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Philip Larkin and His Adjectives

His Plain Far-Reaching Singleness

I have two of Philip Larkin’s poems by heart—“Sad Steps” and “Aubade”—though I admire many more, and it was while reciting the former poem silently to myself during a particularly boring meeting that I noticed a number of things for the first time, most of them related in one way or another to the poet’s use of adjectives:

Groping back to bed after a piss
I part thick curtains and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon’s cleanliness.

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Posted in Essays, May 2010: Philip Larkin Special Issue, This MonthComments (1)

The Tell-Tale Line

Word Comix by Charlie Smith. Norton, 2009.

The History of Forgetting by Lawrence Raab. Penguin, 2009.

Blind Rain by Bruce Bond. Louisiana State University Press, 2008.continue reading...

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Philip Larkin and Happiness

On “Born Yesterday”

For those familiar with Philip Larkin’s work, the title of this short essay will seem to offer a juxtaposition so improbable as to be laugh-out-loud funny-rather like that old joke staple, the tiny book titled German Humor, or the admittedly unlikely prospect of a panel at a New Formalist conference on “The Achievement of the L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E Poets.” Indeed, if we do associate the word with Larkin, we’re most likely to think of poems in which happiness is mentioned as an absence-as in the narrator’s rueful longing in “High Windows” for “everyone young going down the long slide / To happiness, endlessly.” I don’t want to suggest that Larkin’s poetry gives us glimpses of joy with anything resembling regularity.… continue reading...

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An Agenda for Critics: Judgment

As Reviewed By: Jan Schreiber

The task of the critic is judgment. I hope to unravel the complexities of judgment, as it applies to works of literature, and specifically to poetry.… continue reading...

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Masters of the Airy Manner: Auden and Byron

W. H. Auden’s engagement with the poetry of Byron is perhaps not the most significant of his various literary relationships; probably not as important as that with W.B.… continue reading...

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Aristocracies of One

On British and American Poetry

What is the difference between British and American poetry—especially contemporary poetry—and why are they different? Because the two poetries are written in the same language, it seems to make more sense to ask this question of them than to ask, for example, what the differences between Italian and Spanish poetry are, or to what degree Polish poetry differs from Russian poetry.… continue reading...

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The Passion of James K. Baxter: Part II


Unnamed ghosts trouble Baxter as much as those he addresses specifically; when local and personal history intermingle in the Jerusalem Sonnets, crises of faith tend to arise, as in the twenty-fifth sonnet:

The brown river, te taniwha, flows on .

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The Passion of James K. Baxter

On Frank Sargeson’s wall, up above the fireplace, there used to be (perhaps there still is) a wooden cross . . . . One day I found among cards and pictures on the shelf above the fireplace a photograph of the young Baxter in his alcoholic raincoat.continue reading...

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Getting Out of the Flames

Letters of Ted Hughes, selected and edited by Christopher Reid. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2008, 758 pp., $45. Published originally, Faber & Faber, UK, 2007, £30.continue reading...

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Our Steps amid a Ruined Colonnade III: James Matthew Wilson on Grammar and Expression



O early ripe! To thy abundant store
What could advancing age have added more?
It might (what nature never gives the young)
Have taught the numbers of thy native tongue.

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