DO WE HAVE TO PLAY THIS GAME? PHILIP LARKIN AGAINST MAURA STANTON

Philip Larkin’s “Aubade” is a 60-line, ababccdeed, iambic pentameter (penultimate line trimeter) meditation-on-death powerhouse.

What was Hull, England’s Philip Larkin even doing in the APR, Vogelsang, and Berg, eds?

Berg studied with Robert Lowell & attended the Iowa Workshop; Vogelsang has taught on the west coast, and they made APR into a journal of Iowa free verse, not British formalism.

But here’s Larkin and his “Aubade” in APR’s Body Electric anthology, and thus in the Scarriet 2011 Tournament, bullying his way to the top of the heap against poems without rhyme or meter.

“I work all day and get half drunk at night” is throwing fear into all opponents.

Is this why certain poets hang together? Among themselves, they are poets, but next to poems like Larkin’s “Aubade,” they are not?

Larkin’s poem says ‘death is coming and there’s nothing we can do about it’ and the rhymes don’t soften this message—they harden it.  Verse is soft and prose is hard, verse is ‘la la la’ and prose is pointed—at least this is what modernist aesthetics would have us believe, but Larkin proves otherwise: his verse is a cold knife, and most of these APR prose poets are waving fake magic wands, by comparison.

Maura Stanton, then, in contemplating facing Larkin’s “Aubade” with her poem, “The Veiled Lady,” must be feeling what Larkin in his poem expresses: “Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare” and “Unresting Larkin, a day nearer now” and “the sure extinction that I travel to” and “This is a special way of being afraid/No trick dispels. APR used to try” and “Courage is no good.”

Stanton’s poem features an atmosphere of 19th century seances and ends up saying our real selves are conjurer’s tricks, ending with:

That woman you say you love doesn’t exist.
Look at the way our faces have appeared
On the black glass of the picture window
Now that it’s evening, and the lights are on.
There she is, standing beside you, smiling.
Go to her. Embrace her if you can.

This is lovely, but one can safely object: The woman I love does exist, and I can embrace her.

The Larkin poem, however, imprisons you with its whole self.

One can see in this interview that Maura Stanton, a Vietnam War era Iowa Workshop student, knows many of the poets in APR’s Body Electric. It’s her world.

But Philip Larkin is a poet not for Iowa City, but for the ages.

Larkin 99, Stanton 66.

PHILIP LARKIN IS IN THE FINAL FOUR.

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1 Comment

  1. Nooch said,

    June 14, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    Although I risk appearing
    That on Larkin I fawn,
    Stanton’s poem in the clutch
    Was a bit like LeBron.


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