Notebook of Philip Larkin poems 'saved from dump'

By Matthew Beard
Friday 15 November 2013 03:22
comments

A notebook of 'lost' poems and jottings by Philip Larkin has emerged in his home town of Hull after reportedly being saved from the rubbish tip by an attentive furniture worker.

Although volunteers from the Larkin Society, which guards the memory of the poet, meticulously cleared his home of work, the red A5 volume is said to have been acquired from the company sent to take his furniture to the dump.

Now the current 'owner' of the book, Chris Jackson, is trying to realise its considerable value on the open market, to the fury of the society which is demanding answers about how it came to fall into his hands. The literary mystery is all the more important because the book contains hand-written notes on Thomas Hardy and two 'new' verses.

The Larkin Society has offered Mr Jackson a £200 reward for the book, which also contains drafts of the published poems Bridge for the Living, a commission about Humber Bridge, and Morning at Last: There in the Snow, probably about his former lover Maeve Brennan.

How the book came to leave Mr Larkin's house is unclear. Mr Jackson will say only that he received it from a man named 'John' who helped empty the home in Hull that Larkin shared with his companion Monica Jones, who died in 2001.

The Larkin Society is baffled by the book's emergence because its members carried out a painstaking search of the house, including raising floorboards, to prevent any original works falling into rogue hands.

They found a manuscript book setting out sketches for two novels from the late 1940s and then called in removal company, Newland Discount Furniture, to dump the remaining furniture at the end of last year.

If experts agree that both four-line verses uncover a new aspect of Larkin's work, the book will become highly collectable. Larkin, who died in 1985, was the voice of bleak verse, celebrated for his collection The Whitsun Weddings and High Windows.

Mr Jackson's attempts to make money from the work has encountered fierce resistance from the Society of Authors, which runs the poet's estate and is refusing to acknowledge Mr Jackson's co-ownership. The society is said to be considering its legal position.

James Booth, general secretary of the Larkin Society and Professor of English at Hull University, was shown the book during a brief meeting with Mr Jackson in a pub last summer.

Professor Booth, who made notes on the few pages he saw, admitted there may be much more material in the book.

Although a Larkin expert, Professor Booth was unable to say what may have inspired the verses. He was not instantly impressed with the quality of the work and suggested that the Valentine verse may even have been lifted from a greetings card.

Professor Booth said: "The book is genuine. It is very clearly Larkin's. It comes from the end of his career when he was running out of inspiration and these are not his best work."

He added: "It will be costly and difficult to prove the ownership, but morally it belongs to the Larkin estate. The literary value of this book is far greater than the actual book itself."

Many of Larkin's other works are held in a library at Hull University, which next month hosts an exhibition of the poet's memorabilia . Larkin took the post of librarian at Hull University in 1955 and in the same year he published The Less Deceived, a collection which cemented his reputation as one of the foremost figures of 20th century poetry.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments