Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Philip Larkin and T. S. Eliot

I have never made it quite clear to myself why poets as different as Larkin and Eliot are my gods. I like to think of them as the two platforms between which my temperament swings, or the two poles across which my life is stretched, but that does not seem to me the final word. This morning, thinking about it again while I was walking to school from the train station, I thought about Larkin's laconic lyrics of human unfulfilment, what Auden, in another context, calls, "sing of human unsuccess/ In a rapture of distress." Then I thought of one more reason why Eliot matters so much to me. He writes long poems, and Larkin does not. I want to write a long poem. I love writing lyrics, but I want to write a long poem.


Shropshirelad said...

I know what you mean. Long poems are hard.

You wind up looking like one of those guys with a dozen plates, six rolling pins, six tennis balls, and bowl of goldfish on a dowel on the tip of his nose bicycling in figure eights on a unicycle.

Still, I think the easiest way to get started writing a long poem if you are a lyrical poet (and I use the word "easy" in the most ridiculously inappropriate way conceivable) is to pick a form, like ottava rima, and see what you can do.

Everybody has a different approach, of course. But you are a remarkable writer--with great intelligence, sensitivity and humanity. And you will figure it out. I have no doubt.


I love Larkin and Eliot, too. But I think I like them somewhat less than I used to. Elizabeth Bishop has really struck a deeper chord with me lately. There is something about those Fishouses of hers that leaves Burnt Norton tasting, to my tongue at least, a bit...burnt.


Jee Leong Koh said...

Hi shroplad,
Those fishhouses get me too, but still not as much as "Little Gidding" or "Whitsun Weddings." I am writing my long poem "The Book of the Body" but writing is a very loose term.

Shropshirelad said...

Yeah, Whitsun Weddings is especially nice: 'its postal districts packed in like squares of wheat..." flourishes like that really make me melt.

I have been tinkering with a long narrative poem, sort of a cross between Nabokov's, Speak, Memory, Tristram Shandy, and George Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody. It's in ottava rima, but it is a great big shambling incoherent monster now. I call it A Preface to a Life. It's about my parents and growing up in Buffalo.

I refer to Larkin in it at one point...

“Man hands on misery to man,” of course,
Nothing could be easier than THAT.
Happiness is harder, and a source
Of great perplexity to poets—at
Least those creeps who scatter metaphors,
Like tears, across each page, without éclat,
Éclairs, or anything more pleasant. I
Sincerely hope I am not such a guy...

Anyway, that's just me...

I look forward to reading your Book of the Body. From what I have seen of your topography so far, I am sure it will be beautiful.

Eshuneutics said...
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Eshuneutics said...

Well, you must be one of the few these days that has Larkin as a god :-). Perhaps, he is busy somewhere in that Great Library in the Sky explaining irony and The Movement to God.