|Part ll sees hardness replaced by equally impermeable heat. In Part l, as in ‘Oread’, the voice invokes the liberating wind directly in repeated verbal imperatives ‘rend ...
cut...rend ... cut’. The voice, reasoning why such force is necessary, enacts the heat’s slowness. ‘Fruit can not drop’ (not ‘cannot’) and ‘through the thick air’ is difficult to enunciate, the line cannot be read quickly. ‘Fruit can not drop’ is repeated in line 3, and the anaphoric device compounds the feeling of heaviness. Minchew has it that the heat ‘presses up and blunts the points of pears’ in ‘unmistakably phallic imagery’.135 If this is so, then the heat is as masculine as the rose. This is paradoxical, but in light of her view that Doolittle desires to ‘break femininity and the Imagist code’, reasonable nonetheless. The poem concludes with further verbal imperatives; ‘cut ... plough ... turn’ the heat. All the verbs are a violent, and the wind is being asked to do the job for the poet who is, as in Pound’s poem, the main protagonist.
This formalist poet finds Doolittle’s garden a heartening place in her struggle to write pared-down poetry, and her final creative task is to confront Imagist rules in a similar manner to Doolittle’s. Pandora’s statue and a wrecked ship stand proxy for Imagism
Garden centre statue,
I could scrape your verdigris
with wire wool,
scour you alabaster white.
If I could prise open your box,
I could abstract concrete nouns.
Could I bash you with a hammer,
smash your atoms,
crack your code?
conjure-up a gale,
blow till thou burst thy wind.
Wrecked ships can not steer
through coral reefs:
ship wrecks can not steer
through seas of sands
that bog her
Blow wind, blow,
hurl the sea
from the land.
Burst thy wind.
Both ‘garden’ poems, then, might be said to flout Imagist rules. In attempting to ‘crack femininity and Imagism’, Doolittle discards both the corset in which Victorian gender ideology would constrain her, and the corset in which male Imagists had confined themselves. As discussed, in writing ‘The Garden’, Pound also frees himself from two of his fundamental Imagist rules. . Pound’s poem might be said to deplore perceived social disintegration to be relative to the rise of the bourgeoisie, and lament the futility of attempting to find a solution. In this chapter, the present writer found a solution to tackling the ‘stillbirth’ problem in a writing exercise. The pared-down poems may make less pleasing reading than the original sonnet, but their surprisingly transcendental development was, nonetheless, cathartic for the writer.
Chapter 5: Self-Portraits: Elizabeth Jennings and Philip Larkin
Student: I wanted to ask you, because I see that some
of the other people in this new movement ...
Willoughby: There is no movement.
Student: But I thought...
Willoughby: Sorry, no movement. All made up by the
Literary Editor of the Spectator.
Malcolm Bradbury, Eating People is Wrong (1959) 136
This chapter has a continuing concern with visual images when considering, and producing creative responses to, a small selection of mainly ekphrastic poetry from two ‘Movement’ poets, Elizabeth Jennings and Philip Larkin. However, as the above quotation from Malcolm Bradbury might indicate, the seemingly elusive nature of the ‘Movement’ presents a challenge for the present student in responding thus.
The Spectator’s Literary Editor, J.D. Scott, coined the term ‘The Movement’. His leader, claiming that ‘The Movement, as well as being anti-phoney, is anti-wet; sceptical, robust, ironic ...’ appeared on October 1st 1954. Yet, as Blake Morrison points out
This was not the first time in the 1950s that there had been talk of a new
movement in British writing. Already in the poetry anthology Springtime
(1953), on the BBC Third Programme, and in periodicals like Encounter, the
New Statesman and the Times Literary Supplement, tentative references
to a new generation of writers had been made. But this was the most striking
and comprehensive account so far. It was also the first time that the emerging
group had been given the luxury of a definite article and capital letters: henceforth it would not be just ‘a movement’ but ‘the Movement’.137
Scott named two poets, Donald Davie and Thom Gunn, and three fiction writers, Kingsley Amis, Iris Murdoch and John Wain. However as Morrison states, a ‘better indication of personnel’ appeared in two anthologies. Poems by Kingsley Amis, Robert Conquest, Donald Davie, J.D. Enright, John Holloway, Elizabeth Jennings, Philip Larkin and John Wain appeared in Poets of the 1950s (1955) edited by Enright. These poets were also represented in Conquest’s New Lines (1956) along with the work of Thom Gunn. Thus, Morrison has it, ‘in the years since 1956, the term ‘the Movement’ has
come to be taken to mean these nine poets.’138 Although they were better known as poets, Conquest, Enright and Larkin also wrote fiction, and although they were more renowned as novelists, Amis and Wain wrote poetry also.
Despite Morrison’s claiming ‘the view that the Movement was a journalistic invention or agreed fiction can no longer be allowed to stand’, he provides contrary evidence. He cites Larkin’s having ‘no sense at all’ of belonging to a movement, and Jennings’s opinion that ‘it is the journalists, not the poets themselves, who have created the poetic movements of the fifties.’139
‘The Movement’ originated in Oxbridge, beginning with the friendship cemented between Larkin and Amis at Oxford, and the paths of the other New Lines poets crossed. For example, Jennings was a contemporary of Amis and Larkin at Oxford, and her work was admired by Thom Gunn who visited her in Oxford in 1953. Gunn, Enright and Davie attended different Cambridge colleges at different times between 1938 and 1953, and had, as Morrison states ‘little possibility of becoming acquainted.’140 However, the poets appear to have been a group of disparate individuals, in that, unlike the Imagists, they were not all in the same place at the same time, working to the ‘rules’ of the same manifesto. They appear to have been influenced by each others’ creative and critical output. As Morrison states, Davie’s Purity of Diction in English Verse (1954) was noticed by Wain, Enright and Amis. Of his book, Davie explained, ‘I like to think that if the group of us had ever cohered enough to subscribe to a common manifesto, it might have been Purity of Diction in English Verse.’ Whilst Davie was not exactly saying that his book was a manifesto, he was advocating ‘retrenchment’, a return to former economic usages of metaphor, ‘purifying’ rather than experimenting with language. This was the antithesis of, and a reaction against, what may be perceived as the comparatively metaphorically incontinent New Apocalypse poetry, evident, for example, in J.F. Hendry’s ‘Cymbals’ (‘I break the crust of music into sad horizons. / Waves lap graves lit in the anchorage of suns.’ 141 Of the
continent use of metaphor by English poets in the latter half of the eighteenth century, Davie had ‘come to believe that what seems poverty is sometimes economy and that this economy in metaphor produces something poetic ...’142
Thus, Scott’s ‘anti-wet, anti-phoney, robust and ironic’ definitions of ‘Movement’ poetry, and Davie’s call for ‘economy in metaphor’, will be the touchstones for this chapter’s concern with the extent to which Jennings’s work differs from that of Larkin. What this says about Larkin and Jennings’s self-presentation in their representations of visual art is central to the discussion. Given that the poems the present writer will produce will be based upon this contemplation, the implication for her own self-presentation in these responses is intrinsic. Firstly, consider Larkin’s depiction of a pin-up girl in his poem, ‘Sunny Prestatyn’.
Come to Sunny Prestatyn
Laughed the girl on the poster,
Kneeling up on the sand
In tautened white satin.
Behind her, a hunk of coast, a
Hotel with palms
Seemed to expand from her thighs and
Spread breast-lifting arms.
She was slapped up one day in March.
A couple of weeks, and her face
Was snaggle-toothed and boss-eyed;
Huge tits and a fissured crotch
Were scored well in, and the space
Between her legs held scrawls
That set her fairly astride
A tuberous cock and balls
Autographed Titch Thomas, while
Someone had used a knife
Or something to stab right through
The moustached lips of her smile.
She was too good for this life.
Very soon, a great transverse tear
Left only a hand and some blue
Now Fight Cancer is there. 143
An initial reading may convey an impression of the poem as a crude, sexist representation of female sexuality, suggesting a misogynistic self-presentation, and seemingly fitting Scott’s ‘anti-wet, robust, and ironic’ criteria. Larkin could be seen to be writing in a tradition in which, as William May states, ‘the male ekphrastic poet assumes a male audience just as the male portrait painter does...’144 However, the initial reading may be unreliable, and a second viewing could show Larkin aiming at both male and female audiences by setting-up offensive attitudes for demolition purposes. As Edward Reiss believes, the poem turns the tables on the male sex, the ‘ad designers and its defilers’:
It is the full-blooded, poetic embodiment, enjoyment, and
thus exposure of the panoply of everyday misogyny, in its
crass, complex and casual appearances, its pranks and jokes,
that makes ‘Sunny Prestatyn’ worth considering.145
Larkin’s ‘colour palette’ supports Reiss’s stance, his use of rhyme and language showing tonal shifts from light to dark. Whilst disyllabic half-rhymes are light-hearted in Stanza 1, (‘poster/coast a’) they are replaced by monosyllabic, full, more sinister rhymes in Stanza 3 (‘knife/life’). It could be considered that slippage of language is synonymous with slippage in society, and lexis becomes coarser as the initially ‘laughing’ girl becomes defaced. ‘Breasts’ and ‘thighs’ degenerate to ‘tits’ and ‘crotch’. ‘Cancer’ might be seen to be metaphorical for the poem’s seeming crudeness, thereby fulfilling Davie’s ‘economic’ criterion. This possible interpretation of ‘Sunny Prestatyn’ facilitated the following response from the present poet.
Larkin in Sunny Prestatyn
It might be said that Larkin fosters
tone by rhyme. In Stanza 1:
polysyllabics, bright not seedy.
A poster girl. Where, on the Costas?
No, Prestatyn - wearing satin –
where it never rains. Dream on!
She’s ‘kneeling’ on the sand - not sat in –
yeah, I know, that should be ‘sitting’.
In Stanza 2: she’s ‘slapped-up’, joke-ish,
action splattered Jackson Pollock,
‘slapper’ - if we’re not hair-splitting.
The slang’s conniving, laddish, bloke-ish.
‘Join the club lads, you belong.
Scrawl a tuberous cock and bollocks,
(what she’s needed all along).
In stanza 3: the rhymes are full. And dark.
‘Life’ rhymes with ‘knife’ and ‘tear’-
at first I read it ‘tear’ (rhymed ‘hear’)
but no, it’s harsher, stark -
the killer phrase Fight Cancer’s there.
And that’s where Larkin hits the spot,
Screws-up the ‘rape the image’ jeer,
the ad designers, ad defilers. Carcinogens or what?
The ‘summary poem’ is one approach to responding to ‘Sunny Prestatyn’, a problematic task for the woman poet, in that creativity might otherwise descend into a feminist rant. Unlike Larkin’s distanced third-person omniscient narrative voice, the poetic ‘I’ utters this response, which nonetheless mainly reports what it sees. The writer, like Larkin, displays a preoccupation with slippage of language, self-correcting as she goes along. Her ‘shading’ appears to compliment that of Larkin, with light-hearted half-rhymes giving way to heavier full rhymes. Whilst opting to use Larkin’s italicized slang could suggest a ‘wet’ self-presentation to the reader, her rhyming slang with ‘Pollock’ might, alternatively, reveal a ‘robust’ self-portrayal. Contemplate Larkin’s
Lines on a Young Lady’s Photograph Album
At last, you yielded up the album, which,
Once open, sent me distracted. All your ages
Matt and glossy on the thick black pages!
Too much confectionery, too rich:
I choke on such nutritious images.
My swivel eye hungers from pose to pose –
In pigtails, clutching a reluctant cat;
Or furred yourself, a sweet girl-graduate;
Or lifting a heavy-headed rose
Beneath a trellis, or in a trilby hat
(Faintly disturbing, that, in several ways)-
From every side you strike at my control,
Not least through these disquieting chaps who loll
At ease about your earlier days:
Not quite your class, I’d say, dear, on the whole.
These opening stanzas appear to present the poetic ‘I’ salivating over photographs of a young lady. As in ‘Sunny Prestatyn’, there are immediate sexual connotations. In stanza 1, ‘yielding’ and ‘opened’ place the album in a physical arena, the speaker ‘chokes on such nutritious images’. Whilst ‘distracted’, and ‘Strikes at my control’, suggests an easily assailed persona, because the speaker has the album, he is, nonetheless, apparently in control. Photographs of a woman in a man’s hand put him in a position of power, similar to the power exercised by the defacers of the poster girl in ‘Sunny Prestatyn’. However, the following stanzas read:
But o, photography! as no art is,
Faithful and disappointing! that records
Dull days as dull, and hold-it smiles as frauds,
And will not censor blemishes
Like washing lines, and Hall’s - Distemper boards.
But shows the cat as disinclined, and shades
A chin as doubled when it is, what grace
Your candour thus confers upon your face!
How overwhelmingly persuades
That this is a real girl in a real place.146
Two exclamation marks in the first two sentences signal the alarm. This poem is not necessarily charting merely the speaker’s relationship with the young lady, but is also addressing the artifice of photography and, by extension art, whether painterly or poetic. The woman’s ‘yield[ing]’ the album, a construction of herself, in that the photographs are selected and arranged, enables the poet-speaker to construct his lines. Thus, Larkin could be constructing himself as a poet constructing others. If this is so, this meta-poetic poem engages directly with poetic self-fashioning and, as such, can be described as ‘anti-phoney’. ‘Dull days as dull’ takes ‘economy in metaphor’ to the extreme, In light of this, contemplate Larkin’s 1954 poem ‘Toads’
Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?
Six days a week it soils
With its sickening poison –
Just for paying a few bills!
That’s out of proportion.
Lots of folk live on their wits:
Losels, loblolly-men, louts -
They don’t end as paupers;
Lots of folk live up the lanes
With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines –
They seem to like it.
Their nippers have got bare feet,
Their unremarkable wives
Are skinny as whippets – and yet
No one actually starves.
Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout stuff your pension!
But I know all too well, that’s the stuff
That dreams are made on.
For something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,
And will never allow me to blarney
My way to getting
The fame and the girl and the money
All at one sitting.
I don’t say, one bodies the other
One’s spiritual truth;
But I do say it’s hard to lose either,
When you have both. 147
A denominator common to Larkin’s poems examined thus far is self-reflexion, and ‘Toads’ is no exception. Larkin can be seen to be saying ‘Look here, I’m a poet and wizard wordsmith!’ He might well have been disgruntled with certain aspects of his 9-5 daily slog as a librarian and his possibly jaundiced view of lecturers is conveyed in what initially appears akin to Dodgson’s ‘nonsense’ language. However, this is not, perhaps, a case of Larkin wanting to say ‘Stuff your pension!’ per se, but an exploration of images and what images, rather than reality, mean to him. It might not be stretching credibility too far to say that for Larkin, images were more substantial than reality. This poem is concerned with acting, posturing and, overwhelmingly, with the image of the toad, an economical, ‘tick-all-the-boxes’ metaphor for the weight of work and the working day. ‘Ticks-all-the-boxes’ is used in the sense that it fulfils each criterion of Lakoff and Johnson’s conceptual metaphor theory.148 The leap between 1980 theory and Larkin’s 1954 poem seems incongruous. Yet, given that the present writer is self-consciously engaging with Larkin’s creativity, a possible bridge between the male poet writing then, and this woman writing now, is middle-distance metaphorical theory. This is akin to reading through her varifocal spectacles. Her first response outlines Lakoff and Johnson’s criteria for conceptual, structural, ontological and orientation metaphors. The allusion to Dodgson’s Jabberwocky, ‘Brillig and the slithy’ (four o’clock and slimy), seems in keeping with Larkin’s word play, and also with Tenniel’s illustration of the Jabberwock which resembles a toad.
Conceptual metaphors: borrowed time
Worth your while =s time is money
Does I spent an hour mean I spent a dime,
a dollar, on your alimony?
Structural metaphors: introrse, extrorse
one thing structured just like another,
work =s resource, time =s resource,
introrse and extrorse, one way or another.
Backs us in a corner. Makes us sick,
Eats up all the profits (that’s inflation).
Takes its toll on us. Gets on our wick.
Orientational: happy looking up.
Sad looking down.
F.T. slumps, have I bought a pup?
Hang Seng soars down in Chinatown.
‘Toads’ as a metaphor ticks every box -
Lakoff and Johnson done to a ‘t’.
‘Toads’ are economical, Larkin’s toad croaks:
‘Call me a meaney, Ebenezer Stingy.’
The second response, engaging directly with Larkin’s creativity, demonstrates how ‘toads’ fulfil Lakoff and Johnson’s criteria.
‘It’s Never the Wrong time to Call on Toad’
Toad as a concept? Something slimy,
toadies to the gaffer, licks his boots.
Yes Sir! No Sir! Brillig and the slithy,
losels, lispers, loblollys and louts.
Toad as a structure? Heavy as lead -
heavy and hard as luck says Larkin –
heavy is hard, and hard is heavy.
Toad as a structure keeps on workin’.
Ontologics? Sickens and poisons;
toxins from its warts can make you sick,
won’t respond to anti-toxic lotions,
doesn’t give a monkey’s, skin’s so thick.
Orienteering? All pervasive,
squats on your shoulder, can’t be lifted,
dives inside you, grave case of invasive,
Wit as a pitchfork? Toad’s sooooo gifted.
A pragmatic way of comparing and contrasting Larkin’s poetry with that of Elizabeth Jennings, is an exploration of two of their poems having similar titles, ‘Absences’ and ‘Absence’.
Rain patters on a sea that tilts and sighs.
Fast-running floors, collapsing into hollows,
Tower suddenly, spray-haired. Contrariwise,
A wave drops like a wall: another follows,
Wilting and scrambling tirelessly at play
Where there are no ships and no shallows.
Above the sea, the yet more shoreless day,
Riddled by wind, trails lit-up galleries:
They shift to giant ribbing, sift away.
Such attics cleared of me! Such absences! 149
Larkin’s electing to make ‘Absences’ a terza rima indicates a formally-aware poet fashioning himself as such. The form ends with a single line to rhyme with the second line of the preceding tercet. Here, the line is particularly declarative: in its isolation, its two exclamations and change from third person narration to use of first person pronoun. As Professor Graham Chesters has it, ‘the poet in the garret wilfully creates an imaginary poetic universe to escape from the tribulations of the day’. He also avers
that ‘attics cleared of me’ heralds the ‘sweeping aside of the mythic self-portraits with
their inevitable subjectivity.’ Conversely, and despite despising ‘myth-kitty’, Larkin appears to perpetuate the myth. Chesters identifies the metaphorical architectural reference points, all man-made structures: ‘floor ... walls ... galleries ... attics’ which Larkin ascribes to the natural phenomenon of the sea.150 Chesters’s theory might be extended, though. Larkin would undoubtedly have an awareness of Donne’s ‘The Canonization’. Consider lines 28-34 of the fourth stanza:
We can die by it, if not live by love,
And if unfit for tombs and hearse
Our legend be; it will be fit for verse;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms;
As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
And by these hymns, all shall approve
Us canonized for love: 151
‘Absences’ is not a sonnet, yet has a formal structure nonetheless, and Larkin’s extended architectural conceit reminds one of the above lines. The construction of the
‘pretty rooms’ within Larkin’s terza rima prompted the following response from the present writer, in which she attempts to present herself as poet, theorist and critic.
Lines on Larkin’s ‘Absences’
He wilfully constructs a universe
in which he can escape; at first, it seems
to nature, sea that tilts and sighs. The terz-
a rima form suggests recurring themes.
And yet: fast running floors - a metaphor
for gullies - tower suddenly, don’t skim
or skitter, drop like walls upon the shore,
and yet, a shoreless day . And galleries
and attics, cleared (he claims) of him. All floors
conceited, ‘pretty rooms’. No absences.
Now, Jennings’s Absence
I visited the place where we last met.
Nothing was changed, the gardens were all tended,
The fountains sprayed their usual steady jet;
There was no sign that anything had ended
and nothing to instruct me to forget.
The thoughtless birds that shook out of the trees,
Singing an ecstasy I could not share,
Played cunning in my thoughts. Surely in these
Pleasures there could not be pain to bear
Or any discord shake the level trees
It was because the place was just the same
That made your absence seem a savage force,
For under all the gentleness there came
An earthquake tremor: fountain, birds and grass
Were shaken by my thinking of your name. 152
A major difference between the two poems is Jennings’s addressing a particular person, whether male or female. Her delivery is clear, and devoid of irony. However, it is a poem in which Jennings presents herself as a poet, as did Larkin. Her altering the iambic pentameter of line 1 to the hendecasyllabic lines 2 and four, with the highly stabilizing two-syllable rhyme, and with the trochaic stress on ‘Nothing’, establishes aurally that things had, indeed, changed. There is a constant tension between outward normality and inner-implosion; the fountains’ ‘steady jet’ and ‘ecstatic’ bird song are at
odds with the extended earthquake conceit. In common with Larkin’s poem, it is one in which contrasting stillness and violent energy pervade and, like Larkin, Jennings may have been aware of another poem. Louis MacNeice used an ababa rhyme scheme in his poem ‘Meeting Point’ (1939) and, although he repeats the first and fifth lines in each stanza whilst Jennings does not, it is, like Jennings’s poem one in which the passage of time cannot diminish love.153
Lines on Jennings’s ‘Absence’
Revisiting the place alone, she claims
nothing was changed, and yet, her form belies her
insistence. Stress and metric change declaims
there was no sign that anything was over,
the fountains’ steady jet , she counterclaims.
Some further paradoxes stanza 2:
birds are ‘shaken’ from their trees: not a verb
to suit their singing ecstasy, sounds too ...
unnatural, a forced discomfort, curbs
and contradicts no discord. Then the true
extent of absence shows, in stanza 3,
a savage force. The garden’s not the same:
all nature shaken by the nameless s/he
the earthquake that’s remembrance of the name
demolishes the place it used to be.
This poem, attempting to emulate Jennings’s rhyme scheme, and accentual and syllabic changes from line one to line two, is spoken in my own voice, reflecting upon, and respecting, ‘Absence’. Jennings’s stylistic devices may be considered to be inherent to the disparities between outward normality and inner devastation. In Stanza 2, the point is made that the onomatopoeic ‘shaken’ is at odds with the trilling ‘singing ecstasy’. Ellipses between ‘too ... unnatural’ signify aurally and visually the pause for reflection. Stanza 3 quotes Jennings’s harshly assonantal ‘savage’ in opposition to the softly assonantal ‘same’ in that line. Jennings’s poem is a powerful one with which some readers might identify, in that, at some point, the remembrance of a name has had the power to demolish their personal universe.
The task of outlining similarities and differences between Jennings’s ‘Absence’ and Larkin’s ‘Absences’ in terms of who is speaking of what, when, and to whom, and why, in terms of both cause and effect is problematic. One approach is interweaving each poet’s lines into a terza rima in such a way that they follow syntactically and semantically without compromising the rhyme scheme. This is an attempt to perform a solo duet, and one solution to this ventriloquistic experiment is according different font colours to each poet.