Larkin: New Eyes Each Year, an exhibition opening this week at the University of Hull’s Brynmor Jones Library, offers a new way of approaching the life and work of Philip Larkin, who has been described as Britain’s favourite poet.
Larkin: New Eyes Each Year is a creative, multi-sensory and immersive display of personal items, clothing, letters, photographs, drawings, music and film, which invites fresh responses to the complex and contradictory life of a widely admired artist whose biographical narrative has been much contested.
Curated by Anna Farthing and designed by Craig Oldham, both of them award-winning in their fields, Larkin: New Eyes Each Year is presented by Hull 2017, the Philip Larkin Society and the University of Hull Archives.
Most of the objects in the exhibition have never been shown in public. They focus on his domestic and personal interests, including ties, souvenirs, previously unseen photographs and his private book collection, which ranges from crime fiction to Beatrix Potter and is arranged in the order that they were found at his home.
His relationship with friends, family and other women is also illustrated through the items he chose to collect, including three Super 8 films showing life at the library and a rare recording of a conversation with his mother, along with examples of the letters that he wrote to her every day. There are also garments worn by his muse and mistress Monica Jones, as well as himself.
The display takes its name from the Larkin poem, New Eyes Each Year, about books, a library and its visitors. The title reflects both the site responsive contextual approach they have taken and the invitation for new eyes to view Larkin’s work. Visitors are encouraged to become immersed in the images, sounds and artefacts that have been brought together.
Although renowned as a poet, Larkin described himself as a librarian. It was in that role at the University of Hull, over a period of 30 years from 1955 to his death in 1985, that Larkin oversaw the design and construction of the university’s Brynmor Jones Library. Larkin: New Eyes Each Year therefore has great resonance as a site specific exhibition within his building.
Larkin: New Eyes Each Year invites questions from the visitor. It is an opportunity to consider Larkin’s sense of self and how he controlled his own image, reflected in his rarely seen letters, photographs and doodles.
Our commission was to surprise and our response has been to focus on Larkin’s personal possessions, rather than his poetry or writing about him by others. We know that ordinary things were meaningful for him and he was a great collector of souvenirs and thoughtful about their placement. Therefore we invite visitors to investigate for themselves, to peek between the layers of our display, to recognise and question and to use their own imaginations.
Anna Farthing – Curator
Throughout his life, Larkin lived among words in books, diaries, notebooks and letters.
When his house was cleared it was found to contain thousands of books. Over 3,700 of these, along with 11,000 letters and 1500 LPs are now conserved together with the university’s archives in Hull History Centre.
The Philip Larkin Society aims to promote interest in the life and work of Philip Larkin and is delighted to have been directly involved in the creation of this major new exhibition. We hope that the exhibition will both surprise and stimulate visitors and that many may wish to follow up their interest by joining the Society.
Eddie Dawes, Chairman of The Philip Larkin Society
Larkin: New Eyes New Year opens to the public on 5 July and runs until 1 October and is free to visit.