25 years on, Hull honours Larkin with tourist trail

Few poets shunned the limelight quite like Philip Larkin, who rejected the Laureateship and refused to appear on television. Yet despite – or perhaps because of – his gloomy and reclusive public persona, his obsession with mortality and the meticulous chronicling of life’s dark corners of quiet despair, his popularity remains undimmed.

The city of Hull, where he spent more than three decades in splendid isolation as university librarian, will later this year honour its most celebrated modern literary son with a five-month festival marking the 25th anniversary of his death.

Among the main attractions for the event, Larkin25, will be an interactive tourist trail to give lovers of his poetry a greater insight into the everyday places which inspired his work and fuelled his inimitable scathing wit.

Key upon the route will be Paragon Railway Station, where the poet starts his southward journey one “sunlit Saturday” for “The Whitsun Weddings”, recently voted Britain’s most popular poem. In December the celebrations will culminate with the unveiling of a statue of Larkin, mirroring that of his friend Sir John Betjeman, at the opposing terminus at London’s Kings Cross.

Fans will be encouraged to visit the Brynmor Jones Library where he worked and which inspired his meditation on paid employment in “Toads”. Another stopping-off point will be the university lodgings in the top floor of the house in Pearson Park where Larkin resided for 17 years, and which gave him the “High Windows” for the title of his last major collection.

Also included will be the modern home in Newland Park where he lived from the mid-70s and which he famously hated, and also the home of his former lover Maeve Brennan. Those seeking a more prosaic insight can visit the pubs where he drank and listened to jazz, the shops where he bought his weekly groceries and even the site of his favourite Chinese restaurant.

The trail will take fans out to the surrounding countryside of the East Riding and ancient churches of outlying villages which he visited on his bicycle.

Graham Chesters, a retired professor of French at Hull University who chairs the Philip Larkin Society, said there would be no attempt to hide from the controversy that tainted the poet following his death. Accusations of misanthropy, racism and misogyny greeted the publications of Larkin’s personal letters and the official biography by future poet laureate Andrew Motion. The poet and academic Tom Paulin described the letters as “a distressing and in many ways revolting compilation which imperfectly reveals and conceals the sewer under the national monument Larkin became”.

Professor Chesters said he hoped the event would invite new readers to look afresh at the poet and be inspired. “The idea behind Larkin25 is to engage as many people as possible of all ages and all ethnic groups in creativity. We are not just saying look at Larkin the poet. He wrote novels, he was a great jazz lover and reviewer, he was a photographer and a great doodler.”

In addition to the trail, which will feature MP3 recordings of poetry readings and letters read by the author, there will be exhibitions of Larkin’s landscape photographs and his sketches, a major new play based on his life and work to be performed at the Hull Truck Theatre.

Prof Chesters concedes that Larkin, whose complex personality and deep shyness was obscured behind an outward display of bluffness, might have been nonplussed at the attention. “I suspect he would be relatively unimpressed by the idea and that is a question we have been asking ourselves,” he said. “He didn’t have much time for anywhere and in his correspondence he does wonder why he is in Hull. But in many ways it was ideal for a poet.”

Yet for all his diffidence Larkin wrote evocatively about the city describing the “end of the line sense of freedom” he enjoyed and the port’s “sudden elegancies”. In the poem “Here” he describes the “filthy-smelling pastoral of ships up streets, the slave museum, tattoo-shops, consulates, the grim head-scarfed wives”.

Larkin died from oesophagus cancer in 1985, aged 63, and is buried in the municipal cemetery. Jean Hartley, his former publisher at The Marvell Press and whose book Philip Larkin’s Hull and East Yorkshire provided the template for the trail, recalls him fondly.

“He was the funniest man that I have ever known. He was hugely entertaining. He used to cycle up to our house most Saturday afternoons having done a great big shop with this great haversack on his back and we would spend the afternoon in uproarious laughter before he would cycle home,” she said.

“He liked the place because it was a bustling town but also very remote with all this lovely countryside around. He had some very meaningful relationships and a very big circle of friends.

“Anyone who takes the trail will see a lot of Hull that they would not normally see and hopefully bring them much closer in touch with Philip and the places that he visited and loved.”

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
Arts and Entertainment

Grace Dent on TV

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us