Miscellaneous Pieces, 1955-82 Paperback – 6 May 2002
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Required Writing: Miscellaneous Pieces 1955-1982 by Philip Larkin collects the widely loved poet's essays, reviews, writings on jazz and some revealing and entertaining interviews.
About the Author
Philip Larkin was born in Coventry in 1922 and was educated at King Henry VIII School, Coventry, and St John's College, Oxford. As well as his volumes of poems, which include The Whitsun Weddings and High Windows, he wrote two novels, Jill and A Girl in Winter, and two books of collected journalism: All What Jazz: A Record Diary, and Required Writing: Miscellaneous Prose. He worked as a librarian at the University of Hull from 1955 until his death in 1985. He was the best-loved poet of his generation, and the recipient of innumerable honours, including the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, and the WHSmith Award.
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If you like Larkin's poetry or have an interest in literature in English (T S Eliot and Ezra Pound have walk on parts), this is likely to be a book for you.
The value of such a volume as this is the reader gets (re)acquainted with writers who may have passed them by. In my case, I think Larkin may have done me a favour by suggesting an investigation into the output of Joseph Epstein, Llewelyn Powys and Gavin Ewart and so I thank him. His views on the likes of Tennyson, Hardy, Elliot and Auden cause one pause to revaluate what we know and think of them. But this well- packed volume is as much about wit as it is about erudition, and so amid the learning there is much humour to be had.
In truth there was a wealth of friendships, correspondences and shared holidays, as well as a very full involvement in his work as a university librarian and in the librarians' professional association. He also sustained a deep interest in his own writing, and that of a wide range of classic and other writers of poetry and prose. This volume attests to that, provides us with much information about his early years (albeit with the complete omission of any possible titillation), and reveals a number of surprising enthusiasms.
Because the writing collected in the book was produced in response to requests for introductions to books by himself and others, book reviews, newspaper columns and the like, he called it Required Writing. That is misleading. As he makes clear, he was never a professional writer; he did not have to seek outlets for his writing, study markets, or try to interest editors in pieces that he thought he could produce if encouraged by a commission. Thus the door was opened to a freshness not always found in the press cuttings of well-known authors, and those surprising enthusiasms - for instance the early James Bond books, the work of crime writer Gladys Mitchell, the obscure Julian Hall, and poets such as Thomas Hardy, John Betjeman and Sylvia Plath. At least, he seems to have liked some of Plath's poems; his judicious assessment of her large output is so very fair it is hard to be certain.
Balance is a strong feature throughout the book. He admires Edward Thomas for his poetry, but notes that even Thomas's devoted widow conceded he was close to impossible as a person. Yes, the early Bond books were good, but Fleming could not sustain the quality beyond the first seven, and the films and film-derived book clones became ridiculous (even by the time of Larkin's 1981 piece). Interestingly, when Larkin loses his balance it is with reference to music. His appreciation of the types of jazz available on record in his own late teenage years is essentially uncritical, leading him to unjustified deprecation of the blues, rhythm and blues and - perhaps the most jarring note in the whole book - Mick Jagger.
But you can take what you want and leave the rest, and if you have an interest in Larkin, poetry, good writing in general, or Marvell, Tennyson, William Barnes, Hardy, the First World War poets, Houseman, W H Auden, Stevie Smith and others in particular, you will take much more than you leave. It's only a pity the book isn't indexed; there is much here well worth a quick reference at a later date.
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