Monday, 30 April 2012

More Larkin in New York

It is unlikely Philip Larkin, who died in 1985 at age 63, would have attended the tribute to him held by The Poetry Society of America Tuesday night. Larkin shunned fame, even declining to become Britain's poet laureate.

Yet hundreds headed to Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the evening's co-sponsor, to mark Farrar, Straus and Giroux's recent publication of Larkin's "The Complete Poems."
The poet has staying power. The Times of London in 2008 named Larkin the greatest post-war British writer, with George Orwell trailing in second place.

As the crowd settled into their seats, the Queens CollegeLouis Armstrong Ensemble enveloped the Great Hall with sounds of jazz. This was fitting, since the poet Larkin was once a jazz writer for the Daily Telegraph. The ensemble played intermittently throughout the evening, as though punctuating lines of poetry with musical exclamation points.

The singer Paul Simon read a short poem by Larkin about a hedgehog killed by a mower. The poem ends with a plea for people to remain careful of one another. The poem concludes: "Of each other, we should be kind/While there is still time."

Andrew Sullivan, the blogger and former New Republic editor, offered an impassioned rendition of "The Whitsun Weddings." Larkin's own voice haunted the room with a recording of "Lines on a Young Lady's Photograph Album."

The president and publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Jonathan Galassi, novelist Zadie Smith, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik and poet Billy Collins also read.

 Meanwhile, on Gramercy Park, British bad boy of contemporary literature, Martin Amis, was toasted.

Vanity Fair chieftain,  Graydon Carter, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Jeffrey Eugenides and Janis Bellow, a lecturer at Tufts University and widow of Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow, were on hand to pay tribute to Mr. Amis and his incisive prose. The National Arts Club program had a 62-person dinner committee, of which this journalist was a member.

Examples of Mr. Amis's humor and acerbic wit are plentiful on the printed page. For example, in "The War on Cliché: Essays and Reviews, 1971–2000" (Talk Miramax Books), the author declares, "Norman Mailer's new book bears all the signs, all the watermarks, all the heraldry—of a writer faced with an alimony bill of $500,000 a year."

Awarded a gold medal that evening, Mr. Amis spoke of first coming to America in 1958 at age 9 and his more recent move here.

"The smiling blue skies of New York have made us welcome," he said, though conceding, "It's very difficult to be interesting about the weather."

On the sidewalk after the program ended, Mr. Amis offered his recollections of Larkin, who lived in the city of Hull. Mr. Amis recalled telling Larkin that since the latter now had a car, he should get an apartment in London and begin meeting some nice women. Instead, Mr. Amis said, Larkin responded with complaints about car repair bills and other expenditures.

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