uncredited photo taken from Amanda French's blog
Two details especially struck me when I read the highly alert, warm review by Christopher Ricks (in the New York Review of Books) of The Complete Poems of Philip Larkin, edited and with an introduction and commentary by Archie Burnett, published this year in New York by Farrar Straus & Giroux.

First is the pleasing way that when he comes to sum up the strengths of the new edition’s editor, Ricks draws  -  provocatively, one’s now forced to say, though it shouldn’t be so  -  upon the resounding phrase of T.S. Eliot's that gave F.R.Leavis the title of his collection of rebarbative essays The Common Pursuit, first published exactly 60 years ago. Ricks, still an old soldier in the theory wars, it would seem, writes:

[A]lthough editing asks critical acumen the editor’s job is rightly understood as not the issuing of critical pronouncements or appreciations but the provision of such information textual and contextual as makes possible the common pursuit of true judgment.

Second  -  and this is in the fond and celebratory spirit of the whole very substantial review  -  here is Ricks on Larkin, using Larkin on an earlier, less well-known figure:

I’ve often found myself gratefully retorting upon Larkin the anecdote with which he honored the Dorset predecessor of Hardy William Barnes: Nor was his appeal limited to men of letters: an old Domestic Servant” wrote to him in 1869 having found his poems among some books she was dusting: Sir I shook hands with you in my heart and I laughed and cried by turns.”


  1. Rambling Gambling Gordon14 June, 2012

    It is indeed a warm review but it’s a review of the Larkin that’s been known for decades, not a proper review of the new book. Most people will buy the Complete Poems for the material that’s never been seen, but Ricks gives that only a cursory mention, at the very end, and tells us next to nothing about it. (In fact rather than give his own opinion about it he quotes someone else’s.)

    I’ll buy the book, and will feel as ambivalent about it as I felt about the Collected Poems, since Larkin is so satisfactorily identified with those three small volumes. Sprawling, inclusive, ‘bitty’ Larkin seems like sacrilege – that’s what I’ll think as I pounce on the new ones.

  2. Anonymous14 June, 2012

    Doesn't Gordon mean 'exclusive' rather than 'inclusive'? Given that it is Complete rather than Collected which which would imply INclusivity? And 'bitty' doesn't sit well with 'inclusive'.

  3. Rambling Gambling Gordon14 June, 2012

    In reply to Anonymous, the new book is inclusive because it, er, includes all of Larkin’s verse that the editor could lay his hands on. (The clue is in the title.) What Larkin made a point of leaving out is now in. It’s ‘bitty’ because such a book cannot have the unity – the beautiful unity – of the three original volumes, whose content and ‘running order’ Larkin took such meticulous care over.

  4. In my view you're absolutely right, Gordon. I hadn't noticed Ricks' surprising ignoring of the additional material, because I was so engaged by his writing about the rest. Of course "the beautiful unity" of the volumes Larkin published still remains, and subsequent publication of "new", extra material seems the inevitable posthumous pattern - and irresistibly interesting, however right the dead author was in the first place.

  5. Anonymous15 June, 2012

    Ricks may not have had time to go over the "bitty" stuff, especially if he hadn't read it before, and/or may have considered such an approach too specialized for the general reader, who might need precisely the kind of overview of the past that Rambling considered too well worn.

    And "surprising ignoring" sounds a little clumsy from one who bashes people for implicitly less elegant language than he deems his own to be.

    Although Ricks only mentioned Dylan once, he was still indulging in puns (not necessarily gratuitous ones), literary abstractions and sentences with so many sub-clauses it gave me a headache trying to keep them all in my head while I finished the sentence. (Having said that, I'm all for giving the reader a headache should that be required)

    But then that doesn't necessarily mean he was doing anything wrong or that others have not been accused of a similar thing.

  6. Emer Gantry02 August, 2012


    Not really relevant to this post, but wondered if you had seen the piece on Bob included in Ian Bostridge's recent book, A Singer's Notebook...

    Bostridge is one of my favourite classical singers and he makes some interesting points about the use Bob makes of his voice. As Bostridge says,Dylan demonstrates that 'in singing, the voice isn't really what matters, it's what you do with it.'