CW: racist and classist language.
The Telegraph on March 6th published an article by Craig Simpson entitled âPhilip Larkin statue placed on secret racism reviewâs list following Black Lives Matter protestsâ. It covers the viewing of âsecretâ emails shared among staff at Hull City Council revealing how they âquietly began compiling a list of major statues of concern in the cityâ.
Oxford English Literature graduate, and Queenâs Gold Medal for Poetry holder Larkin, who died in 1985, was honoured with a statue in the city in 2010. He moved there in 1955, and worked as a librarian while penning verse which earned him an offer to become poet laureate, which he declined.
Among other monuments in the city, which are rightly cause for concern are Zachariah Pearson, an enthusiastic supporter of the slave-owning Confederate States of America, and like-minded Famine Queen, Victoria.
The Telegraphâs revelation that Larkinâs name was on the list has apparently provoked âoutrageâ among his supporters. His biographer James Booth declared: âAnyone who reads only Larkinâs published poems will find no trace of racism.â So, thatâs alright then: read the poems in the published collections, but avert your eyes from Larkinâs published letters, including the three little poetic gems quoted below.
Selected Letters was published in 1992. In them he shares his toxic, hate-filled views with other exemplars of the English intelligentsia such as Monica Jones, Kingsley Amis, Robert Conquest and Colin Gunner; views that Larkinâs biographer, James Booth, describes as simply the âcasual racism common in post-war Englandâ. In them, Larkin explains he had stopped going to test matches because there were âtoo many fucking nâŠ.rs aboutâ. When he did eventually go to a match at Lords he objected to âthose black scum kicking up a din on the boundaryâ and wished that a âsquad of South African policeâ could have âsorted them outâ.
The letters to friends like Conquest and Kingsley Amis are infested with terms like ân****râ, âw*pâ, âc**nâ and âw*gâ.
He described West Indian communities as ârampaging hordes of blacksâ who would âsteal anything they can lay their hands onâ.
His views on race were complemented with equally venomous views on class. In one communication he complained bitterly that âthe children of the striking classesâ were being allowed into the universities. He described the parents of these students (among whom I number myself) as âlower class bastardsâ.
This great English poet penned the two masterpieces below on these subjects, promoting prison for striking workers, judicial corporal punishment for miscreants, and last but not least, compulsory repatriation for those West Indians who had answered Britainâs invitation to them to help rebuild âthe mother countryâ after the war.
âPrison for strikers
Bring back the cat.
Kick out the n****rs
How about that?â
âI want to see them starving,
The so-called working class.
Their wages weekly halving,
Their women stewing grass.
When I drive out each morning
In one of my new suits
I want to find them fawning
To clean my car and boots.â
Margaret Thatcher for Larkin was âa superb creatureâŠright and beautifulâ. He responded to the misery of unemployment in the early 1980s by writing that he hoped the Tories would âabolish unemployment benefitâ.
During the same period of rising unemployment he wrote:
âAfter Healeyâs trading figures,
After Wilsonâs squalid crew,
And the rising tide of n****rs â
What a treat to look at youâ
His default adulation of the queen exposes sycophantic royalism, a trait which still runs through much of English society of all classes, as Meghan Markleâs recent exposure of the crude racism of the royal family, âThe Institutionâ, has shown, unleashing a wave of nauseating national sycophancy from outraged English patriots like the splenetic, simpering Piers Morgan. Against those commentators who claim working-class outrage at a rich woman complaining about anything, including racism, I would argue that is no disqualification and the fact that SHE is wealthy doesnât make THEM any less odious.
During the minerâs strike (1984-5) Larkin nostalgically evoked a hypothetical scenario where cowed poverty-stricken workers would follow you home on foot behind your car âto earn a few pence for unloading your luggage. Iâd love to see Arthur Scargill doing that.â
Dissenting Hull City Council officials, according to The Telegraph, warned that a racism review of Larkin could cause a âpublic backlashâ, and asked colleagues to âtread carefullyâ as holding unpalatable views âdoes not equate to being a slave traderâ.
Arguing via email, they stated that: âLumping Larkin into any discussion about slave trading etc is not helpful to anyone.â
It is not suggested that Larkin was directly involved in slave-trading, just that he espoused the contempt, hate and twisted view of humanity that inspired it.
However council officials added âWe are not publicising any of this unless directly approachedâŠas [I] agree sometimes raising an issue creates the problem.â Neat inversion of logic, that.
The same pro-Larkin voices added that Larkin was a âcomplicatedâ figure and many in Hull ârecall him with affectionâ.
More nauseating, oleaginous writhing is exemplified in comments like âWe do need to be clear and careful, and recognise that views unpalatable to us may not detract from [his] achievements.â
Larkinâs biographer Booth told The Telegraph that Larkin had âomnivorous empathyâ and that âhe was a fundamentally decent and compassionate man and there is no record of him ever acting on a racist impulse.â Then, in a somersault of breathtaking disingenuousness, âhe would be mortified to know that his words were causing hurt to vulnerable readers for whose ears they were not intended.â I love the allusion to the âvulnerableâ in that fake remorse; and how dare the peasants be offended by conversations which they are not supposed to overhear. Transparently offensive and naively apologist these comments certainly are. These reactions and Boothâs biography of Larkin per se, are part of a determined effort to play down his political views so that he can be maintained in his place as a much-loved English national poet.
In his biography of this delinquent Englishman, Booth writes âall the political heft of a pre-schooler showing off his hoard of dirty words to Ă©pater the aunties and get in with the big kids. No word was dirtier than ân****râ, and Larkin used it extensively to his boys-room cronies, for the usual boys-room reasons.â This craven indulgence towards Larkinâs visceral, hate-filled spleen is of the insulting âboys letting off steamâ kind: it is singularly lacking in any remorse for the victims of the deadly outcomes of such attitudes throughout Britainâs history.
It occurs to me, as a descendant of Larkinâs âlower class bastardsâ that my studies in philosophy at Sussex University had at least one benefit: my later interest in onomastics (the study of names). I note that the surname Larkin has two entirely distinct origins: as an English surname, a diminutive of Lawrence; and as an Irish surname, an anglicisation of Ă LorcĂĄin, most likely from the Gaelic personal name Lorc (meaning âfierceâ). Of the latter origin, I would regard Jim Larkin (1876-1947) born in Liverpool to poor Irish parents. He was a founder of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and leader of the Dublin workers in the notorious 1913 Dublin Lockout. For me Jim is an antidote to the venomous Philip; and his statue in OâConnell Street, Dublin, with the famous hands upraised, serves as an inspiration to rise up against the poisonous race and class hatred at the heart of Englandâs elitism, incarnate in the morbid figure of Philip Larkin.