A couple of poets and some other stuff

October 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

I’ve been a bit lax about writing up these talks. It’s poor. Very poor. Over the last few weeks, it’s been Sylvia Plath, Philip Larkin, Oscar Wilde (the betrayal of) and Victorian England (life and death in). Here are a few things I have learned.

1. Sylvia Plath, King’s Place, 23rd September, some people whose names I have forgotten/lost, plus Juliet Stevenson reading.

It’s impossible to think about Sylvia Plath without being influenced by how she died.  As she said in “Lady Lazarus”,


Is an art, like everything else.

I do it exceptionally well.


So smiley, yet so sad

2. Philip Larkin, King’s Place, 7th October, people from The Archers and some musicians.

Philip Larkin’s relationship with women doesn’t make for a light-hearted evening round the piano. Love his work but he didn’t treat the ladies too well. Attempting to turn that into a semi-humourous exploration of his sex-life was possibly an error, even (or maybe especially)  when presented by Lilian and the Reverend Alan from The Archers. Larkin had three mistresses and, for some years, all at the same time.  Monica Jones, who is generally seen as his soul-mate (whatever that means) was an academic whom Larkin met at Leicester University, where he worked as librarian prior to moving to Hull.  They had an affair from 1947 until his death 40 years later. Maeve Brennan, a devout Roman Catholic and a member of Larkin’s library staff in Hull, was with him from 1961, on and off, for about 17 years. Then there was Betty Mackereth, his secretary at the library in Hull. We were told that each woman added to Larkin’s life in a different way which must have been jolly nice for him. This all singing, all dancing Larkin romp was at King’s Place, so in front of a very Guardianesque audience. They surprised  and confused me at their willingness to guffaw at the way Larkin used all three women (and more).

Larkin and Betty having a picnic

Larkin and Betty having a picnic

But none of that should put you off reading his poetry. Really.

3. Oscar Wilde, Soho Theatre, September 25th, David Hare, Rupert Everett, Merlin Holland

Oscar Wilde has a grandson who talks about his grandfather. That made me feel rather close to the Victorians.

Wilde was tried for gross indecency.  He could have run away but instead waited at the Connaught Hotel to be arrested and, apparently, here lies his immortality.  If he’d fled, would he be remembered still?

Rupert Everett is still fab. He described Wilde in his last days as “a terrifying hag,” living down in the Paris sewers. He described how being famous can lead you to think you are immune to being toppled. Wilde felt that everyone loved him. “The country is behind me to a boy.”

Rupert as Oscar

Rupert as Oscar

4. The Victorians, Soho Theatre, September 29th, Judith Flanders, Kate Colquhoun and Claie Armitstead

There are everyday bits of history that are lost to us simply because we were not there (Dickens is full of this kind of thing, if you know where to look). For example, Victorian streets were incredibly noisy, so loud that often you couldn’t hear a conversation. Burial grounds were so full that the level of churchyards just kept rising. One, in Dury Lane, was as high as the first floor windows.  The best place to sit in a train was with your back to the engine, thus reducing the chance of getting smut in your eyes. That kind of thing.

Cars were originally welcomed as “non-polluting” transport – ie no horse poo.


Next time: Syria.

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