One-Minute Book Reviews

July 19, 2007

The Case Against Poetry Readings: Quote of the Day (Philip Larkin)

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:03 pm
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Most poets today seem to give readings. One who usually declined invitations to do this was Philip Larkin (1922–1985), one of the great English poets of the 20th century. Larkin explained why in an interview with the Paris Review:

“I don’t give readings, no, although I have recorded three of my collections, just to show how I should read them. Hearing a poem, as opposed to reading it on the page, means you miss so much – the shape, the punctuation, the italics, even knowing how far you are from the end. Reading it on the page means you can go at your own pace, taking it in properly; hearing it means you’re dragged along at the speaker’s own rate, missing things, not taking it in, confusing ‘there’ and ‘their’ and things like that. And the speaker may interpose his own personality between you and the poem, for better or worse. For that matter, so may an audience. I don’t like hearing things in public, even music. In fact, I think poetry readings grew up on a false analogy with music: the text is the ‘score’ that doesn’t ‘come to life’ until it’s ‘performed.’ It’s false because people can read words, whereas they can’t read music. When you write a poem, you put everything into it that’s needed: the reader should ‘hear’ it just as clearly as if you were in the room saying it to him. And of course this fashion for poetry readings has led to a kind of poetry that you can understand first go: easy rhythms, easy emotions, easy syntax. I don’t think it stands up on the page.”

Philip Larkin in an interview with Robert Phillips in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews: Seventh Series (Viking, 1986), edited by George Plimpton. Introduction by John Updike. This is one of the great interviews in the Paris Review series for several reasons, including Larkin’s genius, Phillips’s skill as an interviewer and the scope of the questions. You can find the full interview at the site for the Paris Review . (I’m having trouble linking directly to the interview, but you can find it by going to the site and entering “Larkin” in the search box. The interview appeared in the Summer 1982 issue.) Most libraries and many bookstores also have books in the Paris Review series.

Comment by Janice Harayda:
I go to poetry readings and read from my novels at bookstores and elsewhere, but I can see Larkin’s point. How about you?

You can find more information on Larkin and read his poem “Home Is So Sad” at

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

‘The Oxford Book of Ages,’ a Collection of Quotations for Every Birthday

Filed under: Nonfiction,Reference — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:54 am
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Are you always looking for the perfect quote for someone’s 37th or 45th or 63rd birthday? Check out The Oxford Book of Ages (Oxford University Press, 224 pp., varied prices), a collection of quotations by well-known people for every year from zero (for newborns) to 100. A year typically has at least a half dozen entries, all chosen Anthony and Sally Sampson. Not all of the quotations express the kind of uplifting sentiments you might want to inscribe on a card – some are downbeat, if not grim – but all are pithy and intelligent. And the best lines are worth quoting again and again.

Among my favorites:

“Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age.” Victor Hugo

“I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.” Shirley Temple

“After thirty, a man wakes up sad every morning excepting perhaps five or six, until the day of his death.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, 1834

“I’m sixty-three and I guess that puts me in with the geriatrics, but if there were fifteen months in every year, I’d be only forty-three.” James Thurber

“She drank good ale, strong punch and wine,
And lived to the age of ninety-nine.”
Epitaph for Mrs. Freland, in Edwelton churchyard, Nottinghamshire, 1741

The Oxford Book of Ages is out-of-print in the U.S. but available online and in libraries. If you can’t find it, here’s a consoling comment that Françoise Sagan made at the age of 43: “The one thing I regret is that I will never have time to read all the books I want to read.”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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