Hull is to host centenary celebrations for Philip Larkin, one of the 20th-century’s greatest poets, as part of a national tribute marking his 100th birthday.
While his actual birthday, 9 August, features celebrations in his adopted ‘home’ city – including a reading by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage – Larkin 100 events are being planned throughout the rest of the year in Hull and East Yorkshire.
Born in Coventry, Larkin spent the last 30 years of his life in Hull, from 1955-85, where he was Hull University Librarian and from where he wrote some of his most famous poetry collections, including The Whitsun Weddings (1964) and High Windows (1974).
Fittingly, the city where Larkin spent half of his life takes centre stage on what would have been his 100th birthday year, including featuring in the annual flagship cultural event, the Freedom Festival, and an exhibition showing the poet in a new light by artist DJ Roberts, famous for his neon artwork.
Widely regarded as Britain’s favourite post war poet, Larkin’s connections to his adopted city can be seen in his poems, which were often inspired by his experience of living in, and travelling to and from, Hull.
Those links are also proudly celebrated in the city today, with passengers arriving at Hull Paragon Interchange railway station greeted by a statue of the poet ‘walking’ in the hall, while the station also boasts a distinctive Larkin memorial bench.
Visitors can also follow in his footsteps to learn more about the man, and his fascination with the city, on the self-guided Larkin Trail, offering the chance to see the city through the poet’s eyes (www.thelarkintrail.co.uk).
For this year’s centenary celebrations, the poet is expected to feature as part of the Freedom Festival (26 August to 9 September), and while exact details are yet to be revealed, crowds might spot a host of Larkin-like poets travelling around the city telling stories and performing poetry, some even on bicycles.
Over in the University of Hull’s Art Gallery at the Brynmor Jones Library – which Larkin helped create whilst serving as librarian – artist DJ Roberts has reworked his acclaimed installation staged in 2017 at London’s National Poetry Library. Running until 25 September, Larkinworld 2 explores the poet’s writing with an urban and streetwise feel and look, featuring works in neon, drawings and a display of pop culture.
The nearby medieval market town of Beverley – a 15-minute train journey from Hull – will also feature in a Larkin about Beverley guided walk on Tuesday 20 September as part of the Walking East Yorkshire Festival. Larkin was a frequent visitor to the town, and it figures strongly in his letters to several correspondents. (Tickets cost £4, booking essential, www.walkingeastyorkshirefestival.co.uk).
And on 25 October, the Larkin Society brings together its President, Rosie Millard, and one of its Vice-Presidents, Alan Johnson, for a conversation about the poet, at Hull Truck Theatre. Both are fans of Hull and Larkin, as well as writers and commentators on the cultural and political world, and they will take a personal look at Larkin the writer, the man and the controversy that sometimes surrounds him. (Tickets cost £10, www.hulltruck.co.uk).
Visit the Philip Larkin Society website for more information: https://philiplarkin.com
For all other tourism information about Hull, see www.visithull.org
Photo: Ellie Garmston