‘An egg sculpted in lard, with goggles on’

Larkin’s downbeat letters to Fay Godwin among archive acquired by British Library

That’s how Philip Larkin described a portrait of himself; another looked, he said, like ‘CS Lewis on a drugs charge’. These self-deprecating remarks have emerged from letters in the photographer Fay Godwin’s archive, recently acquired by the British Library. You can see a selection of her impressive portraits, including the Hermit of Hull, Ted Hughes and Doris Lessing here.

Reading poetry – at Yale or at home

Reading poetry: join a Yale lecture series online or read a good book at home

The Poem and the JourneyA story in last week’s Guardian alerted me to the availability of Yale University’s course on modern poetry online. There are twenty-five lectures to watch, handouts, book lists and even a final exam you can take (though I don’t know if anyone will mark it for you). This is all very commendable, though so far I’ve only had time to watch part of the opening lecture by Professor Langdon Hammer. It has the feel of a genuine lecture, complete with pauses, hesitations and more. No doubt this is deliberate (and anyway much easier than creating broadcast quality material) – but I’m not sure how far this would sustain my interest over a long period. Still, lets not complain – there’s even a session on ‘World War I Poetry in England’ that it might have been good to have seen before I finished my own study guide on this topic! Continue reading “Reading poetry – at Yale or at home”

Byron urges safety code: can this be true?

Byron urges social networking safety code: but is it the poet’s own work?

Has the enfant terrible turned into a Daily Mail reading Conservative? Byron, who wrote so contemptuously of the Poet Laureate in Don Juan?

Although ‘t is true that you turn’d out a Tory at
Last, – yours has lately been a common case.

It turns out that the headline in today’s Guardian: ‘Byron urges social networking safety code’, is all about teaching children to use the Internet safely. It’s a report by Dr Tanya Byron and is full of sensible advice, though regular reference to what ‘Byron says’ are a little disconcerting to those of us more familiar with the poet. Can you image George Gordon Noel, Sixth Baron Byron, that scourge of conformity and convention, writing: ‘Byron has also recommended a code of practice to cover the moderation of user-generated content’? No, I thought not.

‘Celebrity scandal seems much more his line, whether creating it himself or writing about it at the expense of his enemies. It turns out that, according to another article on the Guardian website today, this is just what today’s teenagers enjoy reading. The list of their best and least loved reading matter makes fascinating reading itself. Number 4 on the ‘Most loathed reads’ list is ‘Magazine articles about skinny celebrities’; top of the ‘Most loved reads’ list is: ‘Heat magazine’. Strangely, as the journalist cannot resist pointing out, ‘the cover and pages six to 12 of this week’s favourite read Heat are devoted to the subject’ of skinny celebrities. But whoever expected teenagers to be consistent?

More on Byron – the poet – here.

2,000 Philip Larkin letters uncovered

Larkin the letter writer and book stealer

Hull academics are eagerly examining letters written by Philip Larkin, once the university’s librarian, Chris Arnot reports in The Guardian. Already reeling from the discovery that the ’eminent librarian had stolen one book from a library in Coventry and another from Blackwells in Oxford,’ I wonder what else they will reveal. ‘Well,’ as he says in ‘The Old Fools’ in High Windows, ‘We shall find out.’ More about Philip Larkin on this page.