Comfort amid sadness thanks to Larkin

You’ll hear about Philip Larkin in the coming months. It’s his anniversary. Like most people, I loved his lines:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

There was something wild about quoting that to teachers and parents and saying: “It’s a poem, you can’t blame me.”

Larkin was a major influence, his poetry accessible, dour but witty, the outpourings of a sad man. He made me wrestle with the nature/nurture argument. He’d a difficult relationship with his parents and blamed them for his misery. I could empathise as I’d a bad relationship with my father. It took me years to realise that the behaviour of parents isn’t in our DNA, that you can nurture a road for yourself. I came to a stage where I thought Larkin should’ve been grateful for a miserable childhood as it gave him material for poetry. And then, he should have got on with it.

Unlike Larkin, I didn’t let my relationship with my father define me. It helped that I’d five sisters who were having none of it either. We probably saved a fortune in counselling by supporting each other, a support that started in the weeks it took my father to die while in a coma. When we were alone, I read Larkin to him, spoke to his silence, and even touched him for the first time. The salutary outcome was realising his problems were his. They needn’t be mine.

When I throw back my head and howl

People (women mostly) say

But you’ve always done what you want,

You always get your own way.

A perfectly vile and foul

Inversion of all that’s been.

What the old ragbags mean

Is I’ve never done what I don’t.


Listen on BBC Sounds: “Larkin Revisited”

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