Monday 9 February 2015


As Bad As A Mile

Watching the shied core
Striking the basket, skidding across the floor,
Shows less and less of luck, and more and more

Of failure spreading back up the arm
Earlier and earlier, the unraised hand calm,
The apple unbitten in the palm.

This short poem by Philip Larkin (written, or signed off, on this day in 1960) could almost - if the lines and the structure were further broken up - have been written by Kay Ryan, could it not? Especially the progress to the final image. The eversion of a familiar phrase, the reverse chronology, tracing the path from the everyday to something bigger and sadder - above all the extreme succinctness of a few plain words doing their work in a tight grid of sound and meter... I don't know if Kay Ryan has read Larkin, and I doubt there's any direct influence, but it's interesting to see how, at least on this occasion, they might arrive in much the same place.


  1. The failure to make the slam dunk an image of Larkin's general existential bad faith? Beautifully versified of course.

  2. The one and only Dave Lull has sent me a link to Kay Ryan reviewing Marianne Moore - including this:
    'Yes, certainly we are reading a Marianne Moore over-poem, as we are for every poet we love enough to know well, or know well enough to love. Today, reading a posthumous Philip Larkin poem in The New Yorker, I felt this over-thing so sharply. There was Larkin's voice again, so welcome. His lovely poem wasn't alone, stranded on the page, to be read in isolation. In me it had someone who knew its family. Or maybe I was its family, if we admit the possibility that we are really not individuals who read poems and make them our own but, rather, that poems make us their own, that we are a poem-delivery system, or poem clearinghouse, allowing the poems of the immortals to reunite with their families — a new Larkin is embraced (morosely) by the Larkins, a Moore (courteously) by the Moores. It felt this personal, and impersonal.'
    Clearly she loves Larkin.