Philip Larkin is a poet I love and admire, a novelist I like and admire, and an essayist and critic I respect and sometimes suspect. His reviews, lectures, interviews, etc. have been collected under the title Required Writing, which to me suggests a very mild, very gentlemanly disclaimer: ‘These are, after all, pieces I was commissioned to write, paid to write; if I’d been entirely following my own persuasion they might not have existed, or not in quite this form’. Very good; poets have a right to be as devious as they like in the interests of their professional integrity. But Larkin is so fine a poet that one would have liked more of himself in this book; I mean more of Larkin-the-poet, the writer who writes – even prose – because he must, not because he’s required to do so. Since any hint of pretentiousness or self-indulgence is clearly anathema to his moral sense, his editors could have shown far greater imagination in encouraging him out of his shell and engineering a few meetings between the irony-clad traditionalist and the risk-taking, emotionally-centred poet.
‘One of the great achievements of the twentieth century has been the evolution of a particular kind of prose; impatient, ardent, elliptical prose, usually in the first person, often using discontinuous or broken forms, that is mainly written by poets, or, if not, by writers with the standard of poetry