Required listening for Larkin fans — The Sunday Sessions — a recently rediscovered recording of the poet reading some of his best poems:
The Sunday Sessions consists of twenty-six poems, the contents of two tapes recorded by Philip Larkin in Hull in February 1980 — reportedly each on a Sunday after lunch with John weeks, a sound engineer and colleague of the poet. The tapes, which contain work from Larkin’s first major collection, The North Ship, as well as poems from his best-known collections, The Whitsun Weddings, and High Windows, remained ‘lost’ for over two decades, lying on a shelf in the garage in which they were recorded.
It almost sounds like a Larkin poem, doesn’t it?
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. Those tapes.
I was disappointed the first time I heard Larkin read his poems. I didn’t expect him to sound like Tigger, but he sounded incredibly morose even by his standards, as if he were reading the poems under duress. But these readings are great, done with real feeling, if in a typically understated way. I honestly can’t imagine a better reading of ‘The Whitsun Weddings’. The selection is great too, including ‘Lines on a Young Lady’s Photograph Album’, ‘Home Is so Sad’, ‘The Old Fools’, ‘Church Going’, ‘Cut Grass’, ‘The Building’ and ‘An Arundel Tomb’.
Hearing the poems (ahem) afresh like this, it struck me again how utterly ridiculous it is to belittle the man’s poetic achievement. Yes, he had some dodgy opinions, but if we struck poets off the list for that, we wouldn’t have many left to read. You don’t have to be a saint to write great poetry.
And don’t worry — there are only three poems from The North Ship.