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
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

Arts and Entertainment

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece