A Study of Philip Larkin's Poetry


My book came into existence as a doctoral dissertation. After removing the dry dust of academia, I sent the manuscript to an esteemed publisher of literary criticism, Mouton & Co. in the Netherlands. I was, as you can imagine, more than thrilled when it was accepted for Mouton's noted DE PROPRIETATIBUS LITERARARUM, Series Practica 60.

In 1974, when the book was published, it was the first comprehensive study of a body of poetry which takes its place among the finest in the English Language. At that time there already were scores of articles and innumerable critical references that attested to Larkin's pre-eminence. Now of course, not only students of the spécialité, "Philip Larkin," but students of literature in general, and indeed, anyone who dips into modern poetry must have read something of Larkin's.

An Uncommon Poet for the Common Man clarifies the qualities that make Larkin one of a kind--his combinations of the unique and the generic, his peculiar mixture of satire and tenderness, and his lacing of quiet seriousness with flippancy and audacity. His poems are at once deeply personal and social commentary. If you had to define Larkin in two words, you might say, "existential absurdist," yet his poems glimmer with a kind of affirmation: humor cloaks tragedy, witticism expresses despair; humanity is poked then stroked.

To explicate all of this, I tried to follow my subject's linguistic lead by eschewing, as far as possible, the specialized vocabulary of literary criticism. For the most part I tackle the meanings and dynamics of Larkin's poems by using the most objective type of criticism--description.

I was most fortunate for having as my famous subject a famous subject who was very much alive. When I began the dissertation, I wrote to Larkin hoping for his permission to show him parts of the manuscript which I was afraid might be wildly out of focus. His enormously kind answer was yes. But somehow, my book wrote itself so quickly that I never took advantage of his generous willingness to comment. At its completion I sent him the manuscript, about which he wrote back, "like reading a long account of myself--almost a prose poem--constructed by you on evidence supplied by me."

The book is presently out of print. Used copies are selling on the Internet (Amazon, B&N and others) at astronomical prices. The publisher could easily reissue this 190 page book as a paperback or an ebook. Please ask them to do so. ISBN 978-11-089929-0.


or Walter de Gruyter, Inc.
125 Pearl Street, Third Floor
Boston, MA 02110
Phone: +1 (857)- 284-7073
Fax: +1 (857)-284-7358
e-mail: service@degruyter.com

Read an excerpt