Join us for a poetry reading in celebration of the life and work of Philip Larkin, one of England's greatest and best-loved poets of the 20th century. There is a $5 suggested donation for this event.
Bruce Coffin taught English in a number of independent schools in England and America, including Westover School in Middlebury, Connecticut. He is the author of two memoirs, The Long Light of Those Days and Among Familiar Shadows, and he divides his time between Hamden, Connecticut, and Woodstock, Vermont.
In a 35 year long career at Westover School, Christopher Sweeney taught English, history, and Latin, coordinated the school's community service program, and held a variety of administrative positions.
Philip Larkin, England’s best-loved poet of the second half of the 20th century, was born and raised in Coventry, educated in a grammar school there, studied at Oxford, had a series of jobs as a librarian. In Martin Amis’s words, “War, travel, marriage, children: none of this happened to him. He worked nine to five, then wrote, then drank. He wrote to his mother, a widow, several times a week, corresponded with his friends, and he had perhaps half a dozen love affairs. And that was all.”
He was well liked and highly regarded by his staff and his colleagues at the University of Hull, where he was head librarian. In his private life he was reclusive. Why wasn’t he in London, people wanted to know, where he would become better known? In his own words, “I like Hull because it’s far away from everywhere else. On the way to nowhere . . . I very much feel the need to be on the periphery of things.”
He was offered but declined the position of Poet Laureate in 1984 because he did not want the public attention he assumed would follow. He accepted few invitations to read his poems for recordings. And he never read publicly. We perhaps get to know him best in his letters. Anthony Thwaite, in his introduction to Selected Letters of Philip Larkin, tells us: “What is remarkable, for all the masks he puts on, is how consistently Larkin emerges, whomever he is writing to. [The letters] are an informal record of the lonely, gregarious, exuberant, desolate, close-fisted, generous, intolerant, compassionate, eloquent, foul- mouthed, harsh and humorous Philip Larkin.”
Larkin was not a prolific writer: apart from his four small volumes of poetry, The North Ship (1945), The Less Deceived (1955), The Whitsun Weddings (1964), and High Windows (1974), he wrote two novels in his twenties, when he intended to become a novelist; two books of essays; and one book on jazz—and that was it. But by 1985, the year of his death, he was unquestionably England’s unofficial laureate, and his reputation as one of England’s greatest 20 th century poets was firmly established.