Monday 18 August 2014

Poets on TV

Last night on BBC4 I caught the second of two programmes titled Great Poets in Their Own Words. I'd missed the first, and this was the one covering the latter half of the 20th century. Essentially it was a compilation of archive clips featuring poets talking about their work. The Great in the title was perhaps redundant, as the nearest this got to greatness was Larkin (followed, a long way behind, by Heaney and Hughes?) Naturally an archive show like this is bound to favour the more flatulent and self-publicising among the poetic community - cue much footage of Ginsberg and co, a very drunk Berryman, the Liverpool Poets, Linton Kwesi Johnson... No Geoffrey Hill here, nor Richard Wilbur (I'm assuming Auden was dealt with in the first programme) - and a bit of Stevie Smith footage would have been welcome. Hughes and Plath featured quite large, despite a notable shortage of material (Plath never appeared on TV).
 But there was Larkin - who, for all his 'hermit of Hull' reputation, seems to have been on TV rather a lot, most notably in a BBC Monitor documentary, in which he was interviewd by John Betjeman (JB's only appearance, despite the masses of archive he left behind). It's strange and rather unsettling to see Larkin enacting his great poem Church Going for the cameras, and loping myopically about his workplace - what scabrous commentary was going through his head, I wonder, as he performed Philip Larkin, Poet and Librarian? It's probably as well we don't know...


  1. Fine prose Nige. What a surprise to see Auden interviewed by Parky, though.

  2. Betjeman and Stevie Smith featured at some length in the first part -- as, more surprisingly, did a young R.S. Thomas in footage that I'd certainly never seen before.

    I missed part two but your account of Larkin 'enacting' Church Going brings back a pretty strong memory of something I saw maybe 35 years ago -- PL cycling up to a country church in his flasher's mac, casting his eyes up to the beams as the poem is intoned in voice over (can't remember if there was any pantomime with the cycle clips). For what it's worth, someone who claimed to know told me once that Larkin wouldn't be seen dead on a bike, had quite a thing about smart cars in fact.

    Has Geoffrey Hill ever been on telly?

  3. I don't think he has Jonathan - a shame... And yes it was that very film of PL cycling up to the church etc - an edition of Monitor from 1964 - 50 yrs ago! It seems to be available on YouTube, but I can't say I'm tempted.
    I remember that Parky interview Guy - chiefly for Auden's amazingly lined and rumpled face...

  4. Poets bring a variety of aspects to each entry with relevant words