Monday, June 13, 2011

Not the Place's Fault - Phillip Larkin in Umbrella Magazine

Phillip Larkin 
From Umbrella (Magazine) 1.3 (1959) 
Published by Coventry Arts Umbrella 
Edited by T.C. Watson
This essay is from the “Obscure Coventry-based magazine – Umbrella” as Andrew 
Motion termed it. 

According to biographer Andrew Motion’s book A Writer’s Life Phillip Larkin P 500  “Blake Morrison’s main recommendation was that Larkin should include (in Required Writing: Miscellaneous pieces1955 – 1982) the essay about his childhood, “Not the Place’s Fault”, which had originally appeared in the obscure Coventry-based magazine Umbrella in 1959.Larkin replied gratefully  but insisted, “I have rather a mental block about “Not the Place’s Fault”. In construction it is written as a kind of commentary on the original poem (I Remember, I Remember), but this does not come through and in consequence it seems rather rambling. In addition, I think I said just a little more about myself than I really want known. These are the reasons why I should prefer it to remain in obscurity.” He was equally adamant to Thwaite and Monteith.” I feel,” he told Monteith in November “in some curious way that (the essay) exposes more of me than I want exposed, although heaven knows there is nothing scandalous in it.” “He was a candidly emotional and autobiographical writer who always disguised his self-revelations or passed them off as general truths……If he’d opened his book with “Not the Place’s fault” he would have raised expectations about the essay’s which followed” 

About this volume of Umbrella
Contents of  Umbrella -- Volume 1, Number 3, Summer 1959
LARKIN, Phlip, Paul Jennings, R. Bryan Tyson, Ian Lovelock, John Hewitt, Alan Oliver, Taner Baybars, A.E. Burrows, Stephen Joseph, Owen Leeming, and Gerald Morrish) WATSON, Terence.C. =  editor.

Published by The Umbrella Club, Coventry, 1959. Softcover. Magazine. Octavo. 104-142pp. Stapled wrappers. Lightly rubbed with corner crease, near fine. This literary magazine includes Philip Larkin's essay, "Not the Place's Fault," which he came to dislike because he felt it revealed a bit too much about himself and so was not reprinted during his lifetime. Additional contributions from Watson, Paul Jennings, R. Bryan Tyson, Ian Lovelock, John Hewitt, Alan Oliver, Taner Baybars, A.E. Burrows, Stephen Joseph, Owen Leeming, and Gerald Morrish.

In this essay though, despite Larkin’s dismissal of it, is some marvellous description of 
Coventry outside the station in those days – 
“In addition to the man selling the Midland Daily Telegraph there was frequently a white Eldorado box-tricycle that sold lime-green or strawberry-pink ices at a penny each….Beside the paper seller was a cigarette-machine, which gave ten cigarette for sixpence and twenty for a shilling (but with twenty you got a half penny back under the cellophane).” Etc.
Read the full article here in the pdf viewer -

To Download the above article on pdf click the link HERE

And the poem itself - 

I Remember, I Remember

by Philip Larkin

Coming up England by a different line
For once, early in the cold new year,
We stopped, and, watching men with number plates
Sprint down the platform to familiar gates,
"Why, Coventry!" I exclaimed. "I was born here."

I leant far out, and squinnied for a sign
That this was still the town that had been 'mine'
So long, but found I wasn't even clear
Which side was which. From where those cycle-crates
Were standing, had we annually departed

For all those family hols? . . . A whistle went:
Things moved. I sat back, staring at my boots.
'Was that,' my friend smiled, 'where you "have your roots"?'
No, only where my childhood was unspent,
I wanted to retort, just where I started:

By now I've got the whole place clearly charted.
Our garden, first: where I did not invent
Blinding theologies of flowers and fruits,
And wasn't spoken to by an old hat.
And here we have that splendid family

I never ran to when I got depressed,
The boys all biceps and the girls all chest,
Their comic Ford, their farm where I could be
'Really myself'. I'll show you, come to that,
The bracken where I never trembling sat,

Determined to go through with it; where she
Lay back, and 'all became a burning mist'.
And, in those offices, my doggerel
Was not set up in blunt ten-point, nor read
By a distinguished cousin of the mayor,

Who didn't call and tell my father There
Before us, had we the gift to see ahead -
'You look as though you wished the place in Hell,'
My friend said, 'judging from your face.' 'Oh well,
I suppose it's not the place's fault,' I said.

'Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.'


The City of Coventry: A Twentieth Century Icon
The Coventry Factor: Philip Larkin and John Hewitt
Adrian Smith University of Southampton New College

This article may also be of interest to you - you can download it on PDF

Extract - " The popular assumption is that Larkin cut loose from Coventry in the autumn of 1940 when he went up to Oxford, and that thereafter he was

clearly indifferent towards ‘home’: he never railed against narrow provincialism (living literally at the end of the line, and being the man he was, this scarcely an option), but he rarely displayed anything more than polite interest in a city which was to experience profound changes throughout the remaining forty-five years of his life. Evidence to support this view naturally
includes ‘I Remember, I Remember’, but a..."

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