Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Thursday, 16 December 2010

A response to 'Mr Bleaney'

Someone once said that the great thing is not to be different from other people but to be different from yourself. – Philip Larkin in a radio interview

Philip Larkin never set out to be a librarian. In fact, according to his biographer, Andrew Motion, in his telling biography Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Life, “[j]udging by his treatment of books in St John’s [College, Oxford], he didn’t have much affection for libraries.” (p.109) This I read in my personal copy of the biography which used to be housed in the library of the Maze Political Prison in Belfast where it served a nine-year sentence from May 1993 until July 2002. It was borrowed by 25 inmates in its first fifteen months and then never again.

The reason Larkin ended up working as a librarian his whole life was down to chance more than anything else. After leaving university in 1943 he has aspirations to be a writer. He received a first in English language and literature. He had already begun work on the text that would eventually become the novel Jill but was struggling. He was realistic enough, even back then, to realise that he’d need another source of income until fame found its way to his door. So he applied to the Civil Service who promptly rejected him. He wrote to his friend Jim Sutton:

Did I tell you my Civil Service job fell through? Sfact. They can’t have liked my cheerful determination to be a writah [sic] and to use the CS merely as a means to livelihood. I am now perilously near being dragged into the Foreign Office as a hack clerk. (p.107)

This new possibility had nothing to do with Larkin. As a matter of routine the Civil Service had passed on his application but he needn’t have worried because the Foreign Office didn’t want him either. No doubt he did little to hide his utter lack of enthusiasm. He admitted to Sutton that he thought work was a good thing “in small doses. It canalizes one’s energy and stops one from starving” (p.108) but the simple fact is that everything going on around him was nothing more than a distraction from his writing.

For several weeks he kept working away on his book until one day out of the blue “a letter arrived from the Ministry of Labour, pointing out that his rejection by the Civil Service and the Foreign Office didn’t mean he should stop applying for other jobs” (p.109) – ah, such different, more civilised times – and so he picked up that day’s copy of the Birmingham Post, noticed that Wellington, Shropshire was advertising for a librarian, thought, How hard could that be? and applied.

His dad, Sydney, helped him with the application form, provided him with a green-bound copy of The Public Library System of Great Britain and told him to swot up prior to his interview. Larkin made a trip into Coventry where a helpful senior assistant spend a morning with him explaining “how books were ordered, accessioned and catalogued, and then given little pockets with individual tickets in them that were slipped into borrowers’ cards when the book was lent.” (p.110) Three days following his interview a letter arrived addressed to a ‘Mr Larking’ telling him that he’d got the job. Following a short exchange wherein Larkin confirmed the starting salary (and pointed out the correct spelling of his name) he accepted.

The idea of looking for a flat of his own was too much for the young Larkin to contemplate. He had been mollycoddled as a child and really hadn’t much of a clue how to fend for himself: “[h]e had never cooked a meal, never washed his own clothes, never had to pay a bill.” (p.111) He opted to rent rooms and take it from there.

The first place he settled on was 40 Church Street which was chilly, gloomy and not especially friendly. He had his own bedroom but he shared a sitting-room, kitchen and bathroom with two other lodgers. His landlady, Miss Jones, refused to allow him to play his jazz records which only added to his general misery. Jazz was always a duke ellington major part of Larkin’s life. He once said he could live a week without poetry but not a day without jazz.

Larkin’s jazz heroes and heroines were a restricted group: King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Sidney Bechet, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Eddie Condon. – Dr John White, Larkin With Jazz

I’d still like to think he might find something to like in some of the Bill Evans I’ve been listening to while I write this.

At first he hated the job but it grew on him and he grew into it. In later years, when called upon to explain his success as a librarian, Larkin said:

A librarian can be one of a number of things. He can be almost a pure scholar or he can be a technician . . . or he can be a pure administrator, or he . . . can just be a nice chap to have around which is the role I vaguely thought I filled. (p.113)

In January 1944, having taken as much as he could bear while with Miss Jones et al, Larkin moved to a boarding house in King Street called ‘Glenworth’ and the tender care of his new landlady, Miss Tomlinson. He was immediately disappointed with the place and told his parents:

There is plenty to grumble about. It is undeniably dirty: the food is scarce and occasionally badly prepared (we had an incredible kind of ray fish last week that smelt and tasted strongly of ammonia) and Miss Tomlinson is uncouth and moody. (p.123,124)

He also failed to bond with his fellow three lodgers.

In June 1946 a position opened up for a sub-librarian with University College, Leicester which he applied for and got.

Larkin lived in three different digs during his three years in the city. While he looked for the first he lodged in Loughborough, ten miles to the north, at his sister’s house. […] After three weeks of this he settled for the best alternative he could find: ‘a bed-sitting room – an attic really – very noisy with trams and 45 shillings [£2.25] a week, excluding lunch.’ At 172 London Road in Leicester. The noise (the trams weren’t discontinued until 1949), his three fellow-lodgers and the expense irritated him, but in other respects he was content. (p.149)

In August though his landlady, Joan Sutcliffe, told him that his room was needed for another lodger and so he had to make arrangements to move this time to an attic flat at 6 College Street. “‘Picture me in another garret,’ he told Sutton.” (p.171)

The only plus here was that, “the landlady … is deaf, and agrees to almost anything you ask her.” (p.171)

His next career move took him to Belfast. Queen’s University arranged for him to have a bed-sitting room in Queen’s Chambers, a tall Victorian hall of residence overlooking the main campus. On the whole it was very nice and he felt quite settled nevertheless when he wrote to his mother he said his room reminded him “of a very cheerless very bare hotel” (p.198) and generally bemoaned the furnishings and décor.

Holtby House In 1955 Larkin relocated for the last time, to Hull, where he would live out the rest of his life; he died in 1985. The University found him digs on the first floor of Holtby House in Cottingham which was a small hall of residence reserved for bachelor members of staff and post-graduate students. He was not well pleased with the accommodation: Holtby House “is not suitable: small, bare floored and noisy: I feel as if I were lying in some doss-house at night with hobos snoring and quarrelling all around me.” (p.247) Maeve Brennan recalls this remark:

I remember walking with him once towards Cottingham, a village-cum-suburb just outside Hull. As we passed a field in which some smart new pig-styes had been erected, round aluminium huts with coolie-hat style roofs, he commented: ‘Those pigs have better accommodation than the University Librarian!’ – The Philip Larkin I Knew, p.25

After a few weeks he escaped to “11 Outlands Road, also in Cottingham, where the landlady Mrs Dowling was ‘extremely kind and thoughtful’, the food was ‘not bad’, but ‘the house was too small’ and the family’s radio ‘like a nightmare,’” (p.247)

It was there, or thereabouts, that he wrote the only poem he managed to finish soon after arriving in Hull – ‘Mr. Bleaney’ (originally ‘Mr. Grindly’):


'This was Mr Bleaney's room. He stayed
The whole time he was at the Bodies, till
They moved him.' Flowered curtains, thin and frayed,
Fall to within five inches of the sill,

Whose window shows a strip of building land,
Tussocky, littered. 'Mr Bleaney took
My bit of garden properly in hand.'
Bed, upright chair, sixty-watt bulb, no hook

Behind the door, no room for books or bags –
'I'll take it.' So it happens that I lie
Where Mr Bleaney lay, and stub my fag
s On the same saucer-souvenir, and try

Stuffing my ears with cotton-wool, to drown
The jabbering set he egged her on to buy.
I know his habits – what time he came down,
His preference for sauce to gravy, why

He kept on plugging at the four aways –
Likewise their yearly frame: the Frinton folk
Who put him up for summer holidays,
And Christmas at his sister's house in Stoke.

But if he stood and watched the frigid wind
Tousling the clouds, lay on the fusty bed
Telling himself that this was home, and grinned,
And shivered, without shaking off the dread

That how we live measures our own nature,
And at his age having no more to show
Than one hired box should make him pretty sure
He warranted no better, I don't know.

About seventeen years later a mimeographed copy was passed to me during an English lesson and changed my life forever. Okay, perhaps that’s an exaggeration – you know the way we rewrite our own histories – because I had been writing poetry for a couple of years by then but it had lacked direction. The only poet up until then who had had any real impact on me was Wilfred Owen but the problem there was all he wrote about was war and, since we hadn’t been at war for some twenty-eight years and wouldn’t be for about another ten, war wasn’t really what I wanted to write about.

The thing that struck me most about this piece was how unpoetic it is. Yes it rhymes and the lines have a regular ten-syllable beat – through when you read it you’d never know – but where are all the babbling books and burning tygers? There’s nothing pretty here or Romantic. And the only mention of anything resembling Nature in the piece is some building land and that’s littered. Up until then I have never imagined that poetry could deal with anything that wasn’t in some way idealised and . . . well, poeticised to death.

Why though did this poem have such an effect on me? I had been in a B&B when on holiday once when I was about four or five but I remember nothing about the trip. All our other holidays were spent under canvas (not that we went on that many to be honest). All I can put it down to was that I was starting to ask the big questions at this point in my life, the whys that never seem to match up with the answers people say should be a perfect fit. Here was a poem that didn’t talk down to me, didn’t present any fake answer. Larkin told it how he saw it. I imagine he had read Nietzsche by this point in his life (especially bearing in mind his father’s political proclivities) so he was well aware what happens when ones stares into an abyss. I was not, although I thought what Nietzsche said was dead cool the first time I heard it, too.

The first five stanzas are marked by short, clipped sentences. In these he is looking out at Bleaney’s world. The last two comprise of one long sentence in which the narrator wallows in his own plight followed by a punch line which, “when it finally comes,” as David Lodge put it in his essay ‘Metonymic Muse’, “seems to spread back dismally through the whole poem, through the whole life of the unhappy man who utters it.” The narrator is not disparaging when he talks about Bleaney; he simply takes note. It’s only when he takes his place, lies on his bed, looks out of his window, that he starts to realise that Bleaney represents his future. There is no irony or satire here, a little humour, but that’s it. Just as it depicts a life stripped bare so likewise what we have here is a poem stripped bare.

After years of reading this poem I am not so sure about the “I don’t know,” at the end though. It depends how you read it. I know how Larkin read it but he was quick to point out that he only made recordings of his poems to show how they could be read not necessarily how they should be read. A lot of the time when people use the words, “I don’t know,” or more often these days I suppose, “I dunno,” which is usually embedded in a deep sigh, what they’re saying is, “I most certainly know but I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to go there.” I wondered if the narrator in the poem is Larkin himself. Larkin once said: “Don’t confuse me with the poems: I’m bigger than they are.” I can’t argue with that – I could say that about my own writing – that that doesn’t mean that a poem like ‘Mr. Bleaney’ doesn’t provide a snapshot and snapshots can be revealing even if they don’t tell everything. I think in this poem Larkin is both the narrator and Bleaney and what Larkin is seeing here is what Beckett saw in Krapp – his future. Both ‘Mr. Bleaney’ and Krapp’s Last Tape were written just as the authors were about to become famous; their lives could have ended very differently. In his book Philip Larkin: Poetry That Builds Bridges, Sisir Kumar Chatterjee has this thought:

The speaker may not “know” for certain, but he certainly guesses that Bleaney’s acceptance of or rather resignation to his unsatisfactory and unsatisfying condition and pattern of life was only apparent. As Larkin himself remarked, “Perhaps he [Bleaney] hated it [his life] as much as I did. The implication of the final gesture is that inwardly Bleaney was troubled (like the clouds tousled by the “frigid wind” which he used to watch standing absentmindedly by the window) by the “dread” of being misunderstood by people who evaluate a man’s nature and character from the exterior tenor of his life. Bleaney might also have been disturbed by a feeling of self-pity that led him to hopelessly rationalise the life he was doomed to live as something deservingly proportionate to his potentials. […] Thus, beneath its surface, ‘Mr. Bleaney’ contains an emotion of “distanced compassion” – compassion for the imagined suffering of a comical stereotype. (p.206)

Bleaney is a projection. We only get to hear what others think or imagine. We never know. Not for sure. It’s easy to assume that the narrator is disillusioned with his life. I think that’s perhaps the wrong word, unillusioned would be better. The narrator of the poem does his sums in plain view: this is who am I, this is what I will become.

<Samsung NV3, Samsung VLUU NV3> For the record by the way, it wasn’t until 1956, at the age of 34, Larkin rented a self-contained flat on the top-floor of 32 Pearson Park, a three-storey red-brick house overlooking the park, previously the American Consulate. Later he moved into his own house at 105, Newland Park, Cottingham Road – just opposite the university.

Like Larkin none of my poems come with answers, not many anyway. I love trying to answer questions. Just get me started on: What is a poem? and you’ll see how much I enjoy trying to answer the unanswerable. My goal as a poet has always been a simple one: to write my ‘Mr. Bleaney.’ I may well have. I don’t know. For a long time I’ve wanted to do something with the poem but I never knew what and I wasn’t sure if I dared. Then one day I read about something that Carol Ann Duffy did about three years ago. She wrote to a load of famous poets asking them first to choose a famous poem and then to write a poem in answer to it. What a great idea!

Without thinking I opened up a Word document and began to write. I don’t know about you but I’ve often found, thinking just gets in the way. I’m not sure if you’d call what I came up with an answer to ‘Mr. Bleaney’ but it is does individualise the poem. I made it about me. It’s not 100% about me and I couldn’t even call it autobiographical because, well, I’d need to be dead because in the poem the father (that would be me) is dead. The question the poem addresses is not quite the same as Larkin’s. It is similar though, more refined. The problem is, when you have a corker of an ending, do you muck with it? Take for example the ending to the original Planet of the Apes. How could you improve on that? Well, Tim Burton proved he couldn’t.

Anyway, for better or worse, see what you think:

(after Larkin)

‘This was my late father’s room. He’d always
wanted a place where he could write in peace –
somewhere quiet.’ Bookcases, coated in dust
line the walls and crowd around a tired desk

on which there sits an ancient Dell PC,
a Pentium III. ‘Dad wasn’t one to
throw out something that still had life in it.’
Clock, ergonomic chair, lamp, no pictures

on the walls, no family snaps or prints –
‘I’ll sort it.’ So I pack a lifetime’s worth
in boxes and crates and stub out my fags
on this heart-shaped dish his wife seemingly

brought him back from America. ‘I don’t
want a thing,’ his daughter said, ‘Sell it all.’
You learn a lot about a man by what
he leaves behind and what he takes with him.

He loved the classics: Vaughan Williams and Bax,
the poems of Larkin, plays by Beckett.
The book he was reading waits by his chair
a receipt from Tesco’s keeping his place.

Once I expect he’d have stood here like me
and looked around at this now empty shell
imagined the things he might do in it
and shivered at the possibility

that one day he might think some great thought here,
might write something down that could change the world
or at the least make some sense out of it.
Perhaps he did. No one will ever know.


Art Durkee said...

This was a very good read. It helps me understand for the first time why you like Larkin so much, particularly "Mr. Bleaney," which you've mentioned before.

It doesn't warm me up towards liking Larkin much, though. For me, Larkin may always be one of those poets who I respect for their achievement, but don't like very much to read. Perhaps that's just partly because I think his writings on jazz are so wrong-headed; particularly his condemnations of any kind of jazz outside of that which he did like.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I like your response poem. Although, pardon me for saying so, but I think "I don't know" would be a better ending than "No one will ever know." It's humble, for one thing, even if you hear "I know but I'm not telling you" ... we can hear all sorts of things, you know.

Dave King said...

I feel very much as Art expresses himself. For me, I don't know could easily apply to Larkin's poetry. I have never been able to decide about it. Sometimes it grabs me, sometimes leaves m,e cold. He certainly would never make my top ten. I do like both the poems you present - his and yours. But so far as Mr Bleaney is concerned, one swallow does not make a summer. Your post was a fascinating read, though.

Jim Murdoch said...

It’s hard to shake an opinion once it’s got a hold of you, Art, and, believe me, I’m not saying that everyone should feel about Larkin as I do. I like all his poetry, some more than others as you would expect, but you never forget your first love, that’s really the point I’m getting at here and I’m very grateful to Larkin for enabling me to find my own voice because I never went out of my way to copy him and I have to say it was something of a surprise to me when I got the idea for ‘House Clearance’ after all these years but then I’ve never truly understood how this inspiration thing works.

Glenn, that’s what I was looking for. I read both poems to my daughter the last time she was over and she quite rightly (although I do think quite honestly) said she preferred my poem. I see what you’re saying about the ending. The point I was making was that now the man is dead it’s not simply the narrator who will never know, no one will even know for sure now and this includes his daughter who clearly didn’t know her father because if she had she might have cared a little more about what might have been in the room.

And, Dave, that is a good point. I think that’s what I personally appreciate about Larkin’s poetry in general, there are not so many tidy endings, morals to take away and mull over. Most of the time in my life I’ve felt like I wasn’t privy to all the facts, that I was making my best guess based on available information, that if I only knew that wee bit more then I could make sense out of it all. In musical terms his poems embody an interrupted cadence – you are left waiting on the other boot falling – and I like that.

Gwil W said...

Mr Bleaney is a favourite of mine. It's like an O. Henry story. There's a bleak sadness at work. The merciless treadmill claims another victim. We are lucky if we are not there. We exist somewhere between that and the well-groomed man in the National Geographic. There but for the grace of God etc..
Another great read!

Art Durkee said...

Well, I understand very well how discovering a certain poet can give one permission, as it were, to write also. Not that one imitates, but the sense of feeling enabled matters a great deal.

For me, that poet was Jean Valentine. (I've written about that moment myself, before.) I felt like Valentine gave me permission, as it were, to write the sorts of poems that I had in my head, and that I wasn't seeing anywhere else in print. That's what got me going, that sense of feeling like I had permission to do what I wanted to do, which was different than many other kinds of poetry. (And apparently still is.)

Again, this has been good food for thought.

Jim Murdoch said...

I think comparing ‘Mr Bleaney’ to an O Henry story is quite a good comparison, Gwilym. The first O Henry story I ever read was in comic strip format in World of Wonder or something like it. It was about a couple of men who had arranged to meet something like thirty years into the future. The first to arrive gets chatting to a cop and tells him his story. After the cop leaves some more policemen arrive and arrest the man. The arresting officer hands him a note; it was from the first cop who, it turns out, was his friend but when he realised that the man was a wanted criminal couldn’t bring himself to arrest him himself. It has stayed with me all these years because now I’ve seen how lives can splinter and people get taken off in such different directions. It was the profundity that got me and I think you can say the same about Larkin’s poem.

I’m not sure though that I could say Larkin gave me permission to write, Art, because I’d been writing poetry for two years before this. If anyone sparked my interest then the credit would need to go to Wilfred Owen I would say. Larkin gave me direction. ‘Mr Bleaney’ is so stripped down. Its poetry doesn’t rely on poetic techniques – even its use of rhyme gets lost – and yet it is very much a poem. What makes it a poem? That was the question I couldn’t shake. And it’s one that still fascinates me. But the goal has always been to write ‘Mr Bleaney’, my ‘Mr Bleaney’. This was the first time I thought I’d managed it. It is a poem that still produces that same uncomfortable feeling at the end, as if the floor has just vanished from underneath my feet:


      Every evening
      Sweet William
      sits on the wall
      watching Stiletto
      and the cars
      creeping quietly
      down the street.

      He knows her room
      and sometimes he
      kneels outside the window
      on the fire escape
      and watches through a
      crack in the curtain
      or more often just listens.

      The sounds he likes best
      are like children sobbing
      and he understands that.

      6 September 1981

martine said...

Particularly liked the 'receipt from Tesco's keeping his place'.
I do that:-)
thanks for sharing

Rachel Fenton said...

Some really humbling details in there, Jim - I enjoyed it, though I have a bias for all things Larkin. Much as I'd love to dislike the guy, his poetry is what counts and it's just brilliant. Clever without being show off and he manages to convey the the way that a place like Hull can stir you to escape through poetry - stunning words out of one stinking place.
Thanks for this.
Happy holidays.

Elisabeth said...

I'm a Larkin fan and even more so now, having read this post, Jim. Such a wonderful potted biography of the great poet, for to me Larkin's poetry is 'great' in an understated way.

I especially enjoy your poem here. It's 'honest' and poignant. I reverberate to the blending of identities, your father yourself, at the end of your lives, yours imagined, his now past.

Thanks, Jim.

Anonymous said...

Yes, what a good read. A game of three thirds, really: a tour around Larkin's lodgings, which has so much to say about rental culture way back when; the profiling of 'Mr Bleaney', which, as ever, casts light everywhere; and your own parody, which works brilliantly.

Jim Murdoch said...

Actually, Martine, I don’t, do that. For years now we’ve had Tesco delivery our orders to the door and our ‘receipt’ is usually a couple of A4 pages but it worked for the poem, the suggestion that the old guy does his own shopping.

I’ve never been to Hull, Rachel and so I’m not sure how ‘stinking’ a place it is now or might have been back then. In fact the only images I have about it come from the BBC’s episode of Monitor that featured Larkin and I don’t remember too much about it other than him cycling around some common ground that could be anywhere and standing around the docks and docks are docks.

I have to say, Lis, I have no idea where that poem came from. As with so many things I just sat down and began it. Yes, for decades the poem has been running around my head but the idea of using it as a jumping-off point for a poem of my own never really entered into my head. I actually sat and wrote it while my wife was watching some programme on TV that wasn’t of much interest to me, Masterchef I think, which is unusual because I generally find it hard to concentrate when there’s talking going on like that which is why I tend to stick to orchestral music these days.

And, Dick, I certainly had no intention of lampooning Larkin’s poem if that’s what you mean by ‘parody’ – I’m not trying to be humorous (except in keeping the tone of the original) or ironic – but I’m actually not sure what word I would use; pastiche isn’t right either. It’s really a piece of fan fiction (fan poetry?) but I don’t much care for calling it that because again that term suggests it’s not a serious piece of writing in its own right. My intention was, to use Tim Burton’s expression, to “reimagine” ‘Mr Bleaney’, to write a poem that came from the same place and yet make it my own. I’ve taken my own fears of being forgotten and used them as the basis for the piece. The real question is, does ‘House Clearance’ work on its own without any prior knowledge of ‘Mr Bleaney’? I think it does.

Kass said...

From cheerless and bare surroundings, Larkin produced an atmosphere in his poems where we can lie where he lay.

You've managed to do the same with your poem in this post and the one in response to Gwilym's comment.

They both have a sweet melancholy without being too sentimental. I wonder why the sound is "like" children sobbing and not just "children sobbing."

" learn a lot about a man by what he leaves behind." - What will everyone say about all your stuff and literary output?

Jim Murdoch said...

Every town has a ‘red light’ district, Kass, and Glasgow is no different. In the late seventies the place to go was Blythswood Square or more specifically Blythswood Street. Nowadays that area is clear as far as I’m aware but it was walking down Blythswood Street in the late seventies that I saw my first honest-to-goodness prostitute. I was on the other side of the street and I saw a car draw up, terms were agreed, in she got and off they went. Glasgow’s not as bad as San Francisco but there are some steep hill in the town centre and Blythswood Street is one of them. Fire escapes, the kind you’re used to in America, are not common here, at least not in that area.

This is one of those poems which came to me pretty much fully formed and I have no idea what generated it. William has since appeared in about a dozen other poems but nothing for a few years now; I think he and I are done with each other. I have always envisaged him as a kind of savant, a Rain Man kind of character, someone with special insight but at a cost. He sits on a wall and watches the cars pick up the girls and then scuttles up the fire escape and listens (rarely watches) outside the windows. The sex is meaningless to him but the sounds he can make some sense out of; he finds the lowest common denominator.

When a child sobs all he normally needs is comfort. What is sex all about? And this is ‘having sex’ not ‘making love’ remember. I never say what the sounds are William hears – they may even be men sobbing, crying in front of a stranger because they can’t cry in front of their wives – the point is that there is something else going on here apart from adultery or fornication. Sex is what many people do when there’s nothing to do; they can’t take away the real pain in their lives so they create an artificial pain substitute and relieve it. It’s no different to picking up a hungry kid and rocking him – it’s not what he needs but it distracts him for a while.

This is the first time I’ve tried to explain this poem. Really the poem says it all. Why does he find some comfort in the sobbing? Because there is something missing in his life. He is also frustrated just not sexually. And misery loves company. Hope this makes the poem a little clearer for you.

Kass said...

Thanks for the explanation. Now I am appropriately poetically disturbed. It all makes too much sense and I think you've done a great job describing an interchange of shared pain.

pinartarhan said...

I actually love the notion of being different from other people. Surely, we all have things in common with a variety of people, but against an increasinly uniform world population, being an individual who embraces the differences, enjoys them and puts them to good use is becoming more and more significant.

But being different from yourself is also a crucial part of being different from other people. Whether it is taking different paths, growing to like different things or striving to reach your potential, I like that I have discovered a lot of new things about me, and I am different from the last year me, and probably even the last year me. The core is there, but it keeps getting enriched by the differences.

I liked how Larkin wrote his poems freely. They are stories, and the fact that he didn't out of his way to make up unnatural rhymes made me enjoy it even more. This is also how I like my songs: stories told in a natural way, rhyming only if it is really relevant to the theme and flow.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for your comment, Zoey. Sorry to take so long to respond but your comment was awaiting moderation and I hadn’t checked there for months. (Google really could make it a bit clearer when comments need moderating.) I know what you mean about Larkin’s ‘free’ approach to writing. The thing is, when you dig into it, it’s really not that free—he was really quite an old-fashioned poet in many ways—but he hides his structure well. ‘Mr Bleaney’ has a regular rhythm and rhymes but if you read it the way it was intended to be read you’ll never see it; it could almost be prose.

As far as “being different from yourself” as you put it, I’m a very different man to the one I was even five or six years ago. We are in a constant state of flux. I look back on poems I wrote when I was younger and find it hard to relate to the mindset of the person who wrote them and that’s how it should be.

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